Top | Art of the Slow Cooker
Tunisian Lamb Tagine with Toasted Almonds and Couscous
(recipe, Andrew Schloss)
The stews of North Africa are known as tagines (also spelled tajines), after the conical ceramic vessel in which they are traditionally made. The lid of a tagine is tall, causing the steam coming off of the stew to cool at its upper reaches and precipitate back into the vessel, so that none of the aroma or flavor is lost during cooking. This is exactly what happens in a slow cooker.
The flavors in this tagine are classic Berber: cumin, coriander, cinnamon, and pepper, which have been cultivated for thousands of years by these ancient peoples in the mountain and desert regions of Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. Ground toasted almonds thicken the broth in the last minutes of cooking. The tagine is traditionally served with couscous.
- 2 lb. lamb cubes for stew
- Kosher salt
- 4 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 lb. parsnips (about 5), peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
- 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1½-inch chunks
- 2 celery ribs, cut into 1-inch-thick slices
- 2 onions, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 Tbsp. ground cumin, preferably ground from whole seeds toasted in a dry skillet
- 1 Tbsp. ground coriander
- ½ tsp. ground allspice
- 1½ cups beef broth
- 1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes, with their juice
- 1 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper
- 1 cinnamon stick, about 3 inches long
- 1 dried red chile pepper
- ¼ cup ground toasted almonds
- Juice and finely grated zest of ½ lemon
- 2½ cups water
- 2 cups couscous
- ¼ cup chopped fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley or fresh cilantro, or a mixture of the two, for garnish
- Season the lamb liberally with salt to taste. Heat 2 Tbsp. of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and brown the lamb lightly in batches, 3 to 5 minutes per side. Transfer each batch to a 5- to 6-quart slow cooker after it has browned.
- Add another tablespoon of olive oil to the skillet. Add the parsnips, sweet potatoes, celery, and onions, and sauté until lightly browned and barely tender, about 4 minutes. Stir in the garlic, cumin, coriander, and allspice, and cook until the vegetables are coated and the spices are aromatic, about 1 minutes. Transfer to the cooker.
- Add the beef broth to the skillet and heat to boiling, scraping up any browned bits clinging to the bottom of the pan; pour into the cooker.
- Add the tomatoes to the cooker and stir gently to combine. Add the black pepper, cinnamon stick, and chile pepper, submerging the cinnamon and chile. Cover the cooker and cook for 3 to 4 hours on high, or 6 to 8 hours on low, until fork-tender.
- While the stew is cooking, mix the almonds, lemon juice, and zest in a small bowl.
- When the stew is done, remove the cinnamon stick and chile pepper. Stir in the almond mixture and cook on high until slightly thickened, about 15 minutes.
- At the same time, bring the remaining 1 Tbsp. olive oil and the water to a boil in a large saucepan. Stir in the couscous until fully moistened, cover, remove from the heat, and let rest for 5 minutes.
- Serve the stew on a bed of couscous and sprinkle with chopped parsley and/or cilantro.
For a chicken tagine, substitute boneless chicken thighs for the lamb and eliminate the allspice.
Tagines can also be served on any small pasta, such as orzo or acini de pepe, or with toasted couscous. To make toasted couscous, heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add 2 cups Israeli couscous (also known as pearl or super couscous) and sauté until lightly toasted, about 3 minutes. Add 3 3/4 cups boiling water and salt and pepper to taste. Reduce the heat to medium, cover, and simmer until the liquid is absorbed, about 12 minutes.
Culinate editor's notes: If you don't have a slow cooker, simply treat this dish as an ordinary braise. Brown the meat and vegetables in a large Dutch oven instead of in a skillet, then add the liquids and simmer until the stew is done.
The vegetables in this recipe are flexible; try, for example, replacing some of the parsnips, sweet potatoes, and onions with carrots, regular potatoes, and squash.
If the stew seems too thin at the end, add a tablespoon or two of tomato paste to thicken it.
You can also serve this stew over any small whole grain, such as millet, quinoa, or bulgur.