Lamb Stew with Almonds and Apricots

Following this recipe from the NY Times the other day, I made a sweet lamb stew with honey, almonds, and apricots. The stew is a traditional lamb tagine called Mrouzia, prepared throughout North Africa during Ramadan. I had several problems with the NY Times recipe, the first being that although the recipe calls for 3 lbs of lamb, if you look at the video instructions on the NY Times site, the chef is clearly using at least 4 lbs of lamb and is using 6 cups of stock to go with it. I used only 2 lbs of lamb, reduced the stock required by a third, and it still took way too long to reduce to the proper consistency. The stew is also very sweet. Apparently a Mrouzia uses a lot of honey as a way to help preserve the meat in places without refrigeration. But, that’s not a problem here, and all that honey just makes it seem unbalanced. Finally, I messed up and used regular whole raw almonds instead of blanched almonds (without skins). I don’t think it makes much of a difference, but every recipe I checked calls for blanched almonds.

The stew was actually terrific, especially after I balanced the sweetness a little with some fresh squeezed lemon juice. It is highly flavorful and very rich. What follows are the proportions of ingredients that I would use the next time I make this stew – less stock, a lot less honey and a little lemon to balance the sweetness.

Ingredients

  • 3 lbs. lamb shoulder or neck, trimmed of fat and cut into 2 1/2 inch cubes
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/4 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 3 cups chicken stock or water
  • 1 1/2 cups dried apricots, roughly chopped, or raisins
  • 1 1/2 cups almonds, whole and blanched
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1-2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice (optional)
  • 1 cup carrots, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices
  • 1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Method

lamb-almond-apricots-1.jpg 1 In a bowl combine the ginger, pepper, cinnamon, turmeric, cayenne, coriander, cardamom, nutmeg, cloves and water and mix well. Add the meat and rub in the paste, coating evenly. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

2 In a Dutch oven or other heavy, lidded pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, and cinnamon sticks and cook until the onions are translucent and the mixture is fragrant.

lamb-almond-apricots-2.jpg lamb-almond-apricots-3.jpg

3 Add the marinated meat (including the marinade) to the pot and then the chicken stock. Bring the stock to a boil, and skim off any scum that appears.

lamb-almond-apricots-4.jpg 4 Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer, stirring from time to time. Add water if the pot becomes too dry. Stew until the meat is tender, about 1 1/2 hours, more if needed.

5 Add the apricots, almonds, honey, and carrots and simmer, uncovered, stirring often to prevent scorching, until the meat is very soft and almost falling apart, about 30 minutes longer. The sauce should reduce to a syrupy glaze. At this point taste and add lemon juice to desired level. The lemon juice brings some balance to the sweetness from the honey and apricots.

Note: this recipe can be prepared in advance up to this point. Allow to cool, refrigerate and serve within a couple of days.

6 Stir in the chopped parsley and transfer to a warmed serving dish. Serve immediately with couscous or rice.

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