Friday, November 13, 2009

Harvest Meal: Lamb Tagine with Winter Squash

It's a rare meal these days that doesn't include something either homegrown or something I made from scratch, often with local ingredients. Still, not every meal has a critical mass of ingredients to warrant "harvest meal" status. Last night's dinner did though.

I made a tagine, my first ever, with a variety of homegrown, homemade, and local ingredients, plus a few that were none of those things. The lamb was pasture raised and very local, raised by a friend in fact. The cuts that had remained the longest in our freezer were the neck bones and the shanks - two cuts which happen to be traditional for Moroccan tagines. The tagine, after all, has all the hallmarks of peasant cuisine: slow cooking in one pot, vegetables augmenting meat, a fair amount of liquid, and it's traditionally served with couscous or flatbread. The nobles, we must suppose, got the leg and the rack.

I posted last year about making lamb stock from bones given to me by my lamb-raising friend. She gave me some more this summer, so I now have a nice quantity of canned lamb broth from a sustainable, local source. I used only about a pint of this to make the tagine. As stews go, tagines are light on the liquids.

Into the tagine pot (really a dutch oven) also went a tiny bit of our homegrown garlic, a very large leek from the garden, the last of our "summer" carrots, a little of the parsley that is still holding on out there, and one of the stella blue Hokkaido squashes we grew this year. This was our first taste of these winter squash, and my husband liked it. Stringy, fibrous winter squash gives him the squicks, and I had purposely planted this squash variety for its reported "fiberless" qualities. So it made me smile when he remarked on how acceptable it was to him.

Purchased ingredients in the tagine included some slivered fresh ginger, half a can of tomatoes, prunes, golden raisins (or "sultanas" for those of you visiting from overseas), cinnamon, black pepper, kosher salt, and a bare drizzle of olive oil. I didn't really follow a recipe, so I can't provide you with one. But I started it on the stovetop, giving the meat a very light searing before adding most of the other ingredients. Once the liquid (just enough to cover) was in and simmering, the tightly covered pot went into a very low oven (275 F/135 C) and stayed there for several hours, only getting pulled out to add a few ingredients, and to check the flavor. The squash and the raisins went in only for the last hour or so of cooking, and I added just enough extra broth at that point to again cover the ingredients. One of the shank bones came clear out of the meat when I gently stirred things about. When it was done I added more minced parsley and served it over some Israeli couscous cooked up with local shallots. The slow cooked cuts of lamb were incredibly tender. And the gelatin naturally present in the shanks gave the tagine a slight thickness. Very satisfying on a chill evening when the dark draws in early.

In retrospect, we might have preferred to serve the tagine over some homegrown mashed potatoes. That wouldn't be authentic, but neither was the Israeli couscous, and my husband didn't think that suited the tagine. It would have been nice too to try a little corriander and cardamom in the tagine, or lemon juice spritzed over each serving, but the flavor was surprisingly good with just the flavoring ingredients listed. Lemons are on our list of things to start growing next year (in a container), so maybe at some point I'll be able to include homegrown lemon in my dishes!

I like the combination of vegetables with dried fruit and a meaty broth. I could easily see making a tagine without any cut of meat at all. There are a ton of different tagine recipes out there, with a huge variety of vegetables. So lots of exploring to do!


Karen said...

It seems I always get to the neck and shank packages last from our freezer lamb(s). Thanks for the inspiration to get them used up. Do you think I could use a crock-pot since I don't have a cast iron Dutch oven?

Tree Hugging Mama said...

This sounds yummy. I haven't ventured far into lamb or goat although I know I should. We have done Leg of Lamb (traditional for easter) so maybe this winter I will try some peasant cuts ;).

Interested to see how your citrus plants come out. I am thinking (once the house is decluttered) that I would like to grow a lemon or two, a lime a mandarin and try my hand at an avacado :).

hickchick said...

-this sounds really good. I don't have any lamb, but I do have some odds and ends from our 1/4 beef left (and LOTS of potatoes). Thanks for the inspiration! kris

Kate said...

Karen, since this is my first attempt at tagine, I can only make a WAG about using the crockpot. I would certainly give it a try if I didn't have a dutch oven. The shape of your crockpot will be one issue. In the dutch oven all the ingredients were able to lie on the bottom of the pan and very little liquid was needed to cover everything. My crockpot is far too narrow and tall to do that. I would certainly try it and see how it goes. Just sear the meat and onions/leeks before putting it all in the crockpot.

THM, thanks. I'll post about my citrus planting project in the spring for sure. I'll be stashing them in an unheated garage over winter with a few other things that would otherwise die in our winter cold.

hickchick, you're welcome. Provided it would fit in the dutch oven, I'm sure a beef shank would be equally nice in a tagine.

Joel said...

You mentioned fresh ginger: have you considered growing some in your kitchen? It sounds like you might have some left. I'm trying some outside this year; hopefully, the weather is mild enough.

Also, be sure to use a large enough container on your lemon. My lemon tree is struggling in its wine barrel, I think partly due to a lack of root space.

It's possible to move very heavy objects single-handedly without wheels, by attatching a long lever and walking them around. It's still a lot of work, but the expense of the sort of wheels you would need (heavy-duty, outdoors for many years with infrequent use) doesn't seem reasonable for twice-a-year use.

Kate said...

Joel, yes, I have tried growing ginger. I think I started it too late this summer though. It didn't do all that well. But I intend to try again next year, beginning a bit earlier. As for the containers for the trees, yes they'll be heavy, but they have handles on them and we'll only move them a short distance twice a year. And I'll have the help of my husband to do so.

The container method I plan to follow calls for root trimming every three years. Sort of a bonsai method to prevent root binding.

Bureinato said...


I was wondering if you could post sometime about the root trimming your container tree. I'd like to grow some citrus trees in my house and need to learn more. I'd not heard of that method before.

Also, my latest kick is using a hot box. I just discovered it for making rice, but it should also work well for stews like Tangine.

There is also a great old book about it scanned online.

Kate said...

Bureinato, since I don't yet have trees in containers, I can't speak from experience here. But I plan to follow the techniques for container grown trees from this guy:

My understanding is that fig trees in large containers need branch trimming every year, and root trimming every three years. I imagine that that would be a good rule of thumb for citrus trees as well.

As I pursue this method of fruit tree cultivation, I will certainly post about it, but it will probably be a few years before I need to trim the roots.

Thanks for the links you provided. I will check them out.

Bureinato said...

Kate, thanks for the fig trees in pots link. I'm not planning on figs, but they've almost got me converted :)

Kate said...

Bureinato, it's all good. Citrus, fig, whatever. I'm just for people growing more food, by whatever sustainable means they've got.