Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Lamb and Date Tagine (in the Pressure Cooker)


After a wet and chilly May day spent touring—and taking a myriad pictures of—the most impressive Alhambra, my husband Will and I made a trek into the Moroccan part of Granada for dinner.   I really don’t remember what my husband had for dinner because we were both so much more engrossed in my excellent choice for entrée—a lamb and date tagine. 

Salivating over its fragrance while the dish was being placed in front of me, we hardly noticed that two young Japanese women had gotten seated at the table next to us.  It didn’t take long—after all, they too had olfactory senses!—for one of the women to venture a conversational opener.  She asked me if I was Japanese—and, more to the point, did I speak any Japanese.  Alas, no, I do not speak any Japanese, but my husband can speak a little Japanese, I offered.  We are often confronted with this same situation.  We travel quite a bit, and my Korean features are often mistaken for Japanese, Chinese/Taiwanese, and (in France) also Vietnamese.   Of course, the odder part might be having a white Anglo-looking husband who happens to speak Japanese (Will having taught English in Japan after college). 

Anyway, it actually didn’t take any knowledge of Japanese to figure out that they were asking the name of the entrée I had ordered.  I tend to have enormous, and no doubt misplaced, pride in ordering the best dish at a table, and it was with some satisfaction that I announced that it was the lamb and date tagine.  They were grateful, much thanks, etc.  When the server was taking their order, I heard them ask for the lamb tagine.  “With dates or with vegetables?”  To my surprise, I heard some uncertainty and conferring, followed by . . . “Vegetable.”  Did they misunderstand or misremember?  Or did they decide that they would like more vegetables in their dish?  Should I intervene and—essentially—make them change their order?  Wouldn’t that be stepping too much over accepted boundaries of proper restaurant etiquette amongst fellow foreign travelers?  Is it bordering on culinary colonialism?  In the end, we did not say anything.  The lamb and vegetable tagine, when it arrived, did not look nearly as scrumptious as did my rapidly disappearing lamb and date tagine.  We shrugged off this experience with the agreement that we did our best.  I always wonder though if they secretly cursed me for having misled them. . . .

Now lamb and date tagine is a dish we like on a chilly Sunday evening.  For our own table, I modified Nigella Lawson’s easy recipe found on BBC Food website (http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/lambanddatetagine_90621) to accommodate the dish for the pressure cooker.  I find using pressure cooker for entrees like tagines and boeuf Bourguignon makes meat pieces stay better intact while still becoming incredibly moist and tender.  And, yes, it also shortens the cooking time by at least 50%.  If you combine Nigella Lawson’s recipe for this tagine with general cooking instructions from the Cuisinart Electric Pressure Cooker recipe booklet for Classic Beef Stew (http://www.cuisinart.com/recipes/entrees/750.html), you should be able to develop your very own recipe for lamb and date tagine.   Feel free to write with questions or comments about making your own modifications.  Share!


Some final notes:
You can, if you wish, dispense with gathering together all the different spices that Nigella Lawson calls for by substituting an equal total amount of a pre-mixed tagine spice concoction.  

I have tried and liked both Williams-Sonoma Traditional Tagine Spices (http://www.williams-sonoma.com/products/tagine-spice-blend/) and Moroccan Spice Mix from the Spice House (http://www.thespicehouse.com/spices/moroccan-spice-mixture).  

Keep in mind that you might need to alter your seasoning a bit depending on which spice mixture you decide to use.  For instance, the mix from Spice House includes salt and curry powder while the Williams-Sonoma version includes paprika and black pepper, none of which are found in Nigella Lawson’s recipe (and missing other spices in her ingredients list).  Tagines (and cooking in general) are not supposed to be exact sciences.  Modify according to your tastes—and what’s in your spice rack.  Also, I would definitely recommend throwing on final garnishing touches of fresh cilantro and toasted almonds at the end.

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