Auros (auros) wrote,

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Lamb Tagine Ras-el-Hanout

This actually came out better than I expected -- very tasty indeed. But it did make much more than the book suggested it would... Since I'm not sure how easily people will be able to come by the spice blend I was using, I'm posting extensive info from the book, The Spice and Herb Bible (2nd ed), by Ian "Herbie" Hemphill, with recipes by Kate Hemphill. The Hemphills run a spice and herb business in Australia (Herbie's Spices). Xta's sister brought home some sample packs of their products as gifts, after a semester abroad in New Zealand; she also brought home the book, but decided she didn't need it, so she gave it to me... In any case, you could, in theory, use curry powder, or any reasonably middle-eastern / north-African spice blend, for this... The recipe actually called for a different mix than I was using, and I considered using yet a third mix which I also have...

Tagine spice mix -- a Moroccan blend used for simmered casseroles, especially with lamb or mutton; works well to neutralize gamey flavors, and blends well into the stock created by stewing tough meat to tenderize it. This is what the recipe actually called for, but I didn't have that; I had Ras-el-Hanout and Chermoula, and looking over what was in them I thought Xta would like the Ras-el-Hanout better, because she's not usually a fan of cumin.

  • 2 Tbsp paprika
  • 2½ tsp ground coriander seed
  • 1 tsp ground cassia or cinnamon
  • 1 tsp medium-heat chili powder (e.g. cayenne pepper)
  • ½ tsp ground allspice
  • ¼ tsp ground cloves
  • ¼ tsp ground green cardamom seed

Chermoula -- can be made in a dried version, or with fresh herbs, so that it's a paste, which can be used as a marinade, or basted onto meat as it's cooking. (It seems to me you wouldn't want to put it on right at the beginning of cooking if you were using high dry heat, like on a barbecue; you'd char out all the flavor.)

  • 1 clove of garlic, crushed, or 2 tsp garlic powder
  • half an onion, finely chopped, or ¼ cup dried onion powder
  • 1 Tbsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp parsley (chopped fresh, or dried flakes/ground)
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp coriander (chopped fresh, or dried ground)
  • 1 tsp Aleppy turmeric
  • a pinch of cayenne pepper
  • a pinch of ground black pepper
  • a pinch of salt

Ras-el-Hanout -- this is what I actually used. The name means, roughly, "King of the Shop" ("Ras" being the title of the kings of Nubia). Any good spice merchant would have his own secret blend, which he'd sell under this name, at a premium price. Herbie suggests that Ras-el-Hanout stands up well as a rub on pan-fried or baked chicken, and that adding ½ tsp of the blend to a cup of couscous gives a lovely color and flavor without overwhelming whatever you're serving it with. All ingredients are dried and finely ground.

  • 30 saffron stigmas
  • ¼ cup mild paprika
  • 8 tsp cumin
  • 8 tsp ginger
  • 4 tsp coriander seed
  • 2 tsp cassia or cinnamon
  • 2 tsp turmeric
  • 1½ tsp fennel seed
  • 1¼ tsp allspice
  • 1¼ tsp green cardamom seed
  • 1¼ tsp dill seed
  • 1¼ tsp galanga (a rhizome, like ginger; sometimes called "Thai ginger")
  • 1¼ tsp nutmeg
  • 1¼ tsp orris root (rhizome of the Florentine iris; most commonly used, in modern cuisine, as a gin additive; it's the main distinctive note in Bombay Sapphire)
  • ½ tsp bay leaf
  • ½ tsp caraway seed
  • ½ tsp cayenne pepper
  • ½ tsp cloves
  • ½ tsp mace
  • ½ tsp cubeb pepper
  • ½ tsp brown cardamom

Here is the Lamb Tagine recipe from the book, which I modified considerably, as I will discuss below...


  • 8 lamb shanks
  • ¼ cup tagine spice mix
  • vegetable oil
  • 6 prunes
  • 3 onions, chopped finely
  • 4 carrots, chopped
  • 2 parsnips, chopped
  • 1 can (14 oz) peeled tomatoes
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 cups orange juice
  • 2 Tbsp garlic purée
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 3-4 peppercorns, crushed
  • salt to taste

Preheat oven to 325°F (160°C). Place dutch oven on large burner on stove, turn heat to medium (I had it between 5 and 6, on my electric stove that reads "LO, 2, 3, . . . , 8, HI"); when dutch oven is hot (such that a drop of water "dances"), add oil. Coat shanks with spice mix, sear lightly in hot oil. Add all other ingredients. Cover, and bake for 1½ to 2 hours, or until meat is very tender.

Herbie suggests serving with spiced couscous, or a side of potatoes (finely cubed) and cauliflower (broken into small florets), fried briefly in very hot oil with whole cumin and mustard seeds.

Note that this will make a HUGE amount of food; the recipe says "Serves 4." It's lying. It will easily serve 8, especially if you use the amount of meat suggested. I made this in an 8½ quart dutch oven. It was almost completely full. And, as I mentioned the other day, when I went to buy lamb shanks, I looked at how big they were, and just could not possibly imagine one person eating two of them; I got four shanks, each one cut in half. Half a shank was plenty of meat for a serving.

In terms of other modifications, I started out with the need to remove anything tomato-y, because of Xta's allergy. It occurred to me that Haig's Muhammara -- a dip consisting mostly of roasted red peppers, ground walnuts, and pomegranate molasses -- would provide some of the same notes as tomato. I'd also decided to marinate the meat in some of the liquid that would be used in cooking it, to help with tenderizing. I'm not a huge fan of orange juice, so I replaced that with apricot nectar (R.W. Knudsen's, which is more a drinkable juice than what I think of as nectar; if you used something as thick as Looza, you'd probably want to dilute it) and lemon juice. Since I was also reducing the amount of meat, I figured replacing the water with flavorful stuff, and adding some broth to restore the meatiness, would be good. I ended up with six cups of liquid (3 apricot, 1 lemon, 2 broth) which is the same as the original recipe (4 water, 2 orange).

Since the original recipe suggested serving with spiced couscous, I figured, why not just extract the liquid (and spice!) by tossing the couscous right into the pot? I also figured, since I'd taken out some of the meat, I should add in some more chunks of stuff; I went with some more dried fruit. (What can I say? I like fruit.) I also could've gone with some large cauliflower florets, or cubed potatoes or turnips, or some other firm veggies... Anyways, without further ado, here is the recipe for what I actually made:


  • 4 lamb shanks, halved (when you're buying them, get the butcher to saw them into halves with roughly equal amounts of meat on them)
  • 4 Tbsp Ras-el-Hanout (I got this amount from the Ras-el-Hanout Chicken recipe in the book, which claimed to serve the same number of people; it worked)
  • vegetable oil (enough to coat the bottom, and a little bit up the sides, of your dutch oven)
  • 6 prunes, halved
  • a handful of dried tart red cherries (I used them whole, but you could halve them)
  • a handful of dried apricots (halved); these "handfuls" should each be a similar mass/weight to the prunes
  • 3 onions, chopped finely
  • 4 large carrots, chopped into roughly 1-inch cubes (you can get away with somewhat larger -- I did -- but I think the pieces that were about this size came out with the best texture)
  • 2 medium-to-large parsnips, chopped into roughly ¾-inch cubes (again, I actually chopped coarser than this, but in this case you actually can't get away with it -- the largest pieces were annoyingly firm/tough; apparently parsnips are a lot sturdier than carrots)
  • 2 8oz tubs of muhammara
  • 1 can (14 oz) low-sodium chicken broth
  • 3 cups apricot nectar (or 2 cups apricot Looza + 1 cup water)
  • 1 cup lemon juice
  • 8 cloves garlic, chopped finely
  • fresh ground black pepper to taste
  • salt to taste
  • 3 cups couscous (the small-grain African style, not Israeli couscous)

Marinate shanks in apricot/lemon juice overnight (in a separate container from the dutch oven, since you need to use that dry to start with). Preheat oven to 325°F (160°C). Place dutch oven on large burner on stove, turn heat to medium (I had it between 5 and 6, on my electric stove that reads "LO, 2, 3, . . . , 8, HI"); when dutch oven is hot (such that a drop of water "dances"), add oil, toss in chopped garlic. Place shanks in over garlic, sprinkle spice mix over them, rub in with large slotted spoon; turn over to sear spiced side, sprinkle other side with spice, then turn again. (The goal is to end up with a bit of spice seared into the surface of the meat.) Add onions, stir to get the onions down to the bottom in contact with the oil; let them fry for maybe 3-5 minutes. Add all other ingredients except couscous (including the marinade!) and stir, to make sure muhammara mixes into liquid. Cover, and bake for 2 hours. Remove from oven, add couscous and stir; cover again, and leave to stand for 15-20 minutes, so couscous can absorb liquid. Serves 8.

I happened to have a large tub of the hot sauce from Afghani House, leftover from when I went down to get a gift certificate for the PDC Picnic Raffle... I'd figured I might as well get dinner as well. They give you a big tub of the stuff, with an order of Mantu or Aushak, or most other things you might imagine wanting it with. But it's extremely hot, so I never end up using more than maybe 15% of the tub with one order of food. Adding maybe a teaspoon of that stuff to a serving of the tagine added a nice level of heat, and a pleasant fresh-herb note. (There's a bunch of mint, and I think cilantro, in the hot sauce.)

The original motivation for cooking was that mickle and her boy were coming over for dinner, so she could take home some of Xta's lemons. Sadly, the boy had a migraine, but food was taken home for him. In any case, Mickle brought a lentil salad (with I think spinach and chopped onion?), which went quite well with the tagine; and a cornmeal and olive oil cake (kinda like cornbread, but a bit... cakier), which was served with peaches poached in rosemary syrup, which was absolutely delicious. She also brought a bottle of Ethiopian honey-wine, which went nicely with dessert. (And considering we'd also made a pitcher of Lojitos -- like mojitos, but lavendar-lemon instead of mint-lime -- there was plenty of alcohol around; half the pitcher is still in the fridge. I guess I'll take it to evangoer's place for tonight's BBQ.) My roommate, billtsalamander, and his gf, showed up and had some of the tagine as well. And there's still enough left for two more full servings, and I suspect even after finishing off the meat, there will likely be enough of the couscous and fruits and veggies for two lunches or one dinner.

All in all, a highly succesful project, considering it's the first time I've cooked lamb; and, I think, the first time I've cooked any meat with the bone in.


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