Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Trip to Morocco

I was feeling adventurous and wanted to experiment with some different flavors the other day so I decided to try my hand at Moroccan food, inspired by a recent episode of the Barefoot Contessa.  Saturday night, I made a lamb tagine with olives and preserved lemons served over quinoa with raisins.  I didn't like any of the recipes I saw on Food Network or Epicurious so I made my own.  What was nice is that I didn't have to buy any more spices; I had pretty much everything except for saffron in my pantry.  One of the things always amazes me about cooking is how you can combine the same basic ingredients and spices in different ways and you have a totally different cuisine.  I used a lot of the same spices and ingredients in my Mexican and Indian cooking, but this dish tasted totally different and discernably Moroccan.  I also wanted try cooking with lamb; I've always loved lamb but haven't cooked with it much, particularly using the braising method.  The dish isn't hard to make, just time consuming with the braising.

First I made the preserved lemons.  I actually was going to be lazy and try to buy it at Whole Foods, but they didn't have any so I was forced to make my own.  It's really easy and we always have lemons from my parent's tree.  All you do is slice 1-2 lemons lengthwise into about 6 slices per lemon, put them in a glass baking dish, sprinkle with 2 TB of salt, cover with water and put it in the oven at 250 degrees for 3 hours.

To prep the tagine which served 2 with a little leftover (we are big eaters):
  • Cut 1.5 lbs of lamb shoulder into cubes, trimming off excess fat.  I also used the bones as it was hard to get all the lamb off the bone and put it in a bowl
  • Grated 1/2 an onion, squeezing out excess water and chopped 1/2 an onion (I was going to grate the entire onion, but grating onions make me tear like crazy and I couldn't take it anymore.  I don't usually shed tears when chopping onions but grating onions was painful).  Toss the grated 1/2 onion in the bowl with the lamb and reserve the chopped 1/2 in a separate bowl
  • Minced 5 cloves of garlic, half into the bowl with the lamb, half reserved with the chopped onion
  • Grated 1 tsp of ginger (a lot of recipes call for ground ginger, but I only had fresh ginger) and add to bowl with the lamb
  • To the lamb bowl, added 1 tsp of cumin, 1 tsp of paprika, a pinch of saffron threads, 1 tsp of turmeric, 1 tsp of ground black pepper, pinch of salt, 1 TB of olive oil and mix everything together
  • Chopped two carrots
  • Chopped 1 fennel bulb
  • Minced 1/2 bunch of cilantro and 1/2 bunch of parsley
  • Chopped 1 large tomato (I could have used two tomatoes)
To cook, I heated up a few TB of olive oil over medium heat in the 5 quart Le Creuset french oven (I probably could have used my 3 quart oven)
  • Add the lamb mixture and seared it for 2-3 minutes
  • Add the remainder of the garlic and onions and saute for another 2 minutes
  • Add 1 cup of water, 1/2 cup of red wine and bring to a boil. Add the cilantro and half of the parsley, reserving a handful for garnish at the end.  Add the carrots and fennel.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 1.5 hours, partially covered
  • After 1.5 hours, add the tomatoes, the pulp from the rinsed preserved lemons (slice the rind into thin strips and reserve) and simmer until the lamb is tender
When the lamb is ready, remove it with tongs into a serving bowl and tent it.  Add 1 cup of pitted green olives, the preserved lemon rind slices and a couple sprinkles of chili flakes to the braising liquid, turn the heat up and boil for ~5 minutes to reduce.  Then pour the reduced sauce over the lamb, sprinkle on a handful of fresh parsley and serve!  I served it over 1/2 cup of quinoa with an assortment of raisins that I rehydrated in hot water for a few minutes.
I really liked the dish, it was quite intense and bursting with all sorts of different and interesting flavors, from the savory meaty lamb, to the briny olives, to the slightly sour preserved lemons (preserving actually mellows out the lemons a lot), to the carrots, fennel and tomatoes.  It was salty, sour, sweet (from the raisins) and spicy all at the same time.  All the spices and herbs added a nice smoky depth to the dish and the sauce was rich and delicious.  My only change is that I would use a less salty olive, or at least halve the olives.  I can't wait to make this dish again!

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