Moroccan Lamb Stew and a recipe for Ras el Hanout

Still fixated on warming stews, I recently prepared this lamb stew which not only has heat but the heady aroma of exotic spice. Its secret ingredient is ras el hanout. Ras el hanout is a north African spice blend which may include upwards of 50 spices, including cinnamon, cardamom, clove, turmeric and cayenne. The name, translated, means head of the shop, meaning the best on offer. Like many spice blends, there is no one way to make it, and variations exist from home to home, merchant to merchant.

At first, I made a version of this stew without the addition of ras el hanout, and it was very good. When I added ras el hanout to the recipe, the stew was excellent. You can find ras el hanout in the spice section of your supermarket or specialty stores. If you cannot locate it, then I encourage you to try to make your own version – it’s easy to do.

Moroccan Lamb Stew with Chickpeas and Figs

The lamb is coated and marinated in a spice paste. As the meat browns in the pot, the spices will also brown and cook, adding a rich flavor and color to the stew.

Serves 6-8.

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground paprika
Freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2 – 3 pounds lamb shoulder or leg, cut in 2 inch chunks
1 large onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
5 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 – 14 ounce can Italian plum tomatoes with juice
2 cups chicken stock
12 dried Calimyrna or Turkish figs, halved
1 cinnamon stick
2 teaspoons ras el hanout (recipe below)
1 – 14 ounce can chickpeas, drained
1 tablespoon brown sugar

Harissa or red chili paste
Fresh cilantro sprigs

Combine 1/4 cup olive oil, coriander, cumin, paprika, 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper in a small bowl. Mix to form a paste. Place lamb in a large bowl. Rub paste all over lamb. Let sit at room temperature for 2 hours or refrigerate covered up to 24 hours.
Preheat oven to 325 F. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a Dutch oven or oven proof pot with lid over medium-high heat. Add lamb in batches and brown on all sides, taking care not to overcrowd the pan. Transfer lamb to a plate or bowl.
Add onion and carrot to the same pot. Saute, stirring up the brown bits, for 2 minutes. Add garlic and ginger and continue to saute 1 minute. Add tomatoes, chicken stock, figs, cinnamon stick, ras el hanout, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper.  Return lamb and any collected juices to the pot, submerging it in the stock. (Add additional chicken stock to cover, if necessary.) Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cover pot. Transfer to oven and bake until lamb is falling apart tender, about 2 hours.
Transfer pot to stove. Remove lamb and vegetables with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl. Bring stock to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil uncovered until sauce is reduced by about half and thickened, skimming fat.  Stir in chickpeas. Taste to check for seasoning. If necessary add a tablespoon of brown sugar to the stock. Return lamb and vegetables to pot. (May be prepared up to 24 hours in advance. Cover and refrigerate. To serve, skim any collected fat from surface. Rewarm over medium-low heat or in a 325 F. oven.)
Serve with prepared couscous. Pass bowls of harissa and fresh cilantro around the table as condiments.

Ras El Hanout
adapted from The Food of Morocco by Tess Mallos

Be sure to use very fresh spices, or grind the whole dried spices.

3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 teaspoons ground coriander
3 teaspoons ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons allspice
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne

Combine all the spices together. Store in a glass jar in a cool, dark place.
(Recipe may be halved.)

31 thoughts on “Moroccan Lamb Stew and a recipe for Ras el Hanout

  1. This is a great idea for an original dinner party with a North African theme – love it! We are having summer temperatures now, but surely the winter will return.

  2. We appreciate the post and the recipe. You have just enough content at the top to give us some context for the dish, without it turning into a ramble about chasing the kids around and completely missing the point which is the food. You’ve given us an excellent example of a food blog post, and again, we appreciate it.

  3. Thank you very much for this great recipe and bestest food blog i’ve come accross in a long time. Making this today for dinner tomorrow. As usual i’ve addapted to what was on offer in the fridge and pantry, adding butternut and replacing the figs with dried apricot and sultanas, was sure you wouldn’t mind 🙂
    Some beautiful heady aromas and perfect colour!

  4. Made this for our Halloween crew before trick-or-treating. Served with some quinoa and baked squash. Lovely! The pan was licked clean. Happy kids and adults. Followed the recipe except used a package of lamb chops and a package of lamb stew meat from the 1/2 lamb we order every fall. Thanks for the lovely recipe!! We’ll use it again for sure.

  5. I made this last night (though I only had ground lamb on hand- I’m hitting the farmer’s market this Friday and will definitely be getting some lamb stew meat for this purpose!!!) and it was incredible. Wow. I had purchased a bag of freshly made ras el hanout in France a few months ago but didn’t know what to do with it, so thank you. I’ll try making my own mix as soon as I use up what I have. I cook Ethiopian and make my own spice mix, since my husband was born there, so I have pretty much everything on hand all the time. I feel the need for a dinner party soon!! Thanks- I’m glad I found your blog.

  6. Hi
    The recipe sounds yummy. I would like to know if a pressure cooker may be used in stead of baking it in the oven? I have one of those pressure cookers with settings for brown, saute, simmer, etc.

  7. Looks great Lynda! Glad you have the handy links of similar recipes at the bottom of your recipes! I got a dutch oven for Christmas and am going to love trying different recipes in it!! The braised chicken looks great too! xxxk

  8. Made this last month. So good, earthy and yummy, my wife and I kept exchanging those knowing, nodding glances. My Mother’s Irish Lamb Stew featured bone-in lamb, and I had the butcher provide the same. Bone is good. Building toward a repeat this weekend. Prepared the Ras El Hanout in advance, just to remind me of what’s coming. Thinking of sprinkling it in my bureau drawers. Thank you, Lynda.

  9. I made this last night. It was great, but I’m sure it would taste better if I had store bought Ras El Hanout and added some extra veggies. I cut the lamb into small chunks (0.5 inch cubes) which worked great.

    I made it in the slow cooker (4 hours on high heat) instead of the oven. My wife was using the oven to bake a cake. Also, I made the mistake of seasoning the stew before reducing the stock. It came out a little too salty for me. Rookie mistake. I’m not sure what type of veggies I should add next time. Because I cut the lamb so small I think it would taste better with twice as many chick peas.

  10. I was at a spice shop recently (Spice House, in Evanston, IL) and smelled this spice in a tester and was hooked. Now I see this really interesting recipe for using it. Thanks so much! And since my husband is not a fan of figs, I’ll leave that out and hope the taste isn’t too impaired without them. Any suggestions for a replacement (he doesn’t care for dates either)?

  11. I love Middle Eastern food and gave this recipe a go tonight. It came out really well and was very tasty. I did make a few alterations, I not have any dried fruit or chickpeas so used cannellini beans and added some chopped green beans in at the end to cook along with some cayenne pepper for a little kick. I also did not add the teaspoon of salt and used a low sodium chicken stock along with some homemade chicken stock.

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