After a period of some lovely dishes, that were rich, though fairly traditional, an overseas friend mentioned he was making Moroccan Lamb with apricots for some guests. I was much taken with the idea as a contrast to the seasonal turkey, especially as my much better half was missing some red meat. Needless to say, the idea was seized on immediately and along came the suggestion of using nectarine and cloves alongside the other ingredients. Does one argue with someone with the name of El-Maghrabi? Well, no! Plus of course, I am rather partial to nectarines and having the additional suggestions as something she had previously eaten and liked, I was certainly game for the idea. It was also a chance to play with spices that would not have been appropriate for the grand turkey or sole fest!
A shoulder of lamb was duly purchased and cubed into approx. 3 cm pieces, seasoned with salt, pepper, Ras el hanout, garlic and onion, the garlic and onion having been pulverised first. Let the lamb marinate for at least three hours, though overnight is better.
Ras el hanout is an amalgam of up to twelve aromatic spices and plays a similar role in Moroccan and North African cooking as garam masala plays in Indian cuisine. Neither have a definitive recipe, ras el hanout translates as ‘head of the (spice) shop’s choice’ and traditionally would have been made with the beast quality ‘top shelf’ offerings. Proportions may vary and of course is commercially available ready mixed.
Before cooking, if using dried apricots, we were gifted some dried apricots and figs, they should be chopped up and soaked to bulk up and soften. Dates may also be used instead of the figs. Our approach was to use what we had at hand and of course, minimise or eliminate waste. In any case the taste was good, which is what it ia all about.
So, to commence cooking we first want to brown the meat in some sunflower oil on a medium high heat. Once the meat is evenly browned, add a 400g. tin of chopped or cherry tomatoes, the fruit along with the water, if any fruit has been soaked, cumin, cinnamon bark (which will later be removed before serving), a few cloves, chopped mint, a generous amount of paprika, some chilli powder or flakes (this amount depends on the desired level of heat, though we are looking at a spice balance, rather than fire) and a generous bunch of mint, finely chopped. Coriander could also be used, if that is your thing, either ground or the fresh herb. Add some stock to balance the liquid content, bring the assembly to almost a boil, thoroughly, mix everything and then turn the heat down to medium low for a long, low and slow cooking, possibly 2 – 2 1/2 hours. You may wish to add some salt and pepper at this stage. Then, all that is needed is to keep an occasional eye on things, essentially, the meat is stewing long and gently.
While the meat is looking after itself, put some saffron strands in some warm water to release its colour. About half an hour before serving, it is now time to address the couscous. Allow the couscous 10 minutes to soak in water before cooking to expand. Then in the saucepan add some oil and make sure the couscous is crumbly and has not clumped into uneven pieces. Add some slivered almonds, a cup of water, the saffron and its, by now richly coloured water and some salt and pepper. Cook, covered for about 20 minutes, then serve with a handful of pomegranate seeds.
All the best for 2019 for all of you!
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