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Lamb Tagine with Fava Beans & Fennel Four Ways

This image courtesy of Joseph DeLeo

The word tagine refers to the eponymous dish with a conical lid, as well as to the food that is cooked inside. In Morocco, tagines usually simmer at length over a charcoal fire. You can substitute a heavy cast-iron pan or slow cooker for the classic tagine pot — but by all means if you have a tagine, use it! Seasonal vegetables, meat, poultry, or fish, and an unusual combination of herbs and spices form the essence of a tagine. When making lamb tagine, you can pair pieces of the fattier, bonier lamb shoulder with chunks of leaner lamb for a more robust flavor.

In this recipe, fennel, a favorite herb of Moroccan cooks, is used in four ways — from the subtle sweet, anise-flavored bulb, to the fronds, blossoms, and the prized pollen, a novel and increasingly popular, but expensive, spice. Outside of Europe, California is a major harvester of pure fennel pollen, and its product is considered some of the best in the world. The aroma and flavor of fennel pollen are sweet and pungent, similar to the qualities of fennel seed only more intense. Just a dash of fennel pollen can make an ordinary dish extraordinary!

Serves4

CostInexpensive

Easy

Total TimeUnder 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 fennel bulbs with fronds
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 medium onions, diced
  • 1 1/2 pound lamb shoulder, cut into cubes
  • 2 carrots, peeled and sliced diagonally
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 1 cup frozen baby fava beans or baby peas
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons fennel pollen, divided use
  • 1 1/2 pound lamb loin or leg of lamb, cut into cubes, if desired
  • Fennel blossoms, for garnish

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. 

  2. Peel off the tough outer covering of the fennel and set aside. Mince the lacy fennel fronds and reserve for garnish. Cut the remaining fennel into small wedges. Set aside. 

  3. In a tagine or a Dutch oven that can go from stovetop to oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the ginger, turmeric, and black pepper. Stir until the spices begin to foam. 

  4. Add the diced onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions turn soft. Add the lamb shoulder and reserved outer covering of the fennel bulbs. Cook, turning occasionally, 3 to 4 minutes.

  5. Add the carrots, broth, salt, and 1 tablespoon fennel pollen. Cover tightly and transfer to the oven. Cook until the meat is partially cooked, 45 to 50 minutes. 

  6. Add the wedges of fennel, cubed lamb loin or leg of lamb, if using, and the remaining pollen. Cook until lamb is cooked through, 35 to 40 minutes. Add fava beans and cook 10 to 15 more minutes. 

  7. Discard the outer covering of the fennel, which is used only for flavoring even though it will be quite soft. Drain off any fat. Taste the sauce for flavor. Add salt, if desired.

  8. Sprinkle with the reserved minced fennel fronds and fennel blossoms. Serve with crusty bread. 

Note

Lamb shoulder is a bony piece of meat but is full of flavor. Leg of lamb cooks faster than the shoulder, so it is added later in the cooking process. If you choose not to use leg of lamb, simply double the amount of lamb shoulder. You can find fennel pollen at specialty spice shops or online. 

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