The weekend is so close, I can taste it. By this time on a Friday afternoon, I’m really starting to get impatient to get home to Hungry Hubby for a cuddle and thereafter, get into our kitchen and cook my way through the weekend. I know a lot of people love to menu plan and shop with precision but that so isn’t my style. I will select a few main ingredients and then decide what recipes I’m going to cook with them. This Lamb and Chickpea Tagine was born out of spotting my favourite of lamb (neck fillet) but Hungry Hubby not wanting me to cook curry with them. Bought from the butcher, they are affordable, easy to cook and simply melt into sweet, sticky loveliness with an unhurried and low temperature simmer on the stove.
Normally, I would do a lamb curry with this cut of meat but as Hungry Hubby doesn’t share my singular obsession with Indian food, I branched out a little to the flavours of Morocco for this tagine. Saffron, cumin, paprika, ground cinnamon and ground ginger combine to give a fragrant if earthy gravy. The spices are warming rather than hot and compliment the rich meat and the slightly untraditional caramelised shallots I start the dish off with. It is worth sacrificing 10-15 minutes of your weekend to really colour those shallots before you proceed as the sticky, sweet flavour and texture they give to the dish is addictive eating. I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t love a slow cooked onion. A handful of dates add natural, good for you fruity sweetness whereas a few strips of lemon zest, the juice of one of two whole lemons plus half a dozen tomatoes give the acidity needed to cut through the rich flavours of the meat and sweetness of the dish overall.
Canned tomatoes are a fantastic store cupboard staple and work so well in many things (mostly more Mediterranean inspired dishes) but for me, they aren’t ideal in tagines (or curries) as they are usually too full bodied and sweet even. They give the wrong edge to these dishes – what you want are those cheap, sour and even crunchy tomatoes sold labelled as “salad” tomatoes in the supermarkets. They add acidity and are perfect in a dish with such a lot of natural sweetness. Plump, sweet, absurdly ripe and fragrant tomatoes are best served sliced raw (or in my Roasted Red Pepper Ravioli which has a raw tomato sauce) and are wasted when cooked in a meat stew. Fresh parsley and coriander bring a light, herbal note to the finished dish and chickpeas bring a little texture as well as working very well with the simply steamed bulgar wheat.
Whilst Hungry Hubby and I tend to prefer different starches with our meals my default (rice for me, hubs goes for pasta or potatoes or both if I’d let him!) we both unify in a love of bulgar wheat. Interestingly, neither of us are crazy about couscous but the nutty little nuggets that are actually ground wheat berries deliver on texture as well as taste. Cooking dried chickpeas separately to stir through the tagine before serving would be better as they retain more toothsome bite that way but given my free spirit in the kitchen mentality, I invariably never remember to pre-soak them in time. A drained can added at the end of cooking to heat them through is a good time saver plus they bump up the nuttiness of the bulgar wheat. If I have them in, a few dried apricots added in the final hour so they soften and absorb all that glorious spiced gravy are a great addition, again, if you’re more organised than me and bought some! Whatever, just know how this tagine will soothe you with it’s earthy warming spice and will freeze beautifully to defrost and reheat quickly midweek.
Now back to my four hour audit meeting whilst you enjoy adding these altogether significantly more exotic and enticing ingredients to your weekend shopping list. Have a great weekend and don’t forget to stop by and let me know how you find the recipe!
- 600-700 g lamb neck fillet cut into 3 inch cubes
- 200 g shallots peeled but left whole
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 3 large cloves of garlic minced
- 1 1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp sweet paprika
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- Fat pinch of saffron
- 3 strips of lemon peel
- Juice of a lemon
- 8 dates stoned and halved
- 6 medium tomatoes quartered
- 200 ml water
- 1 can chickpeas washed and drained
- 2 tbsp each of fresh parsley and fresh coriander chopped
Heat the oil in a tagine is you have one, if not a large casserole with a lid.
Colour your shallots and cook them until the edges are nice and dark and sticky, not burnt! Spend 10 minutes or so to get a good caramelisation and the reward will be big flavour when the dish is cooked.
Add the garlic, all the ground spices, the lemon peel and dates and then cook briefly to release their aromas.
Add in the lamb and briefly brown. Add in the lemon juice, tomatoes and water and reduce to the lowest heat, placing the lid firmly on. Leave to cook for 2 hours.
Remove the lid, stir well and taste - it made need extra lemon juice to give it tang or perhaps an extra date or two if it's not got enough sweetness. A little chilli or just extra black pepper will round out the spice. Cook with the lid off for a further hour or until the gravy thickens and reduces down by at least half. The lamb will be falling apart at this point.
Add in the chickpeas and cook until warmed through (5-10 minutes), add the herbs and serve.
I find a quarter cup of bulgar wheat per person is just perfect. I rinse it well, put in a small saucepan and add double the amount of water. Bring to the boil, put the lid on and turn the heat off. Wait 12-15 minutes and the bulgar will be perfectly cooked. A squeeze of lemon juice is nice here too.