Sep 26 2010

Project Food Blog Challenge #2: A Moroccan Classic

Published by at 1:29 pm under Dinner

Last night I prepared a meal that contained no cheese. No sweet potatoes, no balsamic vinegar. Not even a pinch of chopped basil. Who is this girl?

The second challenge in Foodbuzz’s Project Food Blog asks contestants to go outside their comfort zones and prepare a classic dish from a foreign cuisine. Admittedly, the first thing that came to mind was Chicken Tikka Masala, because I’ll take any excuse to indulge in a creamy tomato sauce. But then I started to think of all the ethnic foods that I literally know zilch about cooking.

One of my favorite memories from studying abroad in Paris my junior year of college was a weekend trip I took to Marrakech, Morocco with my two best friends from high school. We were only there for two nights, but walking through the colorful markets (souks), seeing rows upon rows of vibrant spices, handmade shoes and pottery and rich fabrics made for a jaw-dropping welcome. And then there was the food.

We ate dinner one night with a Moroccan-born English teacher with a penchant for Bob Dylan, and his sister-in-law served us a roasted chicken with fresh oranges and bananas. We all ate sitting around a table together, picking chicken off the bones with our fingers, and to this day the only comparable chicken I’ve had was at the critically-acclaimed Zuni in San Francisco. The next night we dined at Le Foundouk, an upscale restaurant known for their chicken, lamb and beef tagines, or slow-cooked stews full of meat, vegetables and more spices than you can imagine.

Confession: Besides soup, I’ve never really slow-cooked anything in my life. I have a very American need for instant gratification, even when it comes to cooking (this is also why I rarely allow dough to rise for a full hour, shamefully). Nor do I know much about the proper uses for turmeric. I do, however, have a clay pot that my dad bought for me at Toque Blanche in Half Moon Bay, designed exactly for making these kinds of dishes. I’d been a little too intimidated to try it out over the past few months, so I knew it was now or never.

In sum, I used new kitchen equipment, new cooking techniques and new ingredients to pull off this meal, Moroccan Lamb Tagine. My mom has always said if you can read a recipe, you can cook, so I was counting on some help from the pros.

The recipe I used as a base was a Moroccan Lamb Tagine in Paula Wolfert’s book Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking, a version of which was published here by the LA Times. I wanted another vegetable besides tomatoes and onions in there, so I added carrots, which are a common ingredient in many tagines. I also tweaked the spice mixture, because again, they’re all a little different (I checked out a few different recipes for ideas on spices and was sure to keep it authentic).

The great thing about these clay pots, which cook basically identically to Moroccan tagines, is that you can use them on the stove or in the oven. Still, lower temperatures are better to avoid cracks, and you should be careful about using them on top of a direct flame on the stove. My original recipe called for a heat diffuser to avoid that problem, but since I don’t have one, I did the whole thing in the oven. Either method works well, though the timing is a little different.

So here’s how it all happened…

First, I prepped my veggies. That meant peeling and quartering six Roma tomatoes lengthwise, chopping up two big carrots, and grating a red onion. Why have I never thought to grate an onion before!? I also used two other red onions, which I just sliced thinly.

Then I soaked golden raisins in warm water for 15 minutes. This is what they looked like after the soak — so plump.

Next was the lamb. I used pieces cut from the leg, which a helpful woman at the meat market recommended for stews. I just trimmed all the fat off and cut it up into smaller cubes about one to 1.5 inches thick.

I placed the grated onion and lamb into my clay pot with a bunch of spices — see the cinnamon stick? — and a little oil and butter. I cooked the mixture in a 400 degree oven for about 10 minutes, just to get the spices to open up. Then I added a little water to bring it all to a boil.

I added the sliced onions, raisins and tomatoes on top of the lamb and cooked the whole thing, covered, for 2 hours in a 350 degree oven.

After two hours I drained the pot of all its juice, and then brought the juice to a boil in a separate small pot. I reduced it down to about 3/4 a cup of liquid, poured it back over the top, and added a little cinnamon sugar on top of that. Then I cooked the whole thing for 45 minutes, uncovered.

When I took it out, it looked like this. And my kitchen smelled unbelievable.

I served the tagine over a fluffy couscous, garnished with some fresh parsley. And a big glass of wine in the foreground, of course.

Moroccan Lamb Tagine

Adapted from the Moroccan Lamb Tagine in Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking by Paula Wolfert

Ingredients (Makes 4 servings):

2 pounds leg of lamb meat, cubed

1/3 cup golden raisins

1/2 cup hot water, plus more for soaking raisins

3 red onions, 1 grated and 2 thinly sliced

2 tsp. Moroccan spice mixture (see recipe below)

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

1/8 tsp. saffron threads

1 cinnamon stick


1 tbsp. butter

3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, divided

6 Roma tomatoes, peeled, seeded and quartered lengthwise


1.5 tbsp. sugar mixed with 1 tsp. ground cinnamon

2 cups dry couscous

4 cups water

2 tbsp. chopped parsley

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Trim excess fat from lamb and cut into 1-inch to 1.5-inch cubes.

Soak raisins in warm water for 15 minutes.

Place lamb, grated onion, Moroccan spice mixture, cayenne, saffron, cinnamon stick, 1 tsp. salt, butter and half the olive oil in the tagine (or clay pot, in my case). Cook covered in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove from oven, and add 1/2 cup water. Cover meat mixture with drained raisins and sliced onion, and place tomatoes, cut side down, on top. Cover pot, reduce heat to 350 degrees, and cook for 2 hours.

Drain liquid from clay pot into a separate small pot or saucepan. Bring liquid to a boil and reduce to 3/4 cup. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove cinnamon stick from clay pot, and pour the reduced liquid over the tomatoes. Sprinkle sugar and cinnamon mixture on top. Bake uncovered for another 45 minutes.

Turn oven to broil and add remaining oil to clay pot. Cook for 5 minutes.

Combine couscous and water in a large pot with a pinch of salt, and bring to boil. Cook for about 5 minutes, fluffing occasionally with a fork until the liquid has been absorbed.

Serve contents of clay pot over couscous, and top with parsley.

As I mentioned before, every tagine recipe has a different spice mixture, so I looked at several before coming up with the combination I wanted to use for this recipe. I definitely learned that it helps to see what other people are doing, but you can also work with the contents of your spice cabinet pretty easily.

Moroccan Spice Mixture


1 tbsp. ground turmeric

1 tsp. cumin

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. black pepper

2 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. nutmeg

1/3 tsp. cayenne pepper

1/2 tsp. allspice

The verdict? I’m a slow-cooking convert. The lamb was so tender when cooked for hours in the hot liquid (surprise, surprise), and so much of the work is hands-off that it didn’t feel like a chore. And as for the flavors… Wow. I’ve already vowed to use cinnamon in savory dishes as often as possible.

My clay pot may be my new best friend, and I have a feeling it’s going to get quite the workout in a few months, when winter soups are on the menu. But for now, I’m still enjoying leftovers.

24 responses so far

24 Responses to “Project Food Blog Challenge #2: A Moroccan Classic”

  1. Leslie @ Chomp!on 26 Sep 2010 at 2:39 pm

    looks delicious!! i’ve never cooked lamb before, but now i want to try.

    good luck! i’ll be voting!

  2. Livon 26 Sep 2010 at 2:41 pm

    Thanks so much, Leslie! Good luck to you, too… I’m a Mississippi girl originally, so I loved reading about your jambalaya!

  3. Sharonon 27 Sep 2010 at 3:00 am

    Looks wonderful. Can’t wait to try it…

  4. […] you may have guessed from my post yesterday for Project Food Blog’s second challenge, I’m still a contestant in Foodbuzz’s […]

  5. Heatheron 27 Sep 2010 at 10:39 am

    Is it bad that my tummy rumbled and I just ate lunch? :-/ This looks AWESOME.

  6. Delishhhon 27 Sep 2010 at 1:32 pm

    I did Moroccan too. Nice post. You got my vote.

  7. Livon 27 Sep 2010 at 4:35 pm

    Thanks, Heather! I loved checking out your Thai dishes, too!

  8. Livon 27 Sep 2010 at 4:36 pm

    Mmmm I love lentils, and your soup looks fabulous! Thanks for the vote — right back at you.

  9. Eliseon 27 Sep 2010 at 6:12 pm

    oh my gosh that looks delicious!!!!!

  10. Livon 27 Sep 2010 at 8:28 pm

    Thanks! You’ll have to come visit and taste for yourself…

  11. […] Liv Bites (blog here) […]

  12. Larkeon 28 Sep 2010 at 12:00 pm

    Oh Liv, I am further impressed with your culunary expertise and the lamb (which I love but don’t get to partake of often) looks devine. Keep up the good work girl.
    Love, Larke

  13. kathleene shapleyon 28 Sep 2010 at 12:52 pm

    sounds delicious–bring it back to MS for us to try!

  14. Peteron 28 Sep 2010 at 6:57 pm

    Mmmm, love lamb, and that looks good. You got our vote.

    We did Moroccan too!

  15. Livon 28 Sep 2010 at 8:11 pm

    Thanks, Larke! Miss you!

  16. Livon 28 Sep 2010 at 8:12 pm

    I think my mom’s going to put me to work next time I come home, now that I’m a culinary student!

  17. Livon 28 Sep 2010 at 8:12 pm

    Thanks, Peter! I voted for you, too…

  18. The Enchanted Cookon 28 Sep 2010 at 8:57 pm

    Nice choice!! I look forward to making a tagine someday soon. PS – I just voted for you!

    Best wishes,

  19. Livon 28 Sep 2010 at 9:01 pm

    Thanks, Veronica! Likewise!

  20. Anneon 29 Sep 2010 at 4:22 am

    Looks great!

  21. Collie Suggon 29 Sep 2010 at 9:50 am

    Liv, your mom sent me your blog and I’m so–oo impressed! I have never cooked lamb but you made this look so easy and delicious I’m going to give it a try. I’m getting ready to vote and will keep my fingers crossed. Enjoy culinary school

  22. Marilyn Dzielakon 29 Sep 2010 at 11:29 am


    David and I are so excited for you. Enjoy culinary school!!!


  23. Livon 29 Sep 2010 at 8:49 pm

    Thanks, Collie! Let me know how it goes if you try it — I’d love to hear all about it! Hope you and the boys are well.

  24. Livon 29 Sep 2010 at 8:49 pm

    Thanks, Marilyn! I appreciate it 🙂