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Moroccan Lamb Tagine with Cinnamon and Prunes
(adapted from Boujemaa Mars, Hotel La Mamounia in The Book of Spices)

Traditionally a tagine is a robust stew consisting of meat, fowl or fish, vegetables or fruit, and spices slowly simmered in an earthenware pot with a distinctive conical lid.  The shape of the lid draws the steam upwards, while its unglazed underside absorbs the steam, concentrating the savory juices in the bottom of the pot.  If you don’t have a tagine, a heavy-lidded casserole is a decent substitute. 

In Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco, Paula Wolfert says she and a friend once analyzed a packet of ras al hanout purchased in the Attarine souk in Fez’s labyrinthine medina.  The 26 ingredients in this exotic spice mixture, which literally means “top of the shop” (as in “best”), included both cassia or karfa and Ceylon cinnamon, or dar el cini.  Both spices are widely used in Morocco, not only in tagines but also in salads, couscous dishes, soups and lightly dusted over fresh oranges for dessert. 

We’ve chosen to use Ceylon cinnamon in this lamb tagine for its subtle flavor and the ease with which it combines with other spices such as ginger, saffron and white pepper.  In the finished dish just a whisper of its fragrance permeates the heartiness of the lamb.  Our recipe has been adapted from Boujemaa Mars, head chef at Hotel La Mamounia in Marrakech.  His original version of Lamb Tajine with Prunes appears in Alain Stella’s ravishing Book of Spices

To serve four


2 pounds boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
1 cup yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 bunch fresh coriander, chopped
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 tablespoons garlic, finely chopped
1 pinch saffron filaments, pulverized in a mortar and pestle
1 3-inch stick Ceylon cinnamon
1/4 cup olive oil
3 cups water
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup prunes
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
2 tablespoons blanched almonds, whole 


1. In a large bowl, toss the lamb chunks with onions, garlic, coriander and spices  including the cinnamon stick, salt and pepper.
2. In a large heavy casserole heat the olive oil over medium high heat.  Add the spice- covered lamb and fry until the meat has browned slightly, losing its raw red color.  Cover with 3 cups of water and bring to a slow boil.  Cover and turn the heat to low, so that the ingredients simmer gently.  Cook for one and a half hours, or until the lamb is very tender.
3. While the lamb is cooking, cover the prunes with cold water and soak for 30 minutes. 
4. Combine the sugar and 1 cup water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and add the soaked prunes, simmering for 5 minutes.  Remove from heat, drain and set aside.
5. Toast the sesame seeds by heating a dry cast iron frying pan over medium heat.  Add the seeds and stir until they are slightly browned.  Do not burn.  Repeat with the blanched almonds.  Set aside.
6. When the lamb is tender, remove it from the sauce.  If the sauce is watery, reduce over high heat until it thickens slightly.  Return the meat to the sauce and add the prunes.  Adjust the seasonings to taste and simmer for a few minutes over low heat.
7. Serve in a bowl, topped with toasted sesame seeds and almonds. The lamb is very good with couscous or rice, but you can also wrap it in warm pita bread, which can be used to mop up the delicious juices.

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