What kinds of foods and flavors come to mind when you think of Morocco? I think of preserved lemons, couscous, harissa paste, mint, olives, and more than anything else: tagine, a dish that is named after the special conical-lidded pot in which it is cooked.
Tagines are slow-cooked stews braised at low temperatures, resulting in tender meat with aromatic vegetables and sauce.
When I wanted to learn more about Moroccan cuisine I turned to Mourad Lahlou’s wonderful book, New Moroccan. The importance of the tagine in Moroccan culture was made clear to me (as I read in Lahlou’s book that his mother owned six or seven of them – some for chicken, others for fish, lamb, or vegetables), because each develops and retains a specific flavor that’s right for that kind of dish. The older the pot, the better, for it’s with age that a tagine really incorporates flavor and seasoning.
Lahlou illustrates that point by telling readers, “In Morocco, when a woman gets married and the family really wants to show the love, they’ll send her off with a set of seasoned tagines, not brand-new ones.”
I don’t own a tagine, the clay pot used to cook this dish, but Lahlou explains a short cut for those of us cooking without the traditional wares. He also mentions that the word “tagine” has come to mean any braised dish of the kind typically made in a tagine, whether it was actually cooked in one or not. So, if you have a Dutch oven or large cast-iron casserole, you can easily make this recipe.
And make it you should! The lamb marinates in a multitude of spices, lemon zest, and oil for several hours and then cooks for a couple hours more, the lamb becoming meltingly tender and carrying with it all the flavors of the marinade, giving every bite a bright, punchy flavor. That goodness gets transferred to the zingy broth, which is at once salty from the marinade and olives, sweet from the carrots and onions, and wonderfully fragrant from the fresh parsley and cilantro that you can see swimming in the broth in these pictures. Proper pot or not, I’m hooked.
Lamb Tagine with Green Olives and Lemon
from Food and Wine