Tagine: My real winter warmer

At this time of year I seem to make vast amounts of a recipe that fills the house with a fragrance full of comfort and warmth, writes Emma Crowhurst.

Lamb Tagine is a Moroccan dish, named after the traditional earthenware pot in which it is cooked. The tagine pot is made entirely of heavy clay and has a flat, circular base with low sides and a large cone or dome-shaped cover that keeps the meat moist during cooking.

Tagines are slow-cooked stews braised at low temperatures, resulting in fabulously tender meat and an aromatic sauce. Braising can happen on the top of the stove or most usually in the oven. Basically it is the slow simmering of less-expensive meats. The ideal cuts of lamb are the neck, shoulder or shank, cooked until falling off the bone. Try the recipe with chicken legs and thighs for a cheaper option.

When I make my tagine I leave the meat in large chunks and brown it gently in very little fat. The onions are finely chopped or even grated and then sweated. The spices are varied and colourful – hot colours and deep flavours, tempered with a fruity burst of either apricots or prunes, topped with toasted almonds to add crunch and preserved lemons to cut the richness of the meat. Preserved lemons are made by salting slices of lemon and then rinsing them well and packing in jars with olive oil with paprika, green peppercorn, cloves and a cinnamon stick.

Serve it with jewelled cous cous.

Couscous is traditionally made by sprinkling semolina with water and rolling with the hands to form small pellets. It is then sprinkled with dry flour to keep them separate and sieved. Any pellets which are too small to be finished granules of couscous and fall through the sieve will go through the process again.

In the traditional method of preparing couscous, groups of women would come together and make large batches over several days but in modern times couscous production is largely mechanised.

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The couscous sold in most supermarkets has been pre-steamed and dried, meaning it only needs re-hydrating. Place in a bowl and pour over hot water or stock until it is covered by a few millimetres of liquid. Cover and leave for five minutes. The couscous is soon ready to fluff with a fork and serve. Dress with finely-chopped apricot, pomegranate seeds, fresh-chopped coriander, lemon zest and black pepper.

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