The soft - and flattering - glow of candlelight, a kaleidoscope of fresh flowers, a roaring fire, a big batch of lovely friends and laughing family can do wonders for a disgruntled exile. Add to that delightful mix a meal of superb deliciousity, sparkling conversation, much hilarity and very fine wines, and you have a recipe for the best birthday ever!
This is a perfect dish for a winter dinner party because it's so rich and unctuous. There's really nothing more therapeutic on a chilly day than the intense aroma of roasted spices with garlic and herbs - the fragrance is quite intoxicating and makes you want to do the dance of the seven veils with your teatowels.
And after its long braising time, the lamb is infused with all the warm soft flavours of the spices and is meltingly tender. All you need as an accompaniment is a big bowl of couscous mixed with chickpeas; all stirred though with a couple of teaspoons of lemon zest and chopped parsley. A simple green salad of mixed leaves rounds it all off quite perfectly.
It’s not an entirely authentic Moroccan dish – just one that has evolved over the years - but it is quick and easy to prepare. It also, as I mentioned earlier, smells so divinely exotic that it will induce lots of belly-dancing moments while you work. Here goes:
1 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp ground black pepper
1½ tbsp ground cumin
1½ tbsp ground ginger
1 tbsp turmeric
2 tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp mustard seeds
4 ½lb of lamb neck fillet, trimmed and cut into 2in chunks
2 large onions, grated
3 tbsp olive oil
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 preserved lemons, chopped
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
2 x 400g tinned chopped tomatoes
115g/4oz dried apricots, cut in half
55g/2oz dates, cut in half
55g/2oz sultanas or raisins
85g/3oz flaked almonds
1 tsp saffron stamens, soaked in cold water
600ml/1 pint stock
2 tbsp clear honey
2 tbsp coriander, roughly chopped
Preheat the oven to 150C/300F/Gas2.
*Put the cayenne, black pepper, cumin, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon into a small bowl and mix to combine.
*Place the lamb in a large bowl and toss together with half of the spice mix. Cover and leave overnight in the fridge.
*Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a large casserole dish. Add the fennel and mustard seeds and toss gently until they begin to pop.
*Add the grated onion, the remaining spice mix and cook over a gentle heat for 10 minutes so that the onions are soft but not coloured. Add the crushed garlic and preserved lemon for the final 2 or 3 minutes.
*In a separate frying pan, heat the remaining oil and brown the cubes of lamb on all sides then add the browned meat to the casserole dish.
*De-glaze the frying pan with ¼ pint of the stock and the lime juice and add these to the casserole dish.
*Add the chopped tomatoes, apricots, dates, raisins or sultanas, flaked almonds, saffron, lamb stock and honey to the casserole dish.
*Bring to the boil, cover with a fitted lid, place in the oven and cook for 2-2½ hours or until the meat is meltingly tender.
*Place the lamb in a tagine or large serving dish, sprinkle over the chopped coriander and decorate with a couple of lime wedges and a sliver of red chilli.