Lamb Tagine with Cardoons

In Morocco, wild cardoons add their special taste to tagines when picked in season – from midwinter to spring. This vegetable, popular in the Mediterranean, resembles a large bunch of wide, flat celery and tastes a cross between an artichoke, celery, and salsify.

Artichoke-lovers are sure to be won over by the bitter, earthy, distinctly vegetal flavour of cardoons. When buying, look for stalks that are free from blemishes and don’t show signs of wilting.

Serves 6 people

1.3 kg (2 ½ lbs) lamb shoulder or leg, cut into 3cm (1 ½”) chunks
3 bundles of cardoons
1 medium onion, grated
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crashed
½ cup red olives, such as Kalamatas or Gaetas
2 preserved lemon
8 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon powdered ginger
¼ teaspoon turmeric
pinch of pulverised saffron
6 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste

Place the lamb chunks, onion, garlic, spices, herbs and oil in a 5-quart deep casserole. Cover with 225 ml (1/3 pint) water and bring to the boil over high heat. Immediately reduce the heat, cover and simmer over moderate heat until the meat is tender and the sauce has reduced to a thick gravy, about 1 ½ hours. Turn the meat often and add water whenever necessary.

Prepare the cardoons by removing outer stalks and trimming thorns and stringy fibers. Cut crosswise into 5 cm (2″) pieces, wash and drain.

When the lamb is tender, add the cardoons and make sure they are covered in water. Cover and cook for 40 minutes, until the cardoons are tender and ready. Add the lemon juice and adjust seasoning. Uncover and simmer gently for a few more minutes to allow the sauce to reduce and the flavours to blend.

To serve, arrange the meat at the centre of a serving dish and pour the cardoon sauce over. Decorate with the olives and preserved lemon.