One of the main main-course options at Moroccan restaurants in the U.S.—as at Moroccan restaurants in Morocco—is a long-cooked stew known as a “tagine.” The name comes from the conical, terra cotta pot in which it’s cooked—also known as a tagine, and available at American kitchenware stores.
But please, if you don’t have a tagine, by all means, make the following tagine in any pot you do have. Tagines often (though not always) feature something sweet and something starchy along with the meat—and our California dried apricots, along with our butternut squash, are beautifully up to the assignment. This dish is really wonderful nestled on a bowl of steamed couscous—but buttered orzo or rice would also hit the spot.
Lamb Tagine with Butternut Squash, Dried Apricots, and Almonds
Yields: 4 main-course servings
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 pounds boneless lamb shoulder, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1¼” cubes
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ teaspoon of saffron threads crushed in your fingers
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
⅛ teaspoon cayenne
1½ teaspoons grated ginger root
1 small yellow onion, minced (about 2/3 cup
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
5 cups water
1 bunch cilantro
1 medium sweet onion (such as Vidalia), peeled, cut in half and sliced 3/8″ thick
½ cup blanched, roasted almonds
a 2-pound butternut squash (see NOTE)
3 tablespoons honey
16 dried apricots, soaked in warm water until soft and cut in half
1. Place a large stockpot over medium-high heat, and add 2 tablespoons of the oil. When it begins to smoke, add half the lamb and lightly brown the meat on all sides, regulating the heat if the meat threatens to burn. Set meat aside in a bowl. Repeat with the remaining lamb.
2. Remove the pot from the heat and let it cool slightly. Return it to medium-low heat. Add 4 tablespoons of the butter and let it melt. Add the saffron, cinnamon, black pepper, turmeric, cayenne, ginger and minced yellow onion, scraping the bottom of the pot to loosen any browned bits. Let the mixture cook gently for 4 minutes. Add the reserved lamb and any accumulated juices along with the salt, stirring to coat the lamb with the spice mixture. Stir in the water, raise the heat to high and bring just to a simmer. Adjust heat so lamb is at a bare simmer. Tie together 5 cilantro sprigs and add to pot. Let the mixture cook, uncovered, at a bare simmer—the bubbles should be lazy—for 1 hour and 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. Add the sliced sweet onion and the almonds, and simmer for 30 minutes more. Taste the tagine and add salt if you feel it needs it. Remove the cilantro bundle and discard. Turn off the heat and allow the tagine to rest at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours at room temperature (If you’re serving the tagine beyond this time, cover and refrigerate until ready to reheat and serve).
4. While the tagine is simmering or at rest, prepare the squash: Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. When the oil slides easily in the skillet and working in batches if necessary, sauté the squash on both sides—lightly salting each side as you go—until just tender and golden brown at the edges, about 5 minutes per side. Regulate the heat if the squash threatens to burn. Towards the end of cooking, and while the squash are still a bit firm, add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and drizzle the honey over the squash. Swirl the pan to blend the ingredients and gently toss the squash to coat. Turn off the heat and reserve in the skillet.
5. When ready to serve, gently reheat the lamb and stir in about ⅔ of the squash pieces. Combine the apricots with the remaining squash in the skillet, cover and reheat gently, swirling to coat the pieces. Divide the lamb mixture among 4 wide, shallow bowls. Drizzle with some of the juices. Distribute the apricots and remaining squash attractively over the lamb. Drizzle any liquid remaining in the squash/apricot skillet over each serving. Garnish with fresh cilantro leaves. Pass the remaining lamb juices in a sauceboat at the table.
NOTE: For this recipe, you need only the seedless neck (1-1¼ pounds) from the squash. Peel and halve the neck lengthwise, then cut it into 3/8″ thick “half moons”. Reserve the remaining squash for another use.