I love gifts. I love looking for the perfect one, wrapping it beautifully, handing it over. I also love getting presents, unwrapping it, oohing and aahing about it, thanking whoever gave it to me. Some people are natural gift givers. I already told you about my friend Anelle. My sister-in-law, Simone, is another.
My family does Kris Kringle for Christmas, a custom I cannot recommend highly enough. Each of the grown-ups pull the name of another grown-up out of a hat (the children aren't deprived). Then we go to our little website, and everybody makes a list of things they would like. There's a $100 limit, which might seem like a lot, but it still beats buying something for everybody. So everybody gets a decent gift they really want. Great, isn't it?
Except I don't play by the rules. My entry on the website says "I like to be surprised". It's the anticipation, the light shaking of the present (you never know if it's fragile),and then finally unwrapping it to reveal what you got. Which unfortunately makes for a slightly more stressful Christmas for whoever has to come up with something to get me. Luckily for me, the last two Christmases it just so happend to be Simone. The first Christmas she gave me a tagine. How fabulous is that? I always wanted one, and was happily surprised when I opened my present. Except by then I was pregnant with the Little Girl, and having a helluva time with morning sickness. In fact, I spent Christmas morning outside on the deck, as I couldn't take the smell of the lamb roasting in the kitchen. I also couldn't eat any of the said lamb, or of the turkey, or of anything else, for that matter, when lunch came. Hence, as glad as I was about getting a tagine for Christmas, there would be no eating anything at all for the next 7 months, tagine or not. It was put away in the cupboard, waiting for hungrier days.
Until last weekend. It was time for the tagine to make it's debut. Now I realise that just because a dish is cooked in a tagine, doesn't mean it is a full-blown bona fide tagine. This one definitely isn't. As I researched some recipes with our friend Google, my mind kept going back to one of the recipes in my secret little recipe book. It's called Persian Lamb, and consists of shoulder of lamb slow cooked with spices and dates, and some yoghurt and ground almonds added towards the end. It's delicious (hence it's inclusion in the little book), and I made the executive decision of adapting it to the tagine. It's basically the same recipe, except I cut up the lamb, tweaked the spices a bit, and cooked it for slightly less than the original 6 hours. We had it with couscous and Moroccon carrot salad. It was even more delicious in it's reincarnated form.
And I can't wait to be surprised again.
Persian lamb in a Tagine
Serves about 6 people
one shoulder of lamb, cut into pieces (David Lebovitz suggests you massage your lamb with salt beforehand and leave it in the fridge. I didn't have time for this, but I might try it next time)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 cup lamb stock
1 teaspoon dried ginger
1 teaspoon tumeric
6 cardamom pods, crushed
2 cinnamon sticks
20 strands of saffron
1 bunch of coriander, rinsed
2 tablespoons ground almonds
1/2 cup whole blanched almonds
2 cups yoghurt
1/2 cup chopped dates
Preheat your oven to 175°C / 350°F
Heat some oil in your tagine, and brown the lamb in batches. Add the onion, stock and spices, and stir, making sure you scrape the bottom of the tagine to release the nice bits of sticky lamb. Add the bunch of coriander, cover and stick it in the oven.
Cook for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. Remove the coriander, add the rest of the ingredients, and cook for a further hour. Uncover the dish if the sauce is too liquid. Taste for seasoning before serving.
Serve with couscous and Moroccan carrot salad.