Weir Cooking in the City: Lamb Tagine with Artichokes, Preserved Lemons, and Olives

Serves: 6

Every once in a while I like to do a dinner that's really exotic. It is times like these that I often turn to North African food. I spent some time in Morocco and particularly loved Marrakech and its exotic, spicy dishes. The word tagine actually has two meanings: a savory stew and the vessel the tagine is cooked in. A tagine pot has two pieces: a flat-bottomed, shallow dish and a conical lid. The stew is made directly in the shallow dish and served in it as well. Place the tagine in the middle of your table, remove the lid and dig in! In Morocco, it's customary to use the first three fingers of your right hand to eat directly from the pot. But, of course, you and your guests may use utensils.

• 2 pounds lamb stew meat, cut from the leg or shoulder, trimmed
• 1 1/4 cups minced yellow onion
• 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
• 5 cloves garlic, chopped
• 2 tablespoons vegetable, safflower, sunflower, or corn salad oil
• 1 1/2 teaspoons sweet paprika
• 1 teaspoon ground cumin
• 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 4 cups water
• 1/2 cup lemon juice
• 12 small artichokes or 4 medium artichokes
• 2 Preserved Lemons (recipe follows)
• 1/2 cup Kalamata olives, pitted
• Fresh cilantro sprigs as a garnish

Place the lamb, onion, parsley, garlic, oil, paprika, cumin, saffron, salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a 5-quart deep casserole.

Cover with the water and bring to a boil over high heat. Immediately reduce the heat, cover, and simmer until the meat is very tender and the sauce has reduced to a thick gravy, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Add water, if necessary, during the cooking time if the sauce gets too thick. Add 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice and season with additional salt and pepper, if needed.

Cut off the top half of the artichoke leaves. Tear off the outside dark and medium green leaves until you get to the light green tender leaves. Trim the torn edges. Trim the stem end.

Cut each artichoke in half from top to bottom. If you are using small or baby artichokes they are ready. For medium or large artichokes, using a spoon, scoop out the furry light green choke from the center. Cut into quarters.

Place the artichokes in a large bowl of cold water with 4 tablespoons of the lemon juice.

When the lamb is tender, place the artichokes on top. Rinse the preserved lemons and cut into dice. Place on top of the artichokes. Cover and cook until the artichokes are tender, 25 to 30 minutes. Add the olives and sprinkle the stew with the remaining 2 tablespoons lemon juice. Simmer for 2 minutes.

To serve, remove the cover from the tagine and garnish with the cilantro.

Wine suggestion: Cabernet Franc or Cabernet Sauvignon

Preserved Lemons

If Meyer lemons are not available, use Eureka or Lisbon varieties, which are available in any grocery store.

Yield: 1 quart

• 8 Meyer lemons, scrubbed
• 1/2 cup kosher salt
• 2 cinnamon sticks
• 4 bay leaves
• Fresh lemon juice as needed

Cut each lemon into quarters from the top to within 1/2 inch of the bottom, taking care to leave the 4 pieces joined at the stem end. Sprinkle the insides of the lemon with some of the salt.

Place 1 tablespoon of salt on the bottom of a 1-quart canning jar and pack the lemons into the jar, adding more salt, the cinnamon sticks, and the bay leaves as you go. Push down on the lemons to release as much juice as possible. Add extra lemon juice almost to the top of the jar. Cover the jar tightly.

Let the lemons sit at room temperature for 1 month, turning the jar upside down periodically to distribute the salt and juices.

To use the lemons, remove from the brine and discard the pulp. Wash the peel and use. Some white crystals will form on the top of the lemons in the jar, which is normal, so do not discard the lemons. They can be stored at room temperature or refrigerated for up to 1 year.

Recipe ©2004 Joanne Weir from Weir Cooking in the City, reprinted by permission.