Golden, sautéed pears served with slow-cooked, tender lamb spiced with cinnamon, ginger and pepper. Sounds delicious right? It is, as eaten and attested by several friends who gobbled up this tagine.
Moroccan food is one of my favorites because I enjoy the array of spices and ingredients used throughout the cuisine: cinnamon, cumin, ginger, pepper, coriander, paprika, saffron, mint, lemon and more. Also emblematic of Moroccan cooking is the tagine (tajine), a stew that takes its name from the cooking vessel stews were traditionally cooked in – a shallow, round earthenware base with a cone shaped lid. It is standard in North African homes, and probably most well-known in Morocco cooking. Today, the name “tagine” is also commonly used to refer to stew, as many modern Moroccan cooks now use pressure cookers.
Characteristic of savory Moroccan meat tagines is the inclusion of fruit – raisins, quinces, prunes, dates, apples and, yes, pears – this week’s featured ingredient. However, in my exploration to bring you a new use for pears, I overlooked one thing – I’m not a fan of lamb. But, my labor and intuition in the kitchen was not for naught. The stew got the thumbs up among several lamb aficionados, with particular accolades for the pears.
The recipe here is adapted from several cookbooks including Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey, & Lebanon by Claudia Roden; Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco by Paula Wolfert; and Casablanca Cuisine: French North African Cooking by Aline Benayoun.
This tagine makes for a comforting meal with complex flavor and texture – tender lamb with a warmly-spiced, glossy sauce, and soft, sweet pears.
Tidbits on Pears:
- Pears’genus Pyrus, native to the Northern Hemisphere of the Old World, includes about 20 species, of which half are found in Europe, North Africa, and Asia minor; and the remaining half in Asia.
- In some Asian cultures, pears and pear trees were believed to ward off evil. In Egyptian antiquity, the fruit was sacred to Isis, and to Koreans, the pear symbolized grace, nobility and purity, according toThe Pear in History, Literature, Popular Culture, and Art by Jules Janick.
I made the tagine in my handy Dutch oven since I don’t have a tagine (yet). Pears should be ripe or just about ripe; if overly ripe and soft, they will fall apart while sautéeing.
Lamb & Pear Tagine
Serves 4 to 6
2 1/2 pounds boned lamb shoulder, diced into 2 to 3 inch chunks
2 tablespoons oil, olive oil or vegetable
1 onion, chopped small
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cayenne, optional
1/2 teaspoon saffron, pulverized
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
2 – 2 1/2 cups water
3 large carrots, peeled and diced 1 inch pieces
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
3 bosc pears, ripe
1 tablespoon honey, optional
- Heat a heavy deep skillet or Dutch oven on medium heat; add the oil and onion, stirring until it becomes translucent and begins to caramelize. Add the lamb and spices (ginger, cinnamon, cayenne, saffron, salt and pepper); stir constantly for about one minute until spices are distributed. Do not brown the lamb, cook only slightly. Add just enough water to cover the meat (approximately 2 cups. Note: if you prefer your tagine with more sauce add an extra 1/2 cup to 1 cup of water). Cover. Let simmer low 1 1/2 hours.
- After 1 hour, add the carrots and return to simmer covered for 30 minutes. During the last 15 minutes of simmering, remove lid, allowing sauce to reduce and concentrate.
- Wash the pears, quarter and core them but do not peel. (The skin will help keep them whole.) In a separate large skillet on medium high heat, melt butter. When butter starts to bubble place the sliced pears cut side down in the skillet. Sauté until they become slightly golden and caramelized; repeat with the other cut side. Do not sauté the pears’ skin side. When done (the pears should be softened through but not falling apart), remove from heat and place on a plate, skin side down. Sprinkle each with cinnamon and sugar. Keep warm.
- When done simmering, transfer the pieces of lamb into a serving dish (leaving the sauce in the pan). Arrange pears among the lamb, skin side down. To the reserved sauce, add 1 tablespoon honey and taste. Adjust other seasoning. Drizzle sauce over the pears and lamb. Serve hot with couscous.
Meat: substitute lamb with beef or chicken (if using a whole chicken, after initial browning, simmer for about 20 minutes until breasts are done; remove and set aside; adding back during the last few minutes to reheat)
Spices: add coriander, fresh or dried; cumin; and/or garlic
Fruit: substitute pears with apples or quinces