Tajine is a dish that takes its name from the traditional clay pot it cooks in – just like “casserole.” Originating in North Africa, the tajine pot is a shallow clay dish with a lid that rises in the shape of a cone. When the cone-like top is placed over the base, the cooking juices condense inside and fall back onto the food being cooked. The result is a stew containing every particle of flavor from the ingredients, and nothing lost by evaporation.
The pot is made to cook meat, fish and even lighter foods like shakshouka. Lacking a tajine pot, you can still create fork-tender stews with traditional seasonings in conventional Western cookware (see below in Tips and Notes).
Fresh and dry fruit is often added to slow-cooked tajines made with beef, lamb or chicken. When dried apricots or prunes are in the dish, they melt and thicken the pot liquor, creating an aromatic, slightly sweet sauce. This is especially good with lamb. Beef tajines may be fairly mild, resembling conventional American beef stew with potatoes, except that the clay pot contributes a certain individual flavor of its own, and the texture of the meat is melt-in-your-mouth tender. I like this spicy, herby, very flavorful lamb tajine, made with summer’s ripe plums.
Lamb and plum tajine
PrintPrep15 minutes Cook Time1 hour 30 minutes Yield4
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 1 tbsp fresh ginger root, peeled and chopped, or 1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
- 2 tsp powdered turmeric
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 tsp coriander seeds, crushed
- 2 tsp cumin
- ½ – 1 tsp cayenne flakes
- ¼ cup dark raisins
- 1 lb boned lamb from shoulder, leg or shank, trimmed and cubed
- 2 tbsp dark honey or silan (date syrup)
- salt and pepper
- 1 small bunch fresh cilantro or parsley leaves
- 4 large, sweet plums, quartered
- 2 tbsp blanched, slivered almonds
- Heat the oil in the tajine or pan. Fry and stir onions in it until golden.
- Add the garlic and spices; heat through one minute.
- Add lamb and cook all sides, turning it over in the spices three or four times to coat it well.
- Add water to just cover the meat. Bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat to a simmer and add the raisins.
- Cover and simmer one hour or until the meat is tender.
- Stir in honey and season with salt and pepper. Cook a further 10 minutes, uncovered.
- Add quartered plums. Cook 15 minutes more.
- Stir in most of the cilantro or parsley, reserving some for garnish
- Serve with couscous or plain rice.
- Substitute ripe peaches or fresh apricots for the plums. You can also use dried fruit, like prunes or dried apricots. If using dried fruit, add them before adding the water.
- Use a wide, heavy pan instead of a tajine, or a casserole with a lid. If using a casserole, this dish may be made in the oven at 325°F and cooked for 2 hours.
- If a thick sauce is desired, remove the lamb from the tajine or casserole when it’s tender. Reduce the liquid by boiling it down. Replace the lamb and heat through again before serving.
- Clay cooking vessels will crack if exposed to sudden temperature changes. If cooking with gas, put a flame diffuser pad between the tajine and the flame. Never set a hot tajine down on a cold surface like a marble counter or an iron table trivet; place a folded towel down first.