"The only real stumbling block is the fear of failure. In cooking, you have got to have a what-the-hell attitude." ~ Julia Child

Toot Sweet

by Julie Tilsner on July 17, 2007

in Meat!

TootsweetSome things just can not be rushed.

Other things go best with planning. Or a few minutes of thought before execution. Or barring any of the above, a recipe.

I didn’t really have any of that Sunday night when I dove, ill-equipped, into the lamb tagine idea. I did have some lamb, thoughtfully provided by the Flamenco guitarist, whose idea this was in the first place.  “Where’s this lamb tagine you’re always promising me?” he said, late in the languid afternoon. I muttered the standard excuse of not having any lamb and was duly pulled off the couch and driven to the market.

Now I had the ingredients at least. Pre-marinated kabobs! And I had some Kalamata olives. And some onions, and some baby carrots, and some chicken stock. And a lemon.

What I didn’t have was a recipe. It was getting late, and turning the computer on to Google lamb tagine was almost more than I could muster. Besides, I had some vague notions about what goes into a lamb tagine already. Not concrete ideas, mind you, but a loosely-sketched out melange of ingredients I hoped would miraculously blend together and fill my kitchen with heavenly aromas from the Levant. Underneath this hope lurked the thought that I could just improvise, and be rewarded for my bombastic creativity with something really yummy and impressive.

Who do I think I am? Christina Bess?

The tagine itself didn’t turn out un-edible. In fact, it was….well it turned out better than could be expected for someone of my experience working without a recipe on a short notice. But as always, the details were many, and flawed.

Let’s call this one, Toot Sweet Tagine, shall we? Here’s what we put into it:

Two skewers of lamb kabob, purchased because there were no other lamb chunks available. These are already marinated in a tangy asada sauce, and probably should have been grilled. Please note that by using kabobs marinated for the grill, we have already compromised the Middle Eastern taste we’re going for.  I know. I KNOW!

half an onion, sliced into big chunks
four garlic cloves, roughly chopped, because we’re like that
two handfuls of baby carrots
half a cup of raisins
handful of slivered almonds
about 8 Kalamata olives, sliced in half
some honey
a slice of lemon or two
chicken stock to cover
some paprika
some salt, some pepper

Are you following me down the path to disaster? 

OK. Brown the kabobs in some olive oil, then remove from the tagine. Saute the onions for a bit, add the garlic, then the carrots. Add some sweet paprika. Saute, saute, saute.

Dollop some honey over that stuff.

put the lamb back in and add chicken stock…not quite to cover….but enough to generate some steam.

Throw in the raisins and almonds.

Cover and let simmer for a while. I don’t know how long.

Throw in the olives when you’re ready to really descend to the point of no return.

At some point you will have overcooked the lamb until it’s dry. You will notice that the aroma is not what it could be. Not that it’s bad in any way. It’s just not “OMGWhatisthat?”

Make couscous using only chicken stock.

Offer your children some lamb. Offer to wash the sauce off. Ignore their wide-eyed lamb imitations. “Baaaa! Baaaa! Maaaa-myyy, don’t eeeaaatttt meeeee!” Wonder when they got indoctrinated about mutton products. Make them hotdogs instead.

Serve in festive plates, with nothing else as side dish or garnish.

Get really defensive when asked by boyfriend whether you were domestically disinclined in your ’20s.

Pour yourself a large, sparkly alcoholic beverage.

Now. The gruesome details: Toot Sweet Tagine is not terribly bad. But it’s way too sweet. And the melding of sweet and savory, honey and paprika, raisins and olives, I suspect wasn’t ever going to work. Or maybe it would work in more capable hands. And I should have made the couscous with just water and butter to make it less heavy, to better counteract the sweetness of the lamb in its sauce.

Also, I’m not entirely clear on how this all cooks differently in a tagine. Couldn’t I have cooked it up in a pot? Isn’t a tagine a slow-cooker of sorts? It was Sunday night and I didn’t have time for that. I wanted to use the tagine, though. It’s pretty. I want to utilize it more. But I don’t understand its secrets.

The flamenco guitarist ate most of his dish. He didn’t rant. But he complimented politely. And he ate. Which is more than I can say for me. I found the dish altogether too cloying. Again, not bad, just way too rich.

Next time: Think. Or use a recipe. Or hell, just go to Greenblatt’s for takeout.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

westernqueensland July 30, 2007 at 12:27 pm
Carol February 1, 2015 at 1:56 pm

Hi, thanks for this post. I’m also just starting with tagines. I think the difference from a slow cooker is that the tagine needs much less liquid, and the cooking is longer at a lower temperature. The effect is to leave the ingredients more ‘whole’ than in a slow cooker (which is much the same as a casserole). In the slow cooker/casserole. the ingredents become a kind of mush. This is why you can serve the tagine without removing it from its base plate – it looks (should look) like a plated dish already. However, mine has turned out a bit too dry and colourless, so I am going to try adding a sauce over the top, and a green or red garnish. I notice that all the photos of tagine recipes have a garnish added.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: