The early June Sunday dawned cool, wet and windy, making me hunger for one final braised dish before the heat of the summer would warrant other cooking methods. We both decided a lamb dish would fit the bill and Russ remembered one he recently made for his Men’s group in which they all absolutely loved it—one even exclaiming “It was the best lamb I ever had!” I’m not quite sure I’d go that far, but it does find a spot up there among the top of the list. The flavor is delicious and the meat is meltingly tender.
This Lamb Tagine with Cinnamon-Scented Onions and Tomatoes originates from the western foothills of the High Atlas mountains in Morocco, North Africa. Its haunting sweet and savory flavor will stay with you long after the meal has ended. You can make this dish at any time of year, but if tomatoes are in season, replace the canned tomatoes in the recipe with thick slices of large, ripe ones; lay them between the lamb and the onions.
The traditional tagine pottery, shown above—sometimes painted or glazed—consists of two parts: a circular base unit that is flat with low sides and a large cone- or dome-shaped cover that sits on the base during cooking. The cover is designed to return all condensation to the bottom. We don’t own one, but we find using our Le Creuset copper enameled braising pot is just as effective.
Couscous makes a perfect bed over which to ladle the finished tagine as it will absorb a lot of those luscious juices. And if you’re lucky enough to have any leftover, you’ll enjoy it just as much reheated.
NOTE: While this is done on top of the oven for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, you can also braise the dish in a 275° oven for 3 hours.
Lamb Tagine with Cinnamon-Scented Onions and Tomatoes
- 2 Tbs. finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 2 Tbs. finely chopped fresh cilantro
- 2 medium cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
- 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
- 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 1/2-3 lb. boneless leg of lamb, cubed into 1 1/2″ chunks
- 1 28-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes, drained, preferably San Marzano
- 2 large red onions, 1 finely chopped, the other sliced into 1/8″ rounds
- 2 tsp. granulated sugar
- In a large bowl, combine the parsley, cilantro, garlic, turmeric, ginger, 1/4 tsp. of the cinnamon, 3/4 tsp. salt, and several grinds of pepper. Add 2 Tbs. water and the olive oil, and mix.
- Add the lamb chunks to the marinade and turn to coat. They can marinate covered in the refrigerator for an hour if needed, but not necessary.
- Meanwhile, drain the tomatoes in a sieve. Using a paring knife, make a small incision in each one and gently press out and discard any excess juice and seeds; set the tomatoes aside.
- Scatter the chopped onions over the bottom of an 11- to 12-inch tagine or braising pot. Arrange the lamb in a snug, single layer on top and drizzle over any remaining marinade. Arrange the drained tomatoes in and around the lamb, and then sprinkle 1 tsp. of the sugar and 1/4 tsp. of the cinnamon over the tomatoes.
- Peel and cut the remaining onion crosswise into 1/8-inch-thick rounds; do not separate the rings. Carefully lay the onion rounds on top of the lamb, and then sprinkle the remaining 1 tsp. sugar, 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, and a pinch of salt over the onions.
- Put the tagine or pot over medium heat and cook uncovered, nudging the lamb occasionally to keep it from sticking, until the chopped onion is translucent, about 15 minutes.
- Add 1/4 cup water around the edges (so that you don’t disturb the sugar and cinnamon). Cover with the lid, propping a wooden spoon between the base and the lid to keep it from sealing.
- Turn the heat down to low and gently simmer, nudging the lamb from time to time to prevent sticking and swapping the spoon position halfway through, until the lamb is very tender and the sliced onions are soft, 2 to 2-1/2 hours.
- Drizzle in a few spoonfuls of water as necessary during cooking to keep the sauce loose, or remove the lid at the end of cooking to evaporate and thicken the sauce if it’s watery.
Serve over a bed of couscous.
Adapted from a Fine Cooking recipe by Jeff Koehler