Lamb Tagine with Dates

For this tagine, I like to use the finest Tunisian or Algerian dates – called deglat nour. Although Morocco has quality dates of its own, they are usually eaten in the country and do not travel much.

Serves 6 people

1.3 kg (2 ½ lbs) lamb shoulder or leg, cut into 3cm (1 ½”) chunks
225 g (8 oz) quality deglat nour dates
3 medium onions, finely sliced
2 gloves garlic, peeled and crashed
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon powdered ginger
1 teaspoon powdered cinnamon
pinch of cayenne
pinch of pulverised saffron
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a 5-quart deep casserole. Mix in the oil, spices, garlic, half the onions and the lamb chunks. Sauté gently until the pieces of lamb are browned. Add water to cover the mixture. Cover and cook over low heat for 1 hour, turning the meat often and adding water whenever necessary.

When the lamb is tender, add the remaining onions and simmer uncovered for another 45 minutes – until the sauce has reduced to a thick gravy and the lamb is very tender and nearly falling off the bone.

Arrange the meat on a serving dish and place the dates around the rims. Sprinkle each date with pinches of cinnamon. Bake uncovered in the oven for 15 minutes, until the dates are crusty. Serve at once.