The magic of a Tagine
I have been obsessed with Morocco since I was three years old. That Christmas, my uncle returned from the Peace Corps in Morocco and presented me with hand-knit Moroccan mittens from somewhere in the Atlas Mountains. They were a beautiful patterned blue and yellow and I proceeded to wear them while I tried to unwrap the rest of my Christmas gifts.
Morocco has remained steadfastly on the top of my bucket list for about 20 years. It is embarrassing that I have not yet been. But it will happen when it is supposed to happen!
In the meantime, I cook Moroccan meals and the other night I made a good one! I used my tagine, which is always fun (I use Le Creuset's version and then, if we have guests, move it to a more decorative one for serving). The recipe is based on one from Paula Wolfert and it's worth noting that her version calls for a mix of fresh herbs (thyme, oregano, marjoram) instead of Zaatar so if you're allergic to the sesame seeds in the Zaatar, this is a good option. If you are not allergic to sesame seeds, I prefer the Zaatar and think it looks prettier too!
This recipe looks dramatic when served given the tagine and the globe zucchini. You may imagine that the globe zucchini will be mushy but it's actually really delicious as it has absorbed the flavor of the stew and is crisped on the bottom. If you can't find the globe variety, a regular zucchini will work just fine but not be as gorgeous when served!
2 pounds lamb shoulder (or leg) cut into ~1" - 2" pieces
pinch of saffron
1 t ground ginger
1/2 t tumeric
2 garlic cloves, crushed into a paste with 1 t salt
2 T olive oil
1 medium red onion, grated (about 1/2 cup)
12 sprigs each cilantro and flat-leaf parsley, tied together
4 globe zucchini (about 1 1/2 lbs - go for the smaller zucchinis)
1 tomato, grated
pinch of sugar
~1 generous t of Zaatar
Toss the meat with saffron, ginger and tumeric, garlic paste, oil, onion and throw in a few grinds of black pepper. Make sure meat is well coated. Place in bottom of tagine and place on ML. Cook gently until meat loses pink color. Then add herb bundle to center of tagine, cover and cook over Low heat for about 2 to 2 1/2 hours.
Meanwhile halve the zucchini lengthwise and sprinkle with coarse salt. Let sit about 1 hour, then rinse and press out the excess water.
Remove the meat from the tagine with a slotted spoon and discard the herb bundle.
Skim the fat from the cooking juices, then add the tomato and sugar and bring to a boil, scraping up any brown bits on the bottom of the tagine. Add zucchini cut side down and leave for about 20 mins. Sprinkle with zaatar and carefully remove zucchini (try to keep the bottom glaze in tact).
Add meat back to the tagine and place the zucchini on top of the meat cut side up. Cover the tagine and cook for 20 minutes. Sprinkle with a bit more Zaatar and serve.