Tuesday 17 February 2009

IF - Celebrate

"It's always good to remember where you come from and to celebrate it. To remember where you come from is part of where you're going."

My birthday and Valentine’s Day coincide most serendipitously which means I am wined, dined, chocolated and showered with roses. Well, sometimes. Mostly my birthday means a hooty great beach party and sizzling braai, or a night in the veldt around a campfire with friends, a guitar and the stars. At least it did when we lived in the Southern hemisphere. Now, however, February is invariably cold, wet and rather gloomy up here in the North, so I tend to be a bit grumpy round the 14th and can be heard to mutter ‘bah humbug’ and other such oaths. This time, however, I was told firmly by all and sundry to put on my dancing shoes and ‘get it on down, Mama!’ So I did.

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.

My marvellous brother-in-law gave me a box of Mulderbosch as a pressy, and both the birthday girl and her guests can vouch for the fact that there is absolutely nothing better than a bottle or three of deep, dark, spicy, sunshiny South African wine to aid the digestion of this nummtious feast in a most delightful way.


Anonymous said...

Happy Belated Birthday.
You lamb recipe sounds so delicious thatI am going to try it :)

Sarah Laurence said...

Happy Birthday! Given your bright, exuberant paintings (love the one above), I’m not at all surprised you were born on such a colorful day. Candles, flowers, dancing and friends: what could be more fun? I LOVE the photo of the 2 limes in a square. The spices are fun too. You engage all the senses.

yoon see said...

Beautiful and meaningful "celebrate" piece.
And you have so many great sharings too:)

Jinksy said...

Thank goodness it's lunchtime now! Many Happy Returns of your Bday xxx

kathy hare said...

a beautiful, vibrant image for illustration friday and a very happy belated birthday to you...

Reya Mellicker said...

Thank you for the recipe - sounds delicious! And happy belated birthday. Mine is the 13th.

Having lived all my life in the northern hemisphere, it's a revelation to imagine my birthday falling during a warm season. Wow. I should travel south of the equator sometime to celebrate. Wow.

Kendra@Creative Ambitions said...

"Celebrate" is beautiful!!

Anonymous said...

Tessa your blog is always a visual feast! Tagine with lamb...mmmmm, I first tried it in Tunisia many years ago and I will have some fun trying out your recipe. Thanks for sharing!

Irene said...

Happy Birthday, Tessa. You would pick a dish as deliciously spiced as the one you posted here. It's making my mouth drool just reading it. Oh, the abundance of it all, there is no end to it. That's my kind of cooking. Recipes like this should be outlawed for putting people in danger of driving to the store too fast to buy all the ingredients.

Lori ann said...

Happy Birthday dear Tessa! I'm so glad you danced! and a WHOLE box?? lucky you...
xxx lori

mitchowl said...

What great color!

Renee said...

Happy Birthday sweetest heart.

You disgruntled, I don't believe it.

Sounds like you had a beautiful day, and I wish you nothing but more of them.

Life is wonderful Tessa and you are one of the people in the world that make it even more wonderful.

Thank you for the garland, I am actually wearing it right now (just like a Christmas tree would).

Love Renee

david mcmahon said...

Happy birthday - yes, like you, I celebrate my own origins because where I came from is an integral part of who I am .....

really enjoyed your previous post, too!!

Cait O'Connor said...

I wish you belated many happy returns. I love your beautiful, colourful blog and I am going to make the tagine. Thanks so much for posting the recipe.

Elizabeth said...

This sounds a wonderful birthday and beautifully recorded!
Those limes.....
a tagine.......YES indeedy

Maithri said...

Dear Tessa,

May your cup overflow with love and light dear friend..

There is a blessing by John O'Donohue called "For the Artist at the start of the day"... I want to dedicate it to you, from my heart to yours...

May morning be astir with the harvest of night;

Your mind quickening to the eros of a new question,

Your eyes seduced by some unintended glimpse

That cut right through the surface to a source.

May this be a morning of innocent beginning,

When the gift within you slips clear
Of the sticky web of the personal
With its hurt and its hauntings,

And fixed fortress corners,

A morning when you become a pure vessel

For what wants to ascend from silence,

May your imagination know
The grace of perfect danger,

To reach beyond imitation,
And the wheel of repetition,

Deep into the call of all
The unfinished and unsolved

Until the veil of the unknown yields

And something original begins
To stir toward your senses
And grow stronger in your heart

In order to come to birth
In a clean line of form,
That claims from time

A rhythm not yet heard,
That calls space to
A different shape.

May it be its own force field
And dwell uniquely

Between the heart and the light

To surprise the hungry eye
By how deftly it fits
About its secret loss.

~John O'Donohue~

Sending you love across the waters and a world full of dreams coming true,


PS im gonna write down that recipe and try it out!! ;)

Anonymous said...

Gelukige Verjaarsdag, albeit belated. It sounds like it was a pretige day with friends and family.

Rosie said...

With all that seasoning you can use cardboard and it will still be tasty...
Yummy...my mouth is actually watering and it is not even 7am!

The W.O.W. factor! said...

Oh Tessa! Happy Birthday!! And how absolutely fitting..Your wonderful heart encompasses the world!!
Your celebrations in the southern parts sounded perfect, yet this one you celebrated~divine.
Mine coincides with our Thanksgiving...well it's actually only happened less than 10 times since I was born (hmmm..guess I'm younger than I thought!) so those times its a feast of delicious food and people too.
Now, I have a request, your next painting should be one reflecting you belly-dancing as you prepared this scrumptious dinner!
So glad you had a wonderful day and special memories to cherish!

Bella Sinclair said...

Your art is PERFECT for the theme! The rich colors and joy just make me want to dance. Excellent!

And a happy birthday to you! Sounds like you had a heavenly day. Nothing better to warm your spirits like a celebration with friends. YUM on the recipe. I love spice, so I will have to give this a try. And that photo of the limes is fantastic, too. :)

Hana Njau-Okolo said...

Happy Birthday Tessa!

What a rich celebration of your special day. Everything was so lovely, thanks for sharing it with us and enriching our lives. I love the painting, love the candle shot - so majestic.

Much love,

Mama Shujaa.

Unknown said...

Happy Belated Birthday, Tessa - so glad you had a wonderful time. And as for tagines - oh mmmmm - slurpilicious indeed (I make mine with prunes, based on a Claudia Roden recipe).
I hope the year ahead is filled with all and only the very best of everything!