Lamb tagine with dates

Lamb tagine with datesEver since I made these roasted Moroccan carrots, I have been dreaming of creating a Moroccan feast with the smells of cinnamon, cumin, and paprika wafting through the air. So when I came across this lamb tagine recipe from The New York Times, I knew it was time to channel my inner North African chef.

I don’t own a traditional tagine (yet … hint, hint), so I used my handy dandy Dutch oven–and it was the perfect vessel to create the most tender lamb. The addition of dates to the sauce provides a sweetness that ties the entire dish together.

I was a little worried this would be a challenging recipe to try, but the Dutch oven really does all of the work. And after having one bite, you would swear the lamb had been cooking all day.

Servings: 4-6

3 large lamb shanks (about 4½ pounds)
Salt and pepper
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon paprika
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons butter
1 large yellow onion, sliced (about 2 cups)
Small pinch saffron
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cinnamon stick
2 teaspoons dried ginger
½ cup chopped dates of any kind, plus 24 whole Medjool dates
½ cup golden raisins, soaked in hot water to soften for 30 minutes and then drained
Cilantro sprigs, for garnish


  1. Trim the lamb shanks of excess fat, then season generously with salt and pepper on each side. In a small bowl, combine garlic, fresh ginger, paprika, and cumin, and smear over the shanks. Leave the shanks at room temperature to season for at least an hour. (Or you can wrap the lamb shanks and refrigerate several hours, or overnight. Return the lamb to room temperature when you’re ready to cook).
  2. In a Dutch oven, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add onion, saffron, and cayenne, and add a large pinch of salt. Cook for 5 minutes, until the onions are slightly softened. Stir in tomato paste and cook for another minute.
  3. Lower the heat to medium, add seasoned shanks, and let cook with onions, turning occasionally, until meat and onions are lightly browned, about 10 minutes.
  4. Heat the oven to 400ºF. Add the cinnamon stick, dried ginger, chopped dates, and water to barely cover the lamb shanks (about 3½ to 4 cups) to the pot. Bring to a simmer, cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid, and place in the oven.
  5. Bake for 30 minutes, then turn the heat down to 350ºF. Check sauce and add water if level of liquid is below meat. Continue baking for another hour, checking liquid level occasionally. Then test the meat by probing with a skewer or knife. It should be quite tender and almost falling from the bone, but cooked no further. (Tagine may be prepared to this point up to two days ahead. Reheat gently in a covered pot on the stovetop, adding a little more water as necessary.)
  6. Remove the meat from the pot and place in a deep, wide serving bowl.
  7. Skim off any surface fat from cooking liquid in pot. Add whole dates to pot and simmer for a few minutes to reduce the sauce slightly. Pour the sauce and dates over the meat.
  8. To serve, garnish with raisins and cilantro sprigs.

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