Reverse psychology lamb tagine for a muggy day

Dull to even mention the weather but it has turned a bit muggy and typically British summer on us, hasn't it? The kind of weather that produces tension headaches. I have a theory on this kind of weather - that it makes people go a bit mad. I've witnessed more insane outbursts in the last two days than in the preceding month. Admittedly some of them were mine, which could also be blamed on the whole pregnancy thing to be fair to the weather.

Not that salads made much of an appearance on my plate when we had our 5 day heatwave, but now the weather has turned I feel the need to fully embrace warming, hearty food. Perhaps if I eat like it's autumn the weather will take revenge and the sun will shine again. Reverse psychology you see.

I don't think you can get more warming than a tagine (though don't hold me to this being a proper one or anything... it's a Bell creation) and I just love lamb, but only if it falls off the bone and can be carved with a spoon. (Can't believe I just wrote that, when have I ever carved lamb with a spoon?) I'm not into rare lamb. It just doesn't feel right to me. Lamb is for stews or slow roasting in my book so tagine is probably in my top ten dishes.

Now this tagine does include fruit. I know people feel quite strongly about mixing sweet and savoury. It has the Marmite effect. I bloody love a bit of pineapple on pizza and sultanas in curry so have fully embraced the fruit (and nut) theme for this recipe. I was born into the wrong era. The 70s would have been perfect for me gastronomically. Come to think of it I'm rather partial to a prawn cocktail and black forest gateau too.

The best way to cook this tagine is to make it the day before when you're using the oven for making something else. I started it off on 'never the same curry twice' night. The reason being that it really needs at least 2.5 hours in the oven to ensure the meat is tender and delicious and the spices have worked their magic. So clearly not something to prepare on a school night for eating that eve unless you like to tuck in at midnight. Also, the thrifty part of me can't justify having the oven on for an evening for just one dish. It's just plain wasteful.


- a pack of stewing lamb, about 500g, chopped into 1 inch pieces (neck, shoulder, breast or shank)
- 2 tablespoons of honey
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- a cinnamon stick
- a good shake of ground cinnamon
- a teaspoon of turmeric
- a teaspoon of ground black pepper
- a tablespoon of paprika
- a teaspoon of cayenne pepper
- a tablespoon of ground ginger
- a handful of dried apricots cut into quarters
- a handful of dried dates
- half a butternut squash cut into chunks, no seeds or skin thank you
- a 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
- a 400g tin of chickpeas
- flaked almonds

Evening 1
Preheat the oven to Gas 5. (Hopefully you're cooking something else at the same time so it's just on already.) Take the oil and honey and mix in a large bowl, add all the spices except the cinnamon stick and stir until you have a reddish browny gloopy mixture. Pop the lamb in and coat. You could leave it overnight but then this turns into a three day recipe which I think is a bit excessive.

Put a frying pan onto a medium heat and add the lamb, a few bits at a time, to brown it. Don't let them get too close of they don't brown properly. Once browned on all sides transfer to a casserole dish. (The pan might smoke a little because of the honey, Mr B informed me the oil was burning. It wasn't, but we did need to open a window as he started coughing.)

Pour any remaining sticky spice mixture into the casserole dish and then add the cinnamon stick. I actually added three but mine are quite old so might not be as potent as they should be. Pour over the tinned tomatoes and then a tin of tap water. Add the dates, apricots and butternut squash and put in the oven for about 45 mins uncovered. Then turn down to Gas 2 for another hour or so. Longer if you want. Just keep a check every 30 mins or so that the liquid hasn't dried up. Mine was fine. Take out the oven before you go to bed to allow time to cool and then pop in the fridge overnight.

Evening 2
Preheat the oven to Gas 4. Take the tagine out of the fridge and mix in a tin of drained chick peas. You can boil up dried ones but I never leave enough time for soaking and cooking etc so usually end up using a tin. No matter, though some people do insist the dried ones are 'silkier'. Leave the tagine in the oven for about an hour then check the meat is tender, which it really should be by now, and serve with cous cous or flat bread and flaked almonds sprinkled on top.

P.S. My friend Annie thinks cous cous is the devil's work. I have to say it's not my favourite thing in the world though I don't feel as strongly as she does. I think it's best with lemon juice, zest and herbs stirred through and works well with fatty, meaty dishes like this to make it, well, just a bit more interesting than sawdust.
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