Moroccan Lamb

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This is always a huge hit in my house and is one of my favourite dinner party dishes because it can be prepared in advance. The aromas from the kitchen are enticing and create a warm feel to conjure up the exotic essence of North African cuisine.

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Rainbow ingredients!

I love the food of Morocco; I love the colours created by the spices and fresh vegetables, especially their tantalisingly heaven sent aromas! I love food markets; the hustle and bustle, the choices and the throng of human interaction. I am always excited by the prospect of exploring a new market, especially in a foreign country – I am always looking for something that is new and that will broaden my culinary knowledge so that I can create a different taste experience. That said, I was not at all prepared for the experience was about to befall me!

Living in the south of Portugal, it is a relatively simple journey to travel to Morocco and so, some months ago, we did just that. Within ninety minutes we had crossed the border into Spain and then approximately three hours after that, we arrived at the port of Tarifa. From Tarifa, ferries run at regular intervals to Tanger (Tangier) in Morocco – the journey time is only 35 minutes. To me, the ferry was like a ‘tardis’ – it sailed forward in nautical miles and backward in time – how can two lands be so geographically close, yet light years apart? Now you might be thinking – this woman has spent too much time on the King’s Road, or cocooned in middle class suburban life – if so, you are wrong! I have travelled widely and worked in developing countries  – often, avoiding the luxury, anonymity and sterility of five star hotels, so as to dip into the customs and cultures of other communities. I have learnt that it takes a long time to become immersed in and to understand or appreciate what makes another culture tick. All that said – I was totally unprepared for the cacophonous sound, putrid stench of rotting fish and garbage, together with the aggressive nature of the local men that greeted us on docking at Tanger. On exiting the ferry’s stern on foot, we and other travellers, were subjected to a stampede of advancing barefoot porters in long white caftans and jellabas, tugging bags and cases from our hands and shoulders; in desperate attempts to earn a few Dirhams as a ‘guide’ for the day, to subject one to a death-defying taxi ride, introduce an hotel or restaurant or to take you for tea to the shop of a brother, brother-in-law or uncle who sells the best carpets, coats, bags, blankets and trinketry! It was thoroughly exhausting because these chaps just don’t take no for an answer. I am a great supporter of those who want to work and, for respectful treatment, would have given generously. However, the persistence of these rapacious men, young and old, was menacing; making even the most mild mannered recipient, resort to demonstratively wild gesticulations and inappropriate language, in order to convey the message – no thank you. The wearisome thing was when one such ‘guide’ got the message – turning on his heel and spouting angry words of disappointment – another arrived to chance his luck!

Eventually, we made our way to the kasbah where the spice, vegetable, meat and fish markets were located. I enjoyed the experience, colours and evocative bouquets of the spices piled high in pyramids, mingling with the earthy aromas of freshly ground coffees. There were hundreds of similar stands, but we were thankful and fortunate to find one very helpful and knowledgeable vendor (pictured below as he prepared his own special blend of ‘ras al hanout’,) who truly heartened us and went some way to balancing our initial impression of the country. I’ll not mention the fish and meat markets, suffice to say, I will be slightly more accepting of some of the seemingly ‘nanny-state’ regulations governing food hygiene in the European Union.

The ‘up’ side of our shopping experience in Tangier was the availability and choice of herbs and spices, on sale at very agreeable prices. Our visit was an eye opening experience; but I will be better prepared when we next return. So, with shopping baskets loaded with two varieties of olives, cinnamon, ginger, cumin, nutmeg, coriander seeds and powder, paprika, cloves, turmeric, precious strands of orange saffron and a special spice mix particular to each vendor ‘ras al hanout’ meaning ‘top of the shop’; and avoiding the sellers of Berber rugs, ceramic plates, brass tea pots and lanterns, we headed back to the port to be transported back to Spain on the next available ‘tardis’.

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Mixing spices to make up ‘ras al hanout’!

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The spice and vegetable souk. A wondrous variety of olives!

My Moroccan lamb dish works well with a combination of vegetables and can be adjusted to individual taste. I like the flavours to be prominent, but others may prefer a more subtle result – if so, just lessen the ginger and cinnamon. Keep tasting as you go – my recipe serves as a launch pad, it’s fun to experiment and produce your own individual dish. Serve with cous-cous or rice.

 

 

Moroccan Lamb

Prep Time: 40 Mins Cooking Time: 3 Hours Total Time: 3 Hours 40 Mins

Ingredients:

  • Shoulder or leg of lamb (frozen is fine)
  • Bottle of red wine
  • 1 litre of stock
  • 3 sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 4 tbsp of olive oil
  • 1 large onion sliced
  • 2 carrots chopped
  • 1 butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and cubed
  • 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 350g chopped tomatoes
  • 10 cherry tomatoes
  • squeeze of tomato puree
  • 1 tablespoon of cinnamon powder
  • 2cm piece of fresh ginger, thinly sliced and chopped
  • 1/2 cup of pitted chopped dates
  • 1 tablespoon of honey
  • 10 whole pitted dates
  • 1/2 cup of sultanas
  • salt and Pepper
  • juice of 1 lemon 
  • zest of one lemon to garnish
  • Chopped almonds to garnish
  • Bunch of fresh coriander, chopped to garnish

Directions:

  1. If using frozen lamb, defrost thoroughly.
  2. Slow roast the lamb in a stock mix and add fresh rosemary sprigs and bay leaves. Seal the roasting pan with foil and place in an oven on a slow temperature 150/160 degrees centigrade for 3 hours. When cooked, the meat should be tender and fall off the bone. Set the meat aside once taken off the bone.
  3. In a large deep pan or wok, add the olive oil – add the onion, carrots, butternut squash, ginger and garlic.
  4. Add the ginger and cinnamon. Add the chopped tomatoes and squeeze of tomato paste.
  5. Add the chopped dates and the lemon juice.
  6. Add the honey. Mix together thoroughly.
  7. Add salt and pepper to your taste. Keep tasting the sauce and adjust as necessary depending on your taste for sweetness or sharpness.
  8. Add the whole dates and sultanas.
  9. Simmer until all the vegetables are cooked and the spices have developed.
  10. Add the lamb meat and mix together to combine thoroughly. 
  11. Ladle into a large dish.
  12. Garnish with almonds, the zest of a lemon and freshly chopped coriander.
  13. Serve with cous-cous or rice.

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