I've since learned a few things about tagine-making and it turns out they might just be the perfect dinner party food. Why? One, they actually taste better a day or two after you make them, so you can make the whole thing in advance. Two, they feed a crowd--the recipe below easily feeds 6 (with leftovers) and doubled feeds 12. Three, they're cheap to make--one recipe costs about $20, or around $3.30 per person. As a rule, tagines combine cheaper cuts of meat (such as lamb shoulder or chicken thighs) with spices, nuts, and dried fruits, slowly cooking the mixture until the meat becomes fork-tender and a rich, aromatic sauce develops. Bright herb garnishes like fresh mint and cilantro add a dash of color and awaken the palate.
Just before the party, reheat the tagine, make couscous (5 minutes) and a simple arugula salad with perhaps some red onion, oranges, and feta (10 minutes) and voila--recession dining at its finest!
LAMB TAGINE WITH APRICOTS, FIGS, AND CHICKPEAS
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 pounds lamb shoulder (or lamb stew meat), cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
1 onion, chopped *
1 large carrot, chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice **
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 14.5-ounce can chicken stock
1 15.5-ounce can chickpeas, drained
1 cup dried apricots
1 cup dried figs, halved
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint
Remove the lamb to a bowl; add the onion, carrot, celery and spices. Sauté the mixture until softened, about 3 to 5 minutes.
* To save time, I used Trader Joe's pre-chopped onion/carrot/celery blend. It's also cheaper ($2.99) because you have no waste. Just dump the whole container in the pot.
** I used pumpkin pie spice because it was what I had in my cupboard when I was making this. If you have nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and allspice, you can substitute the pumpkin pie spice with 1/2 teaspoon of each. You can also add some turmeric if you have any on hand.
WINE SUGGESTION: A complex stew like this demands a medium-bodied red with nice acidity that can complement the earthiness of the lamb and balance the sweetness of the dried fruit without getting overwhelmed by the spices. The 2007 Le Petit Scarabée, a nice, earthy Grenache-Cinsault blend from Provence, is an ideal choice that will only set you back $11.