Lamb Tagine with Prunes
On into the old city of Fez, where the streets of the medina, are so crowded we are pressed between the walls of houses and the saddlebags of donkeys, and the donkeys turn the eyes of the passers-by less than we do. Amazed at the visual richness of bare-torsoed men manning their pools of blue, red and saffron dyes in the Souk of the Tanners at the entrance, and the colour of the rugs, brassware, foods and myriad of wares in the medina, ... Our table is graced with beautiful tagines (simmered dishes), cooked and often presented in the cone-lidded, multicoloured pottery dish that bears the same name.
— Diane Holuigue Postcards from Kitchens Abroad (1999).
ANZAC Day in Canberra typically marks the beginning of our Winter and this year the cold snap is remarkably on time. The maximum temperature reaches only 13 degrees Celsius, there is a sheep grazier's alert and a wind chill factor sufficient to freeze you through to your bone marrow. It's time to bring out the big guns of cold weather cooking... fuel and comfort food.
On days like today, I really feel that home is where the hearth is. The oven goes on to warm the kitchen and I start preparing my Wattleseed and Macadamia ANZAC biscuits*. Before too long, the entire house is filled with the warm aroma of baking, which wraps itself around us like a big, snug blanket. Nibbling on a biscuit fresh-from-the-oven, I peruse the contents in the larder and notice a packet of Budgi Werri prunes. Perfect!
Dinner is a fragrant and wholesome Lamb and Prune Tagine, adapted from a receipt by Claudia Roden in Foolproof Mediterranean Cooking. To greatly enhance the flavours of the finished dish, I add chopped baby stem ginger, lemon zest and chilli; and use less oil and honey than the original recipe. I also add the prunes at the start of the cooking period and prefer to use olive oil over sunflower or vegetable.
Again, the sweet aromas of cooking waft through the house and they are good enough to lure Peter from his study and draw those 'Mmm, smells good', comments that every good cook so loves to hear!
LAMB TAGINE WITH PRUNES
1kg lean lamb, cut into cubes
1 brown onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon Buderim baby stem ginger, chopped
1/2 teaspoon saffron strands
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
a little dried chilli or Harissa, optional
3 strips lemon zest
a sprinkle of ground black pepper and salt
250g preservative and sugar-free prunes
1 tablespoons honey, optional
1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds, to garnish
2 tablespoons blanched flaked almonds, to garnish
a sprinkle of fresh herbs (parsley, chervil, coriander), to garnish
couscous, to serve
Place the lamb and the onions into the base of the tagine. Soak the saffron strands in a little warm water. Add the olive oil, stem ginger, saffron, unpitted prunes, lemon zest, cinnamon, chilli or Harissa (if using) and salt and pepper to the dish. Then add sufficient water to cover the ingredients and cook, covered, over a very low heat for an hour and a half. Note, I used a simmer mat to ensure slow, gentle cooking. Then, add the honey and increase the heat. Cook for about 10-15 minutes to reduce the sauce. Serve on a bed of pomegranate-studded couscous and sprinkle with the toasted sesame seeds, toasted blanched flaked almonds and the fresh herbs. Serves 4-6.
How did you spend ANZAC Day, my friends? Was it cold in your part of the world? And what good things did you cook?
A word on prunes...
The humble prune, once largely confined to the morning meal in Australia, has long enjoyed star status in other cultures. Prunes are a frequent ingredient in North African and Middle-Eastern cuisines, and in Finland theyʼre used in pork and duck dishes. They are also popular in Italy and the Netherlands; and in Japan are valued for their high potassium content.
Prune production is one of the few Australian horticultural sectors that is continuing to grow, with farmers planting new trees every year. Aussie prunes are dried on the farms where theyʼre grown. Farmers pick them in late summer and early autumn, when the fruit has ripened and the sugar levels are just right. At that stage, the fruit is hanging like large purple grapes on the tree branch. Itʼs picked very quickly by mechanical shakers and immediately dried overnight in large hot-air tunnels on the farm, so that the picking and drying process is complete within 24 hours. The fruit will lose around two thirds of its moisture in the drying process, so three tonnes of freshly picked plums will make just one tonne of prunes. Once dried, the prunes can be stored for up to two years.
Cheryl Heley grows only D'agen plums and has been selling her prunes under the Budgi Werri brand for six years. Budgi Werri Natural and Gourmet Breakfast Prunes are available from Cheryl by mail order, or at the Capital Region Farmer's Market in Canberra and Orange Farmer's Market. Budgi Werri Prunes are preservative and sugar free, and no insecticides are used.
* A blue ribbon ANZAC biscuit recipe is kindly shared here in a guest post by Carmen Brown. Next ANZAC Day 2013, I will share my long time favourite Wattle seed and Macadamia ANZAC Biscuit recipe with you. A recipe I developed years ago for my weekly radio segment.
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.