Years ago I attended a cookery evening in Richmond run by a lovely lady from Austria called Maria. It was a lovely set up: you attend with a group of friends and watch Maria’s 3 course cookery demonstration, picking ups tips whilst enjoying wine and nibbles. Afterwards you get to enjoy the fruits of her labour. Her company is called Sur La Table, however having just searched on Google I can’t find it, which is a shame as I would definitely recommend it.
The main course that Maria showed us was Ras El Hanout Lamb Stew. It was the first time I had come across this intriguingly named spice mix from North Africa. It literally means “top of the shop” and was a way for spice merchants to show off the quality and range of their spices.
It’s composition varies from shop to shop and place to place and it can be made from blending up to 100 spices! There are usually much fewer though (around 20) and some of the main ones are black pepper, coriander, ginger, paprika, allspice, cardamom, mace, nutmeg, turmeric, cayenne, cloves, and rose petals. All the spices combine to make the most divine-smelling blend that works really well with lamb.
The lamb stew we ate on the cookery evening was absolutely delicious. Fragrant and warming, it’s very similar to a tagine, with tender lamb interspersed with plump and juicy apricots to add a little sweetness, contrasting with the Ras El Hanout spice blend. I’ve been making it ever since. Due to the fact it uses diced leg of lamb rather some of the tougher cuts, it’s cooking time is relatively short at only 45 minutes although I try to cook it for a bit longer to ensure it is melt in the mouth tender. Served with cous cous and adorned with toasted pine nuts and a sprinkling of parsley it makes a fantastic dinner party main course.
Ras El Hanout Lamb Stew
2 tablespoons oil
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1.5kg lamb leg, cut into bite size pieces
2 400g tins chopped tomatoes
3 teaspoons Ras El Hanout spice mix
150g dried apricots
1 teaspoon sugar
20g flat leaf parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Heat the oil in a large, heavy-based pan over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes before adding the garlic and cooking for a further 5 minutes.
2. Turn up the heat to high and add the lamb, allowing the meat to brown slightly for about 3 minutes.
3. Turn down the heat to medium again and add the Ras El Hanout, mixing well with the lamb.
4. Add the chopped tomatoes, apricots, salt and pepper, and sugar and stir well. Bring up to simmering point, then cover and turn the heat down to low. Cook for at least 45 minutes (1-1.5hours is ideal), stirring occassionally, taking the lid off for the last 15 minutes to allow the sauce to thicken slightly.
5. Whilst the stew is cooking, toast your pinenuts in a dry frying pan on the hob or on a baking sheet under the grill.
6. Once the stew is ready, garnish with the pine nuts and parsley and serve with cous cous.
This stew can be made a couple of days in advance and tastes all the better for it.