I have a wonderful recipe to share, and it’s one that I’ve been making this week just because it’s that good. I was preparing to teach a cooking class at the home of a friend and 11 of her friends, which was quite exciting so I wanted to make the class really fun and the food absolutely delicious. Although I’ve taught about Moroccan cooking before, I wanted to change the menu from the typical chicken with olives and preserved lemons dish to something different. I looked through a lot of cookbooks for inspiration and none were as inspiring as Paula Wolfert’s book, The Food of Morocco. It’s a great landscape of gorgeous photography that captures Moroccan people and their diverse cuisine throughout the country. I found a recipe that actually sounded like it was a bit similar in flavor profile to my Sicilian heritage, so I was intrigued to make it myself: Lamb Tagine with Tomatoes & Eggplant. The spices are different but the base ingredients are the same as something one might find in Sicily, which was an interesting thing to discover on its own.
To get started with this recipe, I actually begin with the eggplant first and not the lamb. It needs to be drained of any excess moisture and the way that I do that is to place it in a colander then salt it generously and put something heavy on top to push out that moisture.
For two eggplants, I do this for about one hour then use a paper towel to pat the eggplant dry of any moisture that didn’t come out the bottom and also to remove the salt.
In this dish, I roast the eggplant and tomato in the oven (on a parchment-lined baking sheet with a sprinkle of sea salt and a drizzle of olive oil), as opposed to frying them in a pan with oil. It’s just so much less messy and it frees up the stove top for getting the lamb started.
I love the other ingredients in this dish: cayenne, paprika, cumin, garlic, ginger, saffron water (saffron threads soaked in hot water) and fresh parsley and cilantro.
These ingredients season both the eggplant/tomato that will become a mixture, as well as the lamb, although the lamb will also get seasoned with turmeric and one red onion, grated directly int the lamb that sautés on the stove, first for 30 minutes with just the turmeric (plus salt and olive oil). After the 30 minutes, the turmeric and onion are added, mixed in and then the rest of the spices, too.
Once the lamb is seasoned with the red onion, I get to work on the tomato/eggplant mixture. If you roast each of them on parchment paper, it’ll be easier to clean up the mess as well as simply slide the ingredients into one big bowl to mix up nicely together. Actually, you’ll use a potato masher to ‘mash’ up the roasted veggies then add in the spices (garlic, cayenne paprika, red pepper flakes).
Once that mixture is made, heat a saute pan with olive oil and warm up the tomato/eggplant mixture. Add a pinch of sugar and the freshly chopped herbs and cook for about 10 minutes, or until it’s completely warmed up again and the spices have mixed in well. Remove it from heat and add in the juice of 1/2 lemon to the pan then set aside until the lamb is thoroughly done. It should have the consistency and look of something similar to a korma or thick sauce.
Once both ‘dishes’ are complete, it’s time to plate. You can use a tagine to line it up first with the tomato/eggplant mixture then the lamb then make a pyramid out of the remaining tomato/eggplant- that’s pretty for presentation-
-or you can simply mix it all together and plate it nicely. I like to add roasted pine nuts or even almonds on top. Something crunch is always fun and interesting, and in the case it’s a nice addition. Just don’t use too much or it overpowers the rest of the ingredients that we really want to shine- particularly, the lamb.
For friends, family and neighbors who may have never had a lamb dish before, this is one to start with. It’s got familiar flavors yet a bit of exotic, too- and that, you can always adjust to taste.
- 2 eggplants
- Pinch sea salt + 1 teaspoon for seasoning lamb
- Drizzle olive oil + 2 tablespoons for cooking lamb + 4 tablespoons for cooking eggplant/tomato mixture
- 2 pounds boneless lamb shoulder, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1 ½ inch pieces
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 5 cloves garlic, crushed
- ⅔ teaspoon ground ginger (or fresh)
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons saffron water
- 1 red onion (medium), grated (about ⅔ cup)
- ½ cup flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
- ½ cup cilantro, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 pinch cayenne
- 2 plump tomatoes (about 2 cups), seeded and diced
- 1 pinch raw cane sugar
- Juice of ½ lemon
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Clean and cut the eggplant in half then into strips, crosswise. Sprinkle with salt then put in a colander for about one hour with something heavy over them to drain out the excess water. Rinse and pat dry with paper or cotton towels.
- Place the eggplant on a parchment-lined baking sheet (or 2 half-sheet pans). Do the same with the tomatoes, only on one separate sheet. Drizzle each sheet with a pinch of sea salt and olive oil to cover the vegetables. Roast for 40 minutes in the heated oven then remove from oven and set aside to cool. Once the eggplant and tomatoes are cool, use a potato masher to crush the eggplant. Pound the garlic in a mortar and pestle; add half into the eggplant/tomato mixture. Add half of the parsley, cilantro, paprika, cumin and cayenne.
- In a Dutch oven, deep bottom pan, or tagine with a heat diffuser underneath, heat the olive oil. Add the lamb, 1 teaspoon of the salt, the turmeric. Cook for about 15 minutes, semi-covered over medium heat.
- After the meat has sauteed and most of the juices are gone, uncover, raise the heat to medium and boil off all the liquid in the pan, stirring often then gently browning the meat on all sides. Grate the red onion directly into the pan, stirring to combine.
- In a small bowl combine the other half of garlic with the ginger, black pepper, and saffron water. Stir in 4 tablespoons olive oil and 1 cup hot water. Pour this mixture over the lamb. Add the remaining half of the parsley and cilantro. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low, cover and simmer for an additional 1 hour, or until the meat is very tender. Add 1 cup of hot water during the cooking period, stirring constantly. Once finished, turn off the heat but keep the lid on the pan for about 10 minutes to let the meat rest and put the juices back into the meat.
- In a deep saute pan, heat the 4 tablespoons of olive oil in pan to reheat the eggplant mixture. Add the pinch of sugar and cook over medium high heat, stirring until moisture evaporates, about 5-10 minutes. Cook for 10 minutes on low then remove from heat and add the lemon juice. Set aside.
- To serve, arrange the tagine by placing some of the cooked tomato/eggplant mixture on the bottom of the tagine bowl. Pour all of the lamb on top then arrange the remaining tomato/eggplant mixture on top to form a pyramid. Surround with remaining sauce. Reheat again just before serving, if desired, and top with chopped parsley. Serve with couscous on the side.