In the late 1980s I visited Morocco. It was all arranged last minute and I had no idea what to expect from the holiday. In the end I loved it and have loved Moroccan food ever since. We stayed in Agadir, a modern resort (due to it being razed by an earthquake in the 1960s) but it was our visit to the ancient city of Marrekech that captured my imagination. It was such a myriad of different sights, colours, spells and a teeming mass of people. It was another world, like stepping back in time as life took on a slower pace. Our guide, Mustapha, explained about the city with his broken English and toothless grin. He wore a long white robe and a crimson red fez. There were moments though when the city became more frantically busy. I am thinking of the market square where people approached you from all directions trying to sell their products. I even found myself with a snake round my neck at one point! Though as you can probably imagine, it was really the food that captured my imagination. Rich tagines of lamb and spices served with steaming bowls of couscous. Moroccan food is slow food that takes time to work its magic. The sheer alchemy of transforming the raw ingredients into a veritable assault on the senses. This is food with passion, to be consumed with friends.
Believe it or not, it is only in the last few years that I have actually cooked Moroccan food after my sister bought me a tagine. I have tried quite a few recipes and have evolved the recipe below from various different ones I have tried. Hope you enjoy it.
600 g boneless lamb (lamb steaks or shoulder of lamb) cut into chunks
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 large onion, chopped roughly
4 garlic cloves, sliced
1 red Scotch bonnet chilli (leave out half the seeds if you don’t want it too hot)
pinch of saffron threads
1 x 400 g can chopped tomatoes
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ras el hanout spice
300 ml lamb stock
1 x 400 g can of chick peas
Some fresh coriander to stir through (optional)
Freshly chopped coriander to garnish at the end
- Heat the olive oil in a large, lidded, heavy based saucepan.
- Cook the lamb for 5 minutes until brown all over. You may need to do this in batches depending on the size of the pan. Remove lamb and transfer to a plate.
- Add the onion to the pan and cook for 3-4 minutes or until starting to soften. Add the garlic, chilli and saffron. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring.
- Return the lamb to the pan and add the tomatoes, ras el hanout, stock and chick peas. Bring to the boil, and simmer for 5 minutes.
- Cook in a casserole dish or tagine dish on 170 oC for 2 hours. You can also cook it on the hob on simmer for 2 hours but cook with the lid on if you do this. Check half way through the cooking time to ensure there is sufficient liquid.
- If using coriander, stir through at the end.
- Serve with a bowl of couscous.
Tip: add toasted pine nuts to your couscous for extra flavour and texture.