lamb with prunes


Another dinner inspired by my culinary hero David Tanis and his book Heart of the Artichoke. In the past I haven’t much gone for prunes in savory dishes (I was traumatized by a pork-prune empanada at an impressionable age), but since David was pushing it I finally decided it was time to give it another try. This lamb shank tagine converted us, completely.

lamb shanks

We still had all four shanks from the lamb we bought from Martiny Suffolks last summer, and I wanted to be sure we ate them while the weather was still good for braising. My biggest error in the past with lamb shank has been not cooking it long enough, so I started early in the day to make sure it reached the fall-off-the-bone stage. The dish starts (as most tagines do) with onion cooked in butter, then adds garlic, fresh ginger, powdered ginger, coriander seed, cumin seed, saffron, and rather a lot of cayenne. Lamb shanks, prunes and sultanas nestle into the flavorings with a topping of chicken broth and tomato puree, then braise gently in the oven for over two hours. A final handful of prunes go in near the end, before taking the lid off the pot and simmering it at higher heat for a few minutes.


The house smelled incredible. The tagine was both savory and sweet, with a cayenne kick that was never quite too much. The lamb collapsed with a mere touch of a knife. The prunes melted into the gravy, giving it an incredible silken mouthfeel. To go with it, I cooked couscous with chicken broth, sauteed chard and spinach, and made a platter of borani: pan-fried eggplant slices topped with yogurt-garlic sauce. We licked our plates.

Lamb-apricot tagine with Lebanese couscous

Lebanese couscous

Saturday was another nasty, cold, wet, blustery day – perfect for a stew. We had some lamb in the freezer, already cleaned and cut up for braising, and I felt moved to make a tagine. A few years ago I bought J a copy of Claudia Roden’s book on Middle Eastern food, but we’ve actually made very little progress through it with the exception of two tagine recipes, one with preserved lemon and one with apricots. They’re both excellent, so maybe someday we’ll try something else from the book.

 Anyway, this time I felt like making the apricot one. I got started shortly after 4:30 pm when we got home from errands, and dinner was ready around 7 – not really a workday dinner for us, but fun for the weekend. The tagine is really straightforward: I began by sauteeing a chopped onion in a glug of olive oil for awhile, until soft but not browned. I added cinnamon, cumin and a bit of cayenne pepper, then added sliced ginger, garlic and the defrosted lamb chunks and salted and peppered them liberally. Once they were browned I added water just to cover, brought it to a simmer and covered the pan. It burbled away on the lowest heat setting for about an hour while I did other things. Then I tossed in about a half pound of whole dried apricots, stirred it up and covered it again. About 20 minutes later I added a can of chickpeas, left the lid off so the liquid could boil down slightly, and started on the couscous. Continue reading