Mad About Moroccan; Lamb Tagine with Couscous

I must admit I was irrevocably seduced by the Moroccan food prepared by Chef Jonathan Pratt at a recent cooking demonstration.  His warm and sweetly spiced lamb tagine was fall-off-the bone tender.  It was served over couscous to soak up the delicious gravy.  I was inspired to attempt to recreate it for our Easter dinner.  The aromatic fragrances permeated the house and my guests and I were so eager to dig in that I didn’t even think about taking photos for my blog.  Trust me, this is a dish you could develop a craving for. Cooking Light gave me permission to use this photo by Becky Luigart-Stayner which provides a close match.

I made the dish in a Dutch oven, but if you have a ceramic tagine, you will know how to make it the traditional way.

Ingredients for marinade ( serves 6)

2 ½ lbs boneless leg of lamb, cut into1-inch cubes

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

¼ cup orange juice

4 T extra virgin olive oil

1 T chopped fresh cilantro

1 T chopped fresh mint

1 t roasted ground cumin

1/8 t freshly grated nutmeg

Procedure for marinade

Mix the lamb cubes, garlic, orange juice, olive oil, herbs and spices in a large non-metallic bowl.  Cover and place in refrigerator overnight.

Ingredients for tagine

Cubed lamb, marinated

2 T extra virgin olive oil

1 large Spanish onion, thinly sliced

Lamb marinade

16 oz. chicken stock

½ cup whole skinless almonds

½ cup pitted dates cut in thirds

1/2 cup prunes, cut in thirds

½ cup raisins

½ t ground ginger

1 t harissa*

1 t ras el hanout

1 3-inch cinnamon  stick

¼ preserved lemon peel. Sliced into very fine slivers

1 can chickpeas, drained

1 butternut squash, peeled, seeds removed, cut into 1 ½ -inch cubes and roasted until tender

1 lb. carrots peeled, cut into 2-inch lengths and roasted until tender

¼ cup honey

*Harissa is a hot chili paste that is commonly found in North African cooking, mainly Moroccan, Algerian, and Tunisian cuisine. It is added to couscous, soups, pastas and other recipes. It can be purchased in Middle Eastern stores and other specialty food stores.

Chef Jonathan Pratt demonstrating tagine cooking


The next day, drain the lamb and reserve the marinade.  Add 2 T oil to a large skillet, pat dry and brown lamb cubes in batches.  Don’t crowd. Remove and set aside.  Add onions and fry gently for 5 minutes.   Add reserved marinade and chicken stock.  Bring just to a boil.  Add lamb cubes, almonds, dates, prunes, raisins, ginger, harissa, ras el hanout, cinnamon and preserved lemon peel and simmer gently for an hour until meat is very tender.  Add chickpeas, squash, carrots and honey.  Simmer for another fifteen minutes.  Remove cinnamon stick.

Paula Wolfert’s 7-Day Preserved Lemons

2 ripe lemons

1/3 cup kosher salt

½ cup fresh lemon juice

Olive oil

Scrub the lemons and dry well. Cut each into 8 wedges.  Toss them with the salt and place in a ½ pint glass jar with a glass or plastic-coated lid.  Pour in the lemon juice.  Close the jar tightly and let the lemons ripen at room temperature for 7 days.  Shake the jar each day to distribute the salt and juice.  To store, add olive oil to cover and refrigerate for up to 6 months.

Ras el Hanout (makes 2 ½ tablespoons)

1 t cumin seeds

1 t coriander seeds

1 ½ t black peppercorns

4 whole cloves

6 allspice berries

6 blades of soft stick cinnamon (or 1 ½ t ground cinnamon)

1 t ground ginger (don’t substitute fresh)

¼ t cayenne pepper

In a small skillet (cast iron is good) toast cumin seeds and coriander seeds. Place in a spice grinder along with black peppercorns, cloves, allspice berries and soft stick cinnamon.  Grind and sieve them into a bottle.  Add ginger and cayenne pepper.  Cap tightly and shake to mix.

Couscous Updated

Chef Jonathan Pratt’s recipe for couscous makes use of a half sheet pan instead of a pot or bowl.  He explains that steaming the couscous in any bowl-shaped vessel does not cook the couscous evenly.  Some of the grains steam thoroughly and some remain undercooked.  This sheet pan method steams the couscous evenly and thoroughly.


Olive oil

12 oz. medium couscous

1 onion, thinly sliced

2 carrots, julienned into 2-inch lengths

2 small zucchini, julienned into 2-inch lengths

1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and julienned

Peel of 1 preserved lemon wedge, very thinly sliced

1 sweet red pepper, seeded and slivered

½ cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped

½ cup fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped


Lightly oil a half sheet pan and spread out the couscous on it.  Pour 1 ½ cups boiling water over the couscous as evenly as possibly.  Immediately cover tightly with aluminum foil or plastic wrap.  Let steam while preparing vegetables.

Quickly sauté each vegetable, one at a time, until caramelized and add to couscous, lifting and replacing foil cover.**  Sprinkle on shreds of preserved lemon and red pepper.  Just before serving, add fresh cilantro and mint.

**You might be tempted to sauté all the vegetables together, but that will cause them to steam rather than caramelize.

Photo by Becky Luigart-Stayner

Styled by Lydia DeGanis-Pursell

Cooking Light, Dec. 2003


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