Thursday, January 29, 2015

Fruity Moroccan Style Lamb

I have no Moroccan background on which to base a "Moroccan" style recipe. I have never been there. I did see Morocco as a distant land mass when visiting Gibraltar. Still, I suppose we might all have some sort of preconceived notion of things "Moroccan." For me, these notions are of souks with all manner of goods, most interesting to me would be spices, foods, and only after these would come clothing, pots, containers and anything else to be had. Mint tea, piles of spices, lots of noise and bustle, vendors shouting; this is what seems like a souk, to me. 

Fruity Moroccan Style Lamb, with Ras el Hanout

Tagine: see my Amazon Marketplace
I easily fall in love with a concept, particularly if it comes in relation to food. I fell in love with the cooking pots called tagines, long before I knew what constituted a "tagine". I still do not own one. The Moroccan culture has not been something I have delved deeply into, though Moroccan spices hold a fascination for me. Some years back, I read about a spice mixture called Ras el Hanout. At that time, I had absolutely no concept of what this might be. I looked it up, discovering it is a spice mixture that can contain up to 30 spices. The name, Ras el Hanout, means top of the shop, or best of the shop, and different vendors of spices may have their own idea of what should go into this mixture. Whenever I find a spice mixture that calls for ingredients I do not have, have not used, and possibly no notion of what they might taste like - well, I just have to find them and try them out. When i looked up Ras el Hanout online, back then, I took note of every single, differing spice that was listed in about 20 different "recipes." I took from these some of the most exotic, out of curiosity, and created my own mix. I have had this Ras el Hanout mixture on my website for years now, though unless there is someone like me, who cannot resist a new and exotic spice, I suppose few will make that mixture. 

With this in mind, when I decided to use my Ras el Hanout mixture to make a lamb dish that is vaguely Moroccan style (in my mind), I considered that I might also recreate my Ras el Hanout mixture using less exotic spices (galangal, ajwain, black cumin, rosebuds, grains of paradise, lavender). All of these in my new mix are more readily available to the average person.

Ras el Hanout II

Ras el Hanout II Spices
Makes about 1/2 cup

4 teaspoons coriander seed
4 teaspoons cumin seed
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
2 teaspoons fennel seed
2 teaspoons yellow mustard seed
2 teaspoons allspice berries
2 teaspoons dried oregano (in leaf form)
3-inches true cinnamon stick, crumbled
16 green cardamom pods, seeds removed, hulls discarded (or a scant teaspoon of cardamom seeds)
8 whole cloves
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
2 teaspoons paprika
1/2 (whole) nutmeg, ground

Combine the first 10 ingredients in a spice grinder and grind to powder. In a bowl, combine this mixture with the remaining ingredients and mix well. Store in a tightly sealed container in a cool, dark place.

Meanwhile, I had decided to use one of the legs of lamb I had in the freezer, and wanted to make it in a somewhat Moroccan style; mainly that I use some of the Ras el Hanout, that it have some fruits in the mix, I would use saffron, and I would garnish with pistachios, pomegranate arils and a drizzle of honey. Ultimately, it was a very tasty "tagine" style braised lamb. If Moroccan, it might have chiles in the mixture. If spicy hot is your thing, add in chiles to taste. I used some Aleppo pepper, which gave a nice gentle heat. The apricots and dates in the braise dissolve completely, making a slightly thickened sauce. The figs stayed recognizable. Here is what i did:

Fruity Moroccan Style Lamb

Makes one 5 - 6 lb leg of lamb

1 (5 - 6 pound) leg of lamb
6 - 8 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper, optional
a few saffron threads
3 tablespoons Ras el Hanout
2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, roughly chopped
2 - 4 carrots, peeled, cut in a few pieces
1/2 cup whole, pitted dates
1/2 cup whole dried apricots
1/2 cup dried figs, cut in half
1 (2-inch) strip of lemon peel
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 can (14.5 ounces) petite diced tomatoes

1/2 cup stuffed olives
1/2 cup pomegranate arils
1/2 cup shelled pistachios (can substitute almonds)
2 - 3 tablespoons honey, for drizzling

Using a mortar and pestle or other implement, pound / smash together the garlic, salt, saffron and Aleppo pepper until garlic is in very small bits. Add in the Ras el Hanout and olive oil and continue to pound the mixture to a paste. Smear this paste all over the lamb leg.

veggies in pot     |  pounding garlic & salt mixture  |     pounded finer       |      added spice & oil      |  rubbed onto lamb
Place the onion and carrots in the bottom of a large heavy duty pot with tight fitting lid (must be able to hold the whole piece of lamb). Set the lamb onto this bed of vegetables. Add in the fruits, lemon peel, thyme and can of tomatoes. Cover the pot and set into a low, preheated 275 degree oven and allow the lamb to braise for about 5 hours, until very tender. check periodically to make sure there is some braising liquid in the pot. The lamb on the bed of veggies should just be setting in a little liquid. Add water if needed so the pot does not burn.

Once done, use 2 forks to pull the meat off the bone in chunks. Using paper toweling, lightly set the towels onto the surface of the liquids in the pot to remove excess fat. Discard paper towels. Return the meat to the pot and stir. Serve over a bed of rice and strew the olives, pomegranate arils, and pistachios over. Drizzle the honey over all. Garnish with cilantro sprigs if desired. 

I made saffron rice to serve with the braise. I used 2 cups basmati rice, 2 teaspoons olive oil, a little saffron rubbed to fine bits, 2 teaspoons salt and 4 cups water. Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.