Saturday, April 07, 2007

Lamb Tagine with a Thousand Spices

The recipe promised to bring men running.

"When I made this dish, I left the kitchen window open," writes the anonymous Lisa, who posted this dish on the allrecipe website. "The smell attracted several male neighbors, and when my husband came in, he said that it smelled so good, he hoped it was coming from our house and not from someone else's! Serve with my Moroccan Couscous and Cucumber Raita on this site."

That sounded good to us. Not so much the men coming running bit, since Julia is happily married to an eminent Ancient Near Eastern scholar, and I'm still stupid for the flamenco guitarist. But anything that smells good enough to bring men running must by definition have something extra; some mysterious something contained within the 14 spices (plus lemon zest!) that touches the primal animal. It sounded promising indeed. So we printed it out and ventured into my spice box to see what I had on hand. It was when we saw how much space the spice and jar bottles took up on my table that we gave the recipe its new working name of Lamb with a Thousand Spices.

Sure you can click above and see the original recipe, and you should. But I recreate it here for you. Because I love you. The measurements are strangely worded, because on you can change the portions and the ingredient measurements change accordingly.

Lamb with a thousand spices:

1/4 cup and 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided

3 pounds lamb meat, cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes

Ready? Take a deep breath...

1 tablespoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinammon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 1/2 pinches saffron
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1 1/2 lemon, zested

3 medium onions, cut into one inch cubes (huh?)
7 1/2 carrots, peeled, cut into fourths, then sliced lengthwise into strips (You know what? Just buy a bag of baby carrots and achieve the same thing.)
4 1/2 cloves garlic, minced (hell, throw in that last half a garlic clove while you're at it.)
1 1/2 (14.5 ounce) low-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon and 1 1/2 teaspoons sun-dried tomato paste
1 tablespoon and 1 1/2 teaspoons honey
1 tablespoon and 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch and the same amount of water (optional, for thickening sauce if need be)

Toss the lamb with two tablespoons of the olive oil. Set aside in a bowl. Measure the spices (the paprika, turmeric, cumin, cayenne, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, salt, ginger, saffron, garlic powder and coriander) into a large, resealable Ziploc bag. Mix well, then add the lamb. Mix well, then refrigerate overnight (or for at least eight hours.)

Brown half the lamb in 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan (we used the tagine). Remove to a plate and repeat with the remaining lamb. Add onions and carrots to the pot and cook for five minutes. Stir in the fresh garlic and ginger; continue cooking for five more minutes. Return the lamb to the pot and stir in the lemon zest, chicken broth, tomato paste and honey. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to low. Cover, and simmer for 1 1/2 hour to two hours (we did two and a half). You can thicken the broth if it's too thin.

Working the night before, Julia spooned out the spices into a gallon Ziploc bag. We doubled the amount because we'd almost doubled the amount of lamb to feed the Seder guests. This is before I remembered that two of the wives in attendance are strict vegetarians and wouldn't be touching the stuff. No matter, I thought. If this dish came out as promised, the men would eat more than their fair share.

It marinated overnight. Already I was all tingly with the thrill of the unknown. The scent of danger. Me! Marinating!

The next day, the day of the Seder itself, we started cooking at about 1 in the afternoon. I chopped and diced, trying hard to stay focused in the face of my growing panic that we'd started too late and that none of this was going to turn out anyway.

The first problem: We had too much lamb for the tagine. We had to split the portions between it and my dutch oven (or is it a soup pot? Who cares. It worked!). Before long, the lamb was bubbling away.

Luke arrived to see the kids and Julia. First words out of his mouth: "It smells incredible in here! What are you cooking?"

Julia and I just smiled.

The second man to show up was my friend E.J., who beat the traffic (and his wife, apparently, coming in a separate car,) to be the first arriving Seder guest.

"It smells fantastic in here! What are you cooking?"

Third man: Dr. Ash. "Oh my God. What are you cooking?"

Fourth man: Tony. "Que Alegria! Is that the lamb?!"

Over the course of its simmering, we noted that the lamb had a significant kick at the end. Maybe we'd put in a bit too much cayenne pepper? Julia suggested adding a lot more honey, which we did. I can't tell you exactly how much. Two twirls around the perimeter with the bear.

Finally. The Lamb with a Thousand Spices was done. Julia added a fistful of prunes to the mix toward the end, because a lot of traditional lamb tagines include prunes, apparently. And at the table she sprinkled it with freshly-chopped coriander.

Lambtagine Did it taste as good as it smelled? I am happy to report that it did. Even though I was running around mitigating the million little details that I had not attended to (like preparing the actual Seder part of the Seder dinner, for example), and serving things up and pouring wine, I finally sat down and tried a mouthful. The lamb dissolved in my mouth like butter. I could taste the honey, and the cardamom, too. There was still a nice little kick at the end. We served it with roasted heirloom potatoes and other vegetables. But oh, for some crusty bread to mop up those juices!

Next time, I suppose. This dish paired great with the shiraz Tony brought and got raves from everyone who tried it. There were some leftovers, but not a lot: The males came through, each going back two or three times for more. In all, it was a vast improvement over my miserable failure two years ago. But that was a wholly different recipe, and of course, I didn't have a tagine yet, either. Lamb with a Thousand Spices will be made again, and soon. Perhaps for a Spring party?

Now if only I could say the Ruby Red Soup turned out as well. More on that next post. Stay tuned!

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