Archive for January 2013

Tagine Temptation

January 26, 2013

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My beautiful tagine, much neglected since I’ve been a low carb eater, has been calling out to me of late. A heap of lovely lamb in my fridge and a stretch of gloomy and damp weather made me long for a slow-simmered Moroccan tagine. But alas, lamb tagine is often made with honey, raisins, prunes, and other sorts of sweet delights that I no longer eat. Surely there must be a low carb version of this splendid dish, I thought.

The advice of an online Moroccan cooking group and an online recipe search led me to this idea: a homey, soothing concoction of lamb, cauliflower, preserved lemon, saffron, and La Kama spices, a favorite spice mixture taught to many of us by the esteemed Paula Wolfert, mistress of all things tagine.

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It’s hard to say just how authentically Moroccan this is, since I more or less threw it together, but it’s certainly Moroccan-inflected. Its spices are gentle and comforting, the meltingly tender lamb and the almost-falling-apart cauliflower make for a rustic dish just right for eating from a bowl with a spoon on a rainy night. In fact, it might be kind of a gateway Moroccan food, since it’s not at all threatening or unfamiliar, more like a gentle hand leading you toward the delights of North African cuisine. Give it a try, and if you don’t have a tagine, you can definitely make this in a heavy pot like a Le Creuset. The texture might not be as unctuous, but it’ll still be delicious. La Kama spice should contain cubebs, but I don’t have any, and you probably don’t either. I used Urfa pepper, hoping it would add a slightly bitter warmth, and if you don’t have either one, well, just do your best.

Abra’s Low Carb Lamb and Cauliflower Tagine

2 1/2 lbs lamb shoulder, cubed
1 heaping tsp ground ginger
1 heaping tsp turmeric
1 heaping tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp Urfa pepper
2/3 tsp cinnamon
1/3 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp saffron threads, soaked in 3 T hot water
3 T olive oil
1 small onion, grated
1 cup water
1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
2 tsp salt, divided use
1 preserved lemon, skin only, cut into slivers

Mix the ginger, turmeric, pepper, Urfa pepper, cinnamon, and nutmeg together in a small bowl. Place the cubed lamb in the bottom of the tagine and sprinkle the spice mixture over it. Toss the lamb with your hands until all of the meat is coated with the spices. Add the saffron and its soaking water and the olive oil and mix again. This time you probably want to use a spoon, or the saffron will stain your hands a lively yellow. Stir in the grated onion, the water, and one teaspoon of salt and mix to combine.

Place the tagine bottom on a cold stove and cover it with the lid. You need to bring the tagine up to cooking temperature very slowly, so this is what I do. I have a glass cooktop, you might need to adjust these instructions for your own stove. I turn the burner to the very lowest setting, which is barely warm. I set a timer for 5 minutes and walk away, otherwise I’m tempted to raise the heat too fast. After 5 minutes I raise the heat one click, set the timer for another 5 minutes, and repeat this twice more, so that after 20 minutes the tagine is good and warm, and on a medium-low setting. Let it come up to a simmer and cook for an hour and a half without removing the lid. You’ll want to peek, but don’t. It won’t be burning or sticking, you don’t need to stir.

After the hour and a half add the cauliflower florets and another teaspoon of salt, give it all a good stir, cover it again, and let it cook for another 30-40 minutes, depending on how soft you want your cauliflower. Remove the lid and add the preserved lemon. Serve with harissa, if you want to spice it up a bit.

Dark-Eyed Strangers

January 14, 2013

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A sudden fluttering drew my eye, and just like that the winter-frozen deck was alive with little birds, perhaps a dozen of them. They were showy, unfamiliar, and they were clustered around a potted grass that had gone to seed and not yet been cut back. They didn’t cheep or twitter, and they seemed enraptured by the grass.

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At first I was confused, as I thought this little female was gathering stems for her nest, and it definitely isn’t nest-building time. The avian band was mainly males, and I thought it ironic that she was working while the guys just hopped around.DSC_5527

But then I realized that the rest of the birds were taking turns stripping seeds from the grass, hopping up to grab a stem in their beaks, then holding on as gravity pulled them downwards and the seeds fell in a shower around them.

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They were calm, efficient, unafraid, having flown in from who knows where to stop at our house for lunch, unannounced. I had never thought of that particular grass as a part of the food web, but the birds had found it and recognized it and feasted on it in the time it took me to grab my camera.

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They gazed at me darkly as they ate, ignoring the clicking of the camera, and I kept Beppo and Zazou away from the window so as not to spoil the birds’ lunch. And then a Big Bird came into view, a whirlybird, and as the downwash of sound from the helicopter’s passage reached their ears, the birds were gone as suddenly as they had appeared.

The magic of Google Images told me that they were Dark-Eyed Juncos, and although they’re supposedly a very common bird, I’ve never seen them before. But I like their poetic name, and I like the fact that a grass I planted five or six years ago, planted only for its feathery beauty, is still so inviting that it causes dark-eyed strangers to drop in for lunch.