Lamb, almond & date tagine, WMPC and an aubergine misfire

The bad Baba

This is the rest of the the meal I cooked for Where’s My Pork Chop. And this is where, in the time honoured fashion of all young *cough* heroes *cough cough* on their quest for: the holy grail/the destruction of The Ring/their Shadow/cook a half decent meal, I hit a bump in the road.

Enough of the cliches, you get my point though. The lamb tagine came put pretty well, the couscous did everything it was supposed to, the aubergine however, did not come out as expected or hoped. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t great, it was a bit bland, insipid, just a bit meh.

The reason? Baking not grilling or bbq-ing. I was taking a short cut because I was already baking something else for dinner that night and though I could cook two birds with one oven so to speak.

I love aubergine, it’s one of my all time favourite vegetables, the silky texture, the smoky flesh… And this is where it all went pear shaped. By roasting the aubergine rather than grilling it (or cooking it over a gas flame – thanks FU) that smokiness just wasn’t there. And when mixed with yoghurt, garlic, lemon and olive oil, the aubergine made like the invisible man and just disappeared. It added some texture, but not much else. Lesson most definitely learned.

Happily, the lamb came out okay. I tried to replicated the full WMPC experience by reheating it the next day to see how it tasted. It was meaty, sticky and sweet – just how it should be. I may have reheated it a little too much because the sauce had almost vanished, but a judicious splash of boiling water from the kettle remedied that.

The meat fell apart in a pleasingly messy way and the dates provided a sticky, but firm-fleshed accompaniment. The almonds added a nutty background which – just – stopped the honey and dates from being too overwhelming. This is the perfect Sunday night meal that keeps on giving for the rest of the week (provided you make enough).

Lamb, almond and date tagine
Enough for four meals

I used diced lamb rump for this because that was all the butcher had (unless I wanted a whole shoulder, which I didn’t fancy). It was a good cut, but shoulder would be even better, it’s a little more fatty and flavourful. This is why I always go for shoulder for any long-cooking lamb dish that requires the meat to be boned and cut up. Otherwise shank and neck are both good.

For optimum meatiness, you could go for mutton or goat. I’ve made it with the former and it was really very good. The muttony-meatiness works even better with the dates and almonds and you don’t need to cook it for any longer as this dish should be cooked for a long time whatever the meat.

It’s a versatile bugger too, although the emphasis on the heavy sweetness of honey and dates might overwhelm chicken. I reckon it’d be pretty good with pheasant or maybe even rabbit (although you’d have to adjust cooking times a bit).

750g lamb for stewing (shoulder is best)
1 onion
A pinch of saffron threads
.5 tsp ground ginger
.5 tsp ground coriander
1 cinnamon stick
.5 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tblsp runny honey
200g dates
A handful of almonds (blanched if possible, but not essential)

Chop the lamb into chunks, as large as you like, and finely slice the onion. Heat about two tablespoons of oil in heavy bottomed saucepan over a medium heat and brown the lamb. Remove the chunks once they start to colour, turn the heat down a little and add the onions. Stir and fry gently until they soften and start to colour.

Add the saffron, ginger and coriander and stir it around for a minute or so. Put the lamb back in, add the cinnamon stick and pour in enough water to just cover the lamb. Season with a little salt (if required – I don’t bother) and black pepper. Then, when it starts to simmer gently, turn the heat right down, cover and leave to bubble away gently for about an hour and half.

Remove the stones from the dates and add to the tagine along with the almonds. Pour in the runny honey and add the ground cinnamon. Stir it all gently but thoroughly until everything is well combined.

Keep the lid off and turn up the heat to medium and leave it bubbling merrily away until the sauce has reduced. Taste, then season with more black pepper, until it balances out the sweetness imparted by the dates and honey.

Serve with some bread, cous cous, rice, mash. And maybe something green. This is really benefits from being left and reheated the next day when the flavours have really leached into one another.

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