My favourite and most used cook book is probably Claudia Roden's Arabesque. It is a taste of Morocco, Turkey and Lebanon, and I am particularly partial to the flavours of the Middle East... North African tagines and big piles of steamy couscous feature heavily, and are something that I make quite often. The recipes are quite adaptable using different meats with nuts or fruits; all based around a delicately spiced stock with ginger, cinnamon and saffron, combining spices with sweet and savoury tastes.
This is a lamb tagine with baby onions. I also made a caramelised apricot jam type thing that gets spooned on the top at the end, which was really amazing. A 1kg shoulder of lamb will feed four people. The recipe asks for a boned shoulder but ours still had the bone in, it still worked just as well though.
1kg shoulder of lamb
3 tablespoons of sunflower or vegetable oil
1 onion chopped
Salt and pepper
Half a teaspoon of ground ginger
Half a teaspoon of ground cinnamon
Half a teaspoon of saffron threads
300g of baby onions or shallots
Brown the lamb in half of the oil in a large pan, until it has a bit of colour all over. Add the chopped onion and half cover with water. The amount will depend on the size of your lamb. You can use other cuts of lamb, on or off the bone. Add some salt and pepper, the ginger, cinnamon and saffron. Simmer for about an hour and a half on a low heat, turn the lamb over now and again so it is cooking all over evenly.
Put the onions or shallots in a bowl of boiling water for five minutes to get the skins off. Trim the roots. Now brown them all over in the other half of the oil for 10 minutes. Add them to the lamb and cook for another half an hour. The sauce should have begun to reduce and the lamb should be softening and coming off the bone. Cook for another half an hour if needs be.
You can add a tablespoon of honey at the end to sweeten it up, but if you're making the apricots I don't think you need to. I added a handful of blanched almonds with the onions, they soften up as the lamb cooks. Serve the lamb with some couscous and a ladle of stock and almonds over the top.
For the apricots soak 250g of dried apricots in water for an hour, drain them and then cook them on a low heat for an hour just covered with water, you will have to keep topping it up. After the hour they will be very soft, let the water evaporate totally. Add a tablespoon of clear honey and 25g of unsalted butter. Stir them until they start to brown and caramelise.
Then spoon them over the top of your lamb. This might seem like a long time for just a few little apricots, but I think it's one of the best things I have ever made from Claudia's book and really worth the effort...