The Mint Shop

The Mint Shop

Monday, 3 November 2014

The joys of slow cooking

It has been a very long time since I have opened this page, so long that my browser didn't even remember the name of the site, so sad! But it feels good to be back and hopefully I will manage to write a few posts here and there to share the culinary discoveries I have made during my travels.

Most of 2014 until the Summer has been a mad year of travelling with Jordan been visited four times, Lebanon three times, and new discoveries like Uzbekistan and Egypt. I promise I will dedicate a post to each of these amazing places! And of course one of the joys of being around has been the new flavours and smells. And this time it's been even nice as my family could join me - the medina was the perfect place for E to run around!

I consider myself fortunate for having the opportunity to spend time with locals every time I go somewhere - I certainly avoid tourists traps and are revelead secrets and tricks of traditional dishes. When we visited Morocco last March I was opened the doors to the real tagine, a world of turmeric, pulpy raisin, and juicy chunks of meat.

Tagine is nothing other than a stew, normally lamb cooked slowly and on low heat in a wonderful clay pot, the tagine, which gives the name to the dish itself. Of course the Moroccan stew can be achieved with any heavy pan but if you do have the chance to purchase one, besides looking beautiful in your kitchen, does help as it uses less liquid than a casserole and the sauce becomes more intense. Needless to say that to make sure you can indeed use the tagine this has to be of natural clay and not glazed.


 Spices like ginger or cardamom never appear in any real Moroccan dish and if so only because of influences from either Asia or Turkey. Likewise the real tagine is never served with couscous, which is a dish on its own - usually served on Friday at lunch time (and never for supper) and shared with family (or colleagues), but with simple flat bread that is torn and passed around the table.

Preserved lemons and olives are the classic match with chicken, while lamb is normally cooked with dried apricots, raisin and sometimes almonds. Onions are always the start for any tagine to which spices get added gradually, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, turmeric, and chilli/paprika to build flavour and colour. The meat is then quickly golden up and then let to fall apart throughout a good number of hours with some stock which you must remember to season according to taste. Once everything is in, you can forget about it and relax - well, do check from time to time in case the water gets completely absorbed as otherwise you will get a rather burnt stew...

One last advice: if you decide to prepare a chicken tagine always use thighs (or a mix of thighs and leg keeping the bone on as they are a lot tastier than breast) while in case of lamb tagine the best is to get a leg and diced it leaving the bone in the stew while it cooks as it releases extra juice and flavour.

Lamb Tagine

For 4 people

1 red onion
2 tsp turmeric
2 tsp cumin seeds crashed
2 tsp paprika
1 cinnamon stick
1 garlic clove
100ml stock
100g dried prunes
3 tbsp runny honey
600g lamb shoulder
chopped tomatoes

Slice and chop the onion very finely and golden it in 2 tbsp of olive oil and a knob of butter. Add the spices (except the cinnamon) and the garlic and toss well together.

Add the prunes, the cinnamon stick and the lamb chopped into cubes and make sure the spices coat the meat well. Add the honey and then once the meat is half way cooked add the water and tomatoes. Cover with the lid and let it simmer for at least an hour.

Serve with chopped fresh coriander and if you want shaved almonds and pomegranate seeds.

This time I was in Rabat, a wonderful coastal town with a strong European feel but with an authentic Berbere heart which you hear at every corner of the old town.