Lamb Tagine with Saffron, Raisin and Mint Couscous and Harissa

Aromatic and delicious - Lamb Tagine

 Couscous flavoured with saffron, raisins and fresh mint

Hot and garlicky harissa

1st of November in Orange, NSW, Australia, one month before summer and the temperature is 12.4 degrees Celsius.  The same time 12 months ago it was 26.9 degrees and continued to rise over the proceeding days - a prelude to the hottest, driest summer in decades.  We sweltered in the heat, struggling to keep everything watered with the frugal supplies of rain water that we had then.  Now I 'm sitting in front of the fire keeping warm and it doesn't seem to stop raining for long.  The good news is the drought that this State, and others throughout Australia, have suffered over the last several years is officially over.  The creeks and rivers are flowing like I've never seen before and the dams are full.  I've noticed dams over the last few weeks that I didn't even know existed, there just wasn't enough rainfall to fill them.  Water restrictions have been eased for the first time in years and the countryside is so green and lush I could be in England.
I've just completed my new book - Curries and Spicy Dishes for your Slow Cooker. I've really enjoyed writing it and of course cooking a whole range of  wonderful spicy dishes but I'm glad it's finished. I'm itiching to get out into the garden more. Despite this cold spell and the demands of the book, I have been able to get started with the summer veggies - planting 8 different types of beans, 6 types of tomatoes, 4 types of zucchini, 2 varieties of rockmelons and watermelons, full size and baby capsicums (some so chocolate coloured they look like they are coated in chocolate),  sweet corn, pumpkins and an abundance of lettuce and salad vegetables.  With so much rain we should get a bumper crop, providing I can protect it from the hares, rabbits and kangaroos. 

 Podding freshly picked peas and broad beans

In the meantime we are still picking the late winter stuff - delicious broccoli and broccolini, sugar snaps, snow peas, shelling peas and spinach.  The broad beans, allthough a labour of love to prepare, have just become ready to pick.  Yes, it is a pain to pod them, blanch them and peel them but they are quite delicious served in a whole host of different ways - sauted with a little onion and tomato, drizzled with  good olive oil and sprinkled with grated parmesan they are a meal in themselves.  With fresh podded peas, sugar snaps and broccoli they are wonderful in a pasta primavera.  Or try them lightly cooked in a mustard and cream sauce and served with sliced pork fillet or chicken breast.  Yum! They also make a great curry with potatoes, like the Indian Aloo Mattar (potatoes and peas in a spicy, tomatoey sauce).  Mmmm.  It's making my mouth water.

I love spicy food and whilst Indian food is probably my favourite, I really do enjoy dishes from other regions too.  It's fascinating how different cultures can create quite unique flavours with the same spices simply by using some local ingredients or a particular cooking style.  Moroccan cuisine is one such example.  The spices are very much the same - ginger, cinnamon, chilli, coriander and cumin - but with the inclusion of ingredients like dried fruits, honey and fresh and dried herbs, the flavours and aromas are quite different to spicy dishes from the Indian sub-continent or Southeast Asia.  This Lamb Tagine eptomises the wonderful flavours of this cuisine.

Lamb Tagine

The Tagine, which is both the name of the unique cooking pot and the dish itself, is widely seen in the cuisines of North Africa.  An ingeniously designed cone shaped lid fits into a flat, circular base with narrow sides.  Less tender cuts of meat often combined with several other ingredients such as preserved lemon, dried fruits, honey, olives, spices and a little stock or fruit juice are simmered until the meat is melt-in-your-mouth tender and the flavours deliciously complex.   The tall cone of the lid remains cool during cooking, condensing the steam and returning it to the base preventing the food from drying out. 

This popular Moroccan dish has a lovely depth of spicy and slightly sweet flavours and the meat is falling-off-the-bone tender.  I make it with lamb forequarter chops that I trim and slice into two or three pieces but use whatever cuts you like.

There should be lots of thin, deeply tasty sauce that is perfect to eat with couscous.  

Serves 4-5  

Preparation time:  30 minutes or less       Cook time: 2 ½ - 3 hours

Tagine Spice Mix
2 tsp dried ground ginger
2 tsp paprika
½ tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
½ tsp cayenne pepper

3 tbsp good quality oil
1 kg (2¼ lbs) lamb with bone in, cut into large pieces
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
3-4 cloves garlic, finely sliced
4 cups (1 litre/2 ¼ pints) hot water
2 x 2.5cm (1 inch) sticks cinnamon
4 green cardamom pods
4 cloves
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 tsp salt (or to taste)
2 pieces orange peel about 2cm (1 inch) wide and about 7 cm (3 inches) long
6 prunes, chopped in 3 or 4 pieces
Juice of 1 orange
2 tsp honey
Pinch saffron (optional)

To serve: couscous, harissa, salad

Place the lamb in a bowl or other non-corrosive container, add 1 tablespoon of the oil and sprinkle over the spice mix.  Mix until all the pieces are well coated with the spice and oil.  Cover and set aside.

Heat remaining oil in a large tagine or pan and saut√© the onion and garlic for about 5 minutes or until softened.  Move to one side and add the meat.  Cook the meat pieces turning once or twice until sealed.

Stir in the whole spices, carrots and salt and bring to the boil.  Turn down the heat to very low and simmer gently for about an 1 ½ hours.  If you cook this in a tagine you won’t need to stir, otherwise stir once or twice during that time.

Add the orange peel, prunes, orange juice, honey and saffron if using, and stir into tagine.  Simmer for a further hour or more until the meat is really tender. 

Couscous with Saffron Raisins and Mint

Serves 4-5 

Preparation and cooking time: 10 minutes or less (plus standing time) 

1 ½ cups hot water
Large pinch saffron threads
1 tbsp raisins
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
¼ tsp salt or to taste
1 ½ cups couscous
2 -3 tbsp chopped fresh mint

Place the water, saffron and raisins in a medium saucepan, cover and set aside for about 30 minutes.

Bring mixture to the boil, and stir in the olive oil, salt and couscous.  Remove from the heat, cover again and let stand for 10-12 minutes.

Fluff the couscous and break the lumps to separate the grains using a fork.  Stir in the mint and serve.


Harissa is a fiery hot, garlicky Middle Eastern chilli paste used to add flavour to a whole range of foods.  It can be stirred into soups, rice and couscous. It can be used for basting meat and fish, for flavouring marinades and salad dressings   and even stirred into mayonnaise, yoghurt or sour cream for a delicious dip.  It’s also easy to make.

I usually make this paste with dried red chillies because it keeps longer but it is just as good made with fresh chillies so use which ever you wish.  You can also vary the type of chilli according to how hot you want the paste to be.

Makes about ¾ of a cup

About 40 (30g/1 oz.) dried red chillies
6 cloves garlic, sliced
4 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp lemon juice or red wine vinegar
½ tsp coarse salt
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin

Remove any stalks still attached to chillies and soak in hot water for about half an hour or until soft.  If the chillies are very full of seeds, remove about half.

Combine chillies with garlic, olive oil, lemon juice or vinegar and salt and grind down to a paste using a pestle and mortar, blender or food processor.

Stir in the spices and transfer to a clean air tight container.  Drizzle on some extra oil and store in the fridge for up to 4 weeks if using dried chillies and up to a week if using fresh.


Debs said...

Kris this sounds delicious. Don't think I'd bother to make the harissa though as it's so easily available here in Spain.

Congrats on finishing the new cook book too. Another one on my shopping list now LOL.

So jealous you are entering summer as we are now entering winter. I am wearing a thick jumper as I type

Kris Dhillon said...

Hi Debs,

This tagine is delicious and quite easy to make. You're in the right part of the world to get good harissa I suppose and of course the instant couscous is really quick and easy to prepare so overall this a fairly hassle free meal and very good.

Looking forward to summer although we are still in the cold spell and still wearing jumpers too!


Andrea the Kitchen Witch said...

Hi Kris! This sounds amazing!! I'll have to make this sometime for sure :) I just made and posted your Peshwari Pilau, its my favorite rice ever :) Thanks for the great recipe and if you'd like to see my post heres the link