Cook this: lamb & apricot tagine

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You know the whole conundrum of a closet full of clothes and nothing to wear? I’m not a girly girl with a crap load of clothes, so that doesn’t happen so much to me. My thing is that I have bookshelves (yes, plural, see below for the bulk of my collection) full of cook books and no idea what to cook. A lot of the time, I buy cook books because a) I like the pretty pictures, and b) I love to read different recipes, because I feel like it’s one of the best ways to learn about other cultures. Staring at the ridiculous amount of cookbooks I have after buying yet another one last weekend, I decided to start picking a book out each week and finding a random recipe to cook. This week, I plucked out Delicious: More Please cook book by Valli Little, food editor of Delicious magazine, which has been sitting on my shelf for literally years, after mum gave it to me for Christmas like five years ago.

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This book is beautifully photographed and laid out, in seasons – as in, here are some autumn recipes, using what’s actually in season. I love that concept. And the recipe for the lamb and apricot tagine jumped out at me again, like it did the first seven times I flicked through this book. It looked so rich and thick, a perfect dish now that the weather is getting colder. So why has it taken me so long to actually make this dish? Because, honestly, the very long list of ingredients and lack of 1., 2., 3. method really put me off. I really hate recipes that have the method written out in long paragraphs – I just want dot point steps!

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Anyway, it got me thinking about not only how many great recipes I haven’t bothered trying because they seem too hard at first glance, and also how many recipes other people gloss over for the same reason. For that reason, I decided to re-write this recipe to something a bit more simple and easy for a real person in a real kitchen to cook, using mostly ingredients already around the house. Because let’s face it – when you have to buy a stupid amount of ingredients like obscure spices that you’re only even going to use for the one dish, you may as well just go and order the dish at a restaurant, where it’s going to be quicker and cheaper. I don’t think my pared down version has lost too much – it was

Here’s my version of Valli Little’s lamb and apricot tagine (enough to serve 4) – hopefully it’s simple enough for you guys to try too, because it’s actually not as hard as it looks and a really delicious autumn meal!

 

Marinade for lamb
– 1 garlic clove, minced
– 1 tbsp fresh ginger, finely grated
– 1 heaped tsp cumin powder
– 1 heaped tsp sweet paprika
– sprinkle of salt
– 3 tbsp olive oil
– 500g diced lamb

1. Combine everything but the lamb in a larger plastic container into a paste.

2. Add the lamb to the container, mix the paste through until it’s well coated, and let it marinate away in the fridge for an hour or so.

 

Cous cous
– zest of 1 orange
– 2 tbsp golden raisins
– 1 tsp cumin powder
– 1 tsp sweet paprika
– 1 cup cous cous
– 1 tsp butter
– 1 tbsp toasted slivered almonds (optional)

While the tagine is finishing up in that last 10 – 15 minute simmer, prepare the cous cous:

1. Heat a small saucepan over low/medium heat, and add the zest, raisins and spices, and cook gently for a minute or two, until you can really smell it.

3. Add 1 cup of water, bring the the boil, then take the saucepan off the heat.

4. Stir in the cous cous, cover, and sit aside for 5 minutes.

5. Add the butter and work it through/fluff the cous cous up with a fork. Mix in the almonds if you want them, and it’s ready to go with the tagine!

 

The rest of the tagine
– olive oil
– 20g butter
– 1 onion, chopped- 1 x 400g tin chickpeas , drained
– 1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
– 2 cups beef, lamb or vegetable stock
– 1 tbsp honey
– ½ cup dried apricots, cut in half
– toasted sesame seeds and coriander to serve (optional)

1. Heat a large pot over high heat and drizzle in a little olive oil. Cook the lamb in batches if the pot isn’t big enough to cook it all at once, just sealing it off/browning it. Then remove it from the pot and set aside.

2. Keep the pot on over medium heat and add the butter. Once melted, add the onion and cook, stirring, until it softens a little (around 5 minutes).

3. Put the lamb back into the pot and stir it into the onion. If you like extra spices/have them around, like cinnamon, chilli, ras el hanout, add in a little of them here, too.

4. Next, stir in the chickpeas, tomatoes, stock and honey – you should have enough liquid in the pot now to just cover the lamb. If you need more, add more!

5. Bring it to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, partly covered, for 45 minutes.

6. Uncover and simmer for another 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

7. Last step of the simmering process – add the apricots, and simmer/stir for another 10 – 15 minutes.

8. Sprinkle some toasted sesame seeds and fresh coriander leaves on top, and serve with cous cous. Enjoy!
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Eat here: Leyalina, Melbourne (Egyptian)

Leyalina
191 Lygon St, Carlton, Melbourne
https://www.facebook.com/leyalina.melbourne

It’s hard to believe it was just two years ago we were in Egypt; it almost feels like a dream, now. I’d been wanting to visit Egypt my whole life, but was a little hesitant about the food. I wasn’t too familiar with Egyptian food, and wasn’t sure I’d really like it. What if it was too spicy? Too strange? Ingredients I didn’t understand or like? But we don’t travel to be comfortable, so instead of taking the easy way out and ordering burgers and chips everywhere, I threw myself headfirst into it and ordered falafel and grilled meat of every variety, dips and flat breads, and whatever else people wanted to recommend. And I loved it, all of it! Even the stuff I didn’t recognise, like most of the stuff in the photo below that we ate in the Nubian village we visited – I know there was molasses and some sort of sugar paste something-or-other… I didn’t care, it was all so good!

But strangely enough, back in Melbourne (one of the world’s greatest cultural mixing pots), there really aren’t many/any options for good Egyptian restaurants, so it’s been a little difficult for me to sate my appetite and relive the good memories from that trip. Until now: enter Leyalina. This Egyptian eatery opened on Lygon Street only 7 weeks ago, and is already earning itself quite a reputation. Visiting on Saturday night, we couldn’t help notice that the two story restaurant was packed out for pretty much the entire duration of our visit, a solid two hours. A pretty impressive feat for a 7 week old restaurant.

The lovely Marco greeted us and continued to check on us throughout the night, making sure our food was coming out to us in a timely fashion (which it did, despite how busy they were) and that we were happy with everything, which we very much were. I’ll come back to that later, though. First, the food.

We got started with the house made hummus ($9.50) and lemonade with mint ($6.00). The lemonade was a little overpriced, but the hummus was fantastic! Super smooth and perfectly balanced, with the sprinkle of paprika and parsley, and drizzle of olive oil – no overpowering garlic or tahini or anything like that. Great way to start a meal.

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Next up was the mixed grill plate ($27.00) – three skewers, one each of chicken, lamb shish kebab and lamb kofta on a spiced rice with raisins. The rice was delicious, again balanced just right, nothing too overpowering or too subtle. The skewers were amazing – the chicken and lamb were both really tender meat, and the kofta was perfectly seasoned. There was also a small side salad on the plate, which made it a pretty good main meal for one.

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The falafel. Very, very good. Deep fried little balls of goodness, smothered in sesame seeds and partnered with some spicy picked vegetables and a little cup of baba ghanoush, if I’m not mistaken. They were a little different to the ones I remember eating in Egypt; a lot smoother and less chunky, and we both really enjoyed them.

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The next dish we had was the foul mendammas, something I really wanted to try in Egypt but never had the opportunity to. It’s a traditional dish of cooked and mashed fava beans with vegetable oil and cumin, and occasionally garlic, lemon juice, onion, parsley – different areas will have different variations, like pastas in Italy and bun cha in Vietnam. I loved this one, so did husband; it’s amazing how much flavour you can get into a dish this simple when you know what you’re doing with it! It was thick, rich, so full of flavour, real comfort food. Huge tick for this one!

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And, because no great meal is complete without dessert, Marco kindly recommended the Om Ali tagine – nuts, sultanas and pastry layers baked tagine-style with milk. It came out looking less than appetising. It was destroyed in a matter of minutes. Don’t be deceived by looks, this is the darling of the dessert menu for good reason! The crunchy little hazelnuts and juicy raisins were strangely perfect with the milk-softened pastry. I’m glad I got this instead of my usual baklava order; it’s something I’d have never ordered unprompted or expected to like. This is why you need to trust the guys working behind the scenes in restaurants! Thanks Marco!

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Cook this: easy lamb & sweet potato tagine

I noticed my Michelle Bridges’ Crunch Time Cookbook sitting amongst my cookbook collection around the same time I noticed my jeans getting a little tighter, a few weeks ago. Husband and I decided to make some changes, which should be easy considering we both have university degrees in exercise science, he’s a high school PE teacher, I’m an ex-personal trainer, and we’re both athletically inclined. We’re also foodies, so actually, it makes it harder. We decided to commit to a month worth of eating from the book, hoping the pre-calculated calorie allowances would mean less work for us. As you can see by some of my other posts like this one and this one, we’re also still allowing treats, because we’re humans and we like food, and we don’t believe in depriving ourselves of donuts and hamburgers and what not.

Anyway, we weren’t completely sold on this recipe but thought we’d give it a go anyway; it looked pretty hearty and warming for the current cold winter nights we’re getting, and it’s turned out to be our new favourite dinner meal. Added bonus is that the recipe below makes 6 serves, so left overs are making life hella easier at the moment!

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To make 6 serves (don’t worry, it freezes/re-heats really well):
– 650g diced lamb
– 2 tsp olive oil
– 1 brown onion, diced
– 3 garlic cloves, crushed
– 1 tbsp freshly grated ginger
– 2 tbsp Moroccan seasoning
– 1 cup vegetable stock
– 400g tin diced tomatoes
– 850g sweet potato, peeled and diced in 3cm chunks
– 1½ cups frozen peas
– juice of 1 lemon
– coriander leaves, to serve

Method:
1. Spray a larger pot with cooking oil and heat on medium-high.

2. Add the lamb (in batches, if needed) and cook for a few minutes, until browned. Remove from the pot and set aside.

3. Heave the 2 tsp olive oil in the same pot over medium heat, and add the onion, stirring until softened. Then add in the garlic, ginger and Moroccan seasoning and stir to combine.

4. Return the lamb back to the pot and stir it through the onion mixture to coat.

5. Pour the stock and tomatoes into the pot, bring it to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 50 minutes with the lid on.

6. Add in the sweet potato, replace the lid, and simmer for another 20 minutes.

7. Stir in the peas, cooking for another 2 – 3 minutes.

8. Just before serving, stir through the lemon juice, ladle into your bowls and top with coriander to serve. Enjoy!