Dinner, Lamb, Tagine

Lamb Tagine with Olives, Preserved Lemon, and Saffron


The Sunday I got home from my trip to Seattle (a few weeks ago) I felt like I needed to make something that was genuinely delicious to make up for the week of blah food that I had made N before I left! So lamb tagine it was. I have a recipe book that came with my tagine that N bought for me – I had a few lamb recipes highlighted and had N choose which one he wanted – and this was the one that won out! Most traditional Moroccan tagine recipes seem to have some sort of dried fruit in the dish to bring a great sweet/spicy combination of flavors…while I love that combination, N isn’t a big fan of sweet stuff in his meals. This tagine recipe is fabulous because it has great flavors which aren’t overly strong so the lamb is still the star of the dish.

I have to tell you about my experience at the Middle Eastern market – I went there for the lamb because it’s cheaper than a large grocery – when I went to the meat counter the guy asked me what type of lamb I wanted…boneless or with bone – large or small pieces – and how I was planning on cooking the meat.

When I told him I was making a tagine dish – he faltered and looked at me like, what? Ha. He was like “how do you know tagine” so I quickly explained about N buying it for me. He was incredibly friendly and told me he was going to give me shoulder cut in large pieces with bone because that is the best for tagine. Then we talked more about how I was preparing the dish and directed me to the best couscous (medium size is apparently the best!) and then tried to get me to buy prunes to include in the dish. It was a really fun experience, mainly because he was shocked when I told him what I was cooking, and then he was incredibly helpful. Before I left he told me that he knows that Americans tend to boil our couscous, but the best way to cook it is to actually steam it. I didn’t do that b/c I didn’t have time – but – I love that he suggested that to me b/c I feel like I have some insider information!

Anyways – that was a long way of telling you that I had fun while shopping at the Middle Eastern grocery. Now onto the actual recipe…

Here’s what you’ll need: 2.5 lb. lamb from shoulder (with bone), 2 onions, garlic cloves (smashed), ginger powder, turmeric, ground coriander, salt, pepper, ghee, saffron threads, hardboiled eggs, kalamata olives, preserved lemons, and cilantro.

First things first – smash 3 garlic cloves – literally – take a large knife and smash sideways onto the garlic cloves to make them look like this:

Add 1.5 T. ghee (or canola oil as a substitute) to a large Dutch oven or tagine and melt over medium heat. Add in the smashed garlic cloves, ground ginger, ground coriander, turmeric, and ground saffron.

How do you get ground saffron if you only have saffron threads? Like this:

Take a mortar and pestle and put the 1 t. saffron with ½ t. salt and grind until saffron has become ground. Takes 30 seconds only. Or use a knife. Whatever works for you!

Stir the spices together with the garlic for 1 minute over medium heat – stir constantly to make sure your spices don’t burn but just warm up to kick-start the flavors.

Then take your lamb and place into the pan and cover all sides with the spice mixture. Turn the heat off now.

While the lamb is sitting in the spices – get your food processor out and chop two onions into large pieces – and throw both onions into the food processor and dice into small pieces. Make sure not to over-process – you don’t want onion soup – you want the pieces to be small but still intact. Will take 5 or 6 processes.

Sprinkle the onion on top of the lamb pieces.

Add enough water to the dish so that your lamb is just covered. I used about 3 cups of water. Use more or less depending on the size of your cooking vessel.

Cover Dutch oven with the lid and place into a preheated 350 degree oven.

Bake for 2 hours – check at 90 minutes to make sure everything is going well in the oven and to flip the meat over. Continue to cook the remaining 30 minutes.

While the lamb is back in the oven you can get the rest of your ingredients ready. Get 4 ounces of kalamata olives ready – I bought ones already deseeded – and left them whole.

Next up is the preserved lemon. I love love love preserved lemon. It has such an interesting flavor. Sour, salty, and pickled – really interesting. I remove the pulp from the skin – use a small paring knife and slice the lemon into quarters, then slide the knife just on top of the lemon skin – discard the pulp and set aside the skin. Do this for all 8 pieces of lemon.

Can’t find preserved lemon – you can order online here or follow this recipe to make your own. Or just use fresh lemon peel – just make sure to remove from the final dish b/c not edible!

Ok – after two hours the meat from the tagine should be almost fork tender – if not – continue to cook until tender.

Remove the dish from the oven and remove the lid – add in the kalamata olives and preserved lemon peel. Stir. Place dish back into the oven, uncovered. Continue to bake for 30 minutes —- this will allow the sauce to thicken up, the meat to be the perfect tenderness, and the olives and preserved lemon peel to transfer flavors to the sauce. Yum. (P.S. that picture doesn’t do the dish justice – the sides make the dish look burnt – but it’s not – I swear!)

Sidenote: I ate this a few weeks ago and right now as I am typing this up my mouth is watering!

Ok – while the lamb is finishing in the oven – take ½ t. ground saffron and dissolve into 2 T. warm water – I used a small bowl – and add in your peeled hardboiled eggs to color your eggs. This will take about a minute per egg. Move it around with a spoon to get the egg completely colored. Set aside.

Ah – it’s finally time to serve and eat! How to serve – make couscous (medium sized per locals!) and put a big portion of couscous in the center of your plate. Then serve out the lamb pieces – making sure to get a good amount of gravy, olives, and preserved lemon peel – and top with cilantro if you like – add a hardboiled egg to the side of the plate – and finally toast some pita over a flame – serve pita on the side.

I liked this dish especially by taking the toasted pita and grabbing a piece of tender, succulent lamb, an olive, and the gravy covered couscous and eating all as one bite. Seriously – very good. Naaman loves the hardboiled egg with this dish – I’m not going to lie – I’m not a huge fan of the egg – but it’s traditional and I suggest you give it a try.

The lamb tagine with olives, preserved lemon and saffron is delicious. Try it and let me know what you think! Enjoy!

Lamb Tagine with Olive, Preserved Lemon and Saffron
Serves 4
Click here for recipe.

1-2 T. ghee (vegetable oil or butter can be substituted)
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 t. ground ginger
1 t. ground coriander
1 t. ground saffron threads – ground with salt
2.5 lb. lamb (shoulder), with bone
2 onions, finely chopped
3 cups water (more or less depending on size of pot)
6 ounce kalamata olives
2 preserved lemons, skin only and quartered
salt and pepper to taste

For Garnish:
4 hard boiled eggs
1/2 t. ground saffron
1/2 T. ghee (or butter)
2 T. blanched almonds


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Melt the ghee in a tagine or Dutch oven over medium heat on the stove – stir in the crushed garlic cloves, spices and cook the spices for a minute. Continually stirring to prevent burning.
  3. Take the lamb pieces and cover with the spice mixture – remove from the heat.
  4. Take the 2 onions, peel, and cut into large pieces. Add to the food processor and chop until small pieces – but not pureed. Or mince into small pieces. Sprinkle onions over the lamb. Season with 1-2 t. salt and 1 t. pepper.
  5. Pour enough water to cover the lamb – I needed 3 cups water. Cover dish with lid and place into preheated oven – cook for 1.5 hours.
  6. Meanwhile, boil the eggs and peel. In a small bowl, dissolve 1/2 t. saffron with 2 T. hot water – mix until the saffron colors the water. Place the eggs in the water and roll around in the water to color the outside of the eggs. Cut the eggs in half lengthwise and set aside.
  7. In a small skillet over medium/low heat – melt 1/2 T. ghee (or butter) and brown the almond slivers until brown – this happens very quickly – so be careful not to burn.
  8. After 1.5 hours, remove the tagine from the oven and add in the kalamata olives, preserved lemon quarters, and cook uncovered for another half hour. Season with additional salt and pepper if needed.
  9. Serve the tagine immediately- topped with cilantro, the toasted almonds, and the egg – serve with couscous, crusty pita bread – delicious!

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