This lamb stew is inspired by a traditional Moroccan meat and vegetable tagine and Mrouzia, a rich celebratory stew sweetened with fruit and honey. I have scaled the sweetness back, reducing the honey (or brown sugar in this case) and relying on dried apricots, which melt into the stock while simmering to provide subtle sweetness. The meat can be rubbed with the spices and cooked straight away, but if you have the time, rub the meat the night before preparing and refrigerate. The longer the meat can sit with the spices, the deeper the flavor.
Moroccan Lamb Stew with Apricots and Chickpeas
This recipe includes ras el hanout, which is an important spice blend in North African cuisine. It means “top of the shop” and includes a laundry list of aromatic and piquant spices, a combination which will vary from kitchen to kitchen, cook to cook. You can purchase ras el hanout in specialty stores or well-stocked supermarkets. Serves 6.
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
Freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2 to 3 pounds lamb shoulder or leg, cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
1 medium onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
1 (14-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes with juice
2 to 3 cups chicken stock
12 dried unsulphured apricots (or dried figs), halved
1 (2-inch) cinnamon stick
2 teaspoons ras el hanout
1 large carrot, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
1 (14-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons brown sugar or honey
Harissa or red chili paste, optional
Fresh cilantro sprigs
1. Combine 1/4 cup olive oil, the coriander, cumin, paprika, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon black pepper in a small bowl and mix to form a paste. Place the lamb in a large bowl and rub the paste all over the meat. Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour or refrigerate for up to 24 hours.
2. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Heat the 2 tablespoons olive oil in a Dutch oven or oven proof pot with lid over medium-high heat. Add the lamb in batches and brown on all sides, taking care not to overcrowd the pan. Transfer the lamb to a plate or bowl and repeat with remaining lamb.
3. Pour off the fat and add 1 tablespoon oil and the onion to the same pot. Sauté the onion over medium heat until softened, about 2 minutes, stirring up the brown bits. Add the garlic, ginger, and red chili flakes and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, 2 cups chicken stock, the apricots, cinnamon stick, ras el hanout, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Return the lamb and any collected juices to the pot and submerge in the stock. (Add more chicken stock to cover, if necessary.) Bring to a boil, then cover the pot and transfer to the oven and cook until the lamb is tender, about 2 hours, stirring once or twice.
4. Transfer the pot to the stovetop and stir in the carrots and chickpeas. Simmer, uncovered, over medium-low heat until the carrots are tender and the sauce reduces and thickens to a stew consistency, about 20 minutes, skimming the fat as much as possible. Stir in the brown sugar and taste for seasoning. If more heat is desired, stir in a few teaspoons of harissa.
5. Serve warm, ladled over couscous and garnish with cilantro.