Spiced veggie tagine with Lamb meatballs, herby cous cous and minted cucumber yoghurt

April 16, 2012

Tagine, lamb meatballs, herby cous cous and minted
cucumber yoghurt served with paprika toasted flatbreads
As the weather is getting (a little bit!) warmer and we can start to believe that Summer might actually yield some decent sunshine this year, I find myself fancying something a little lighter for dinner. But with a hard working boy in the house my meals still need to be hearty, healthy and filling. This meal is great for sharing amongst those with varying appetites as everyone can mix and match the different elements of this meal to make it as big or small, light or hearty as they want.

Serves 6 (makes 12 large meatballs, either make small meatballs or up the amount of lamb mince to make this a more meat heavy dish)


The tagine-

1 red onion
1 courgette
1 yellow pepper
4/5 big white mushrooms

2 tsp of fresh grated ginger
2 tsp of fresh minced garlic
2 tsp of cumin seeds
2 tsp of coriander seeds
1 tsp of fennel seeds
2 tsp ground cinnamon or 1 stick of cinnamon bark
splash of chili oil

2 tins of chopped tomatoes
1 tin chickpeas

The meatballs-

500g of lean lamb mince
a handful of fresh mint, finely chopped
a handful of fresh coriander leaves, finely chopped
salt and pepper

The herby cous cous-

80g of dry cous cous per person
loads of fresh chopped herbs, I used a good handful each of mint, coriander and basil
1 large lemon
salt and pepper

The minted cucumber yoghurt -

1 small tub of Greek yoghurt, if you're counting the cals use 0% fat it works just fine
1/4 of a cucumber
1/2 of a lemon
a handful of fresh mint, finely chopped
a lug and a drizzle of good olive oil
salt and pepper

Serve with-

6 flatbreads/fajita wraps/pitta
spray olive oil
salt and pepper

Put the oven on at 170c

To make the tagine put the cumin, coriander and fennel seeds into a hot dry frying pan and toast for a few minutes until there is a rich spicy aroma in the air, pour them into a pestle and mortar and stand aside. Fry the ginger and garlic in little oil (vegetable, sunflower, olive.. any cooking oil but don't waste good quality olive oil on frying) until soft and golden, add these to the pestle and mortar, if you are using ground cinnamon add it in now and grind into a smooth, fragrant paste.

Slice the onions, dice the pepper, halve and slice the courgette into semi circles and chop the mushrooms. I like for the onions to remain as long soft strands in the finished dish amongst a lovely thick sauce of roasted vegetables with the occasional al dente pieces of vegetable.

Return the paste to the frying pan and add the onions, fry for about 5-7 mins until the onions are thoroughly coated in the paste and are beginning to soften. Add in the rest of the vegetables, mix so that everything is covered in the paste and cook for about 10 mins.
When the vegetables have begun to soften and are infused with the flavours from the paste add a splash of chili oil and the two tins of tomatoes. It doesn't really matter if the tomatoes are chopped or whole as they will cook down in the oven to a rich sauce.

If your frying pan is oven safe and has a lid then you don't need to transfer it into a different dish unless you have a pretty one you'd like to use. Otherwise, pour the mixture into an ovenproof dish, I used a Spanish terracotta dish, add your cinnamon bark if using and cover with a lid or with foil. Place the dish in the preheated oven, it needs a good hour to cook down into a thick sweet sauce but can be turned down to a very low heat (120c) after the hour to keep warm and infuse further if you aren't ready to eat it after an hour!

To make the meatballs just squash the lamb mince, fresh herbs, salt and pepper together until the meat is a sticky consistency then form into balls. Some meatball recipes call for egg or breadcrumbs to be added but these meatballs have never crumbled or fallen apart when cooking and I prefer them to be 100% lamb.

My oven is a fan oven with a grill at the top so I have to cook the tagine and meatballs alongside each other. I usually cook the meatballs about 30min before the tagine will be eaten as I find that when lamb has cooled then been reheated its a bit dry. Once my tagine is cooked I put it right at the bottom of the oven with a baking tray on top of it then the grill pan above. The baking tray protects the tagine from the fierce heat of the grill whilst keeping it warm still.

Grill the lamb meatballs for 10 mins then turn and grill for a further 10 mins, if you have made smaller or larger meatball, which you are perfectly entitled to do! Adjust the cooking times accordingly. When cooked pop the meatballs on top of the tagine and nestle them into the sauce but don't push them all the way in. This way the meatballs are kept juicy and succulent underneath and the tops lovely and golden and crisp. Put the tagine back in the oven without the lid to keep warm until you are ready to serve.

To make the herby cous cous measure out 80g of dry cous cous per person and pour it into a bowl. Use a bowl that is bigger than you think you need for the dry cous cous as it puff up and you'll need to stir it up as well. Cover the cous cous with boiling water, fill the bowl until the cous cous is just covered with water then cover the whole bowl with cling film and leave to stand. You can use stock to fluff up the cous cous but as I'm adding lemon and herbs and want a cleaner, fresher flavour I've just used water.

After 10 mins the cous cous will be puffed up but compacted, used a fork to mess it up and add the juice of a large lemon, the herbs and salt and pepper. Cous cous is very forgiving to a busy cook and you can just ignore it once you've put the water on, I don't tend to worry about serving it hot, especially with a dish like this as it become more like a salad accompaniment.

For the minted yoghurt mix together the yoghurt, chopped mint and finely chopped cucumber then season with lemon juice, salt, pepper and olive oil.

10 mins before you're ready to serve lay out a large square of greaseproof paper, large enough to wrap the stack of flatbreads in. Layer up the flatbreads with oil (I used spray olive oil for ease), salt, pepper and paprika, then scrunch the paper up around the stack so it stays wrapped around them and pop into the bottom of the oven until you're ready to bring everything to the table.

Its nice to use nice looking bowls and pans to do this meal as i think it looks best served up on the table so that everyone can dig into what they fancy rather than it being dished up for them. Have cut lemons on the table and honey if anyone fancies a sweet tang to their tagine... pile up your flatbreads with cous cous, roasted veg, yoghurt and meatballs and dig in!

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