Moroccan spiced bolognese with baked sweet potato.

I love Morocco.  It is a wonderful country with a rich heritage.  Most western tourists go to Marrakech, which is awesome but equally a little bit of a tourist trap.  Head to the coast or the Atlas mountains and you get a genuine cultural experience from the Berbers, a culture that traces it roots back to 5,000 or 10,000 BC depending on who you talk to.  Morocco: just over 3 hours from the UK and you are in Africa, due to the exchange rate your money goes so far.  We stayed in an incredible hotel in Agadir that costs less than the Putney Holiday Inn, but if it was in Western Europe would cost £300 a night easily.

Riad Villa Blanche:

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Their website: http://www.riadvillablanche.com

My TA review: http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowUserReviews-g293731-d1973835-r157763299-Riad_Villa_Blanche-Agadir_Souss_Massa_Draa_Region.html#CHECK_RATES_CONT

We took a trip to the Imouzzer waterfalls which were one of the most awe-inspiring things I have ever seen.

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On the way our guide drove us through the Atlas mountains which are just stunning, they have been used as a backdrop for numerous hollywood blockbusters.  We stopped off at a Berber village for breakfast, the family we visited were friends with our guide and they provided us a breakfast of honeycomb, olive oil, a chocolate and almond dip, olives and traditional flatbread, finished off with Moroccan Whisky (mint tea).  The combination of tastes may sound strange, but they absolutely worked and it is one of the best breakfasts I have ever had.  That is coming from someone who loves breakfast.

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The incredible setting only added to the experience.

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After a wonderful day we returned to the hotel and walked through the meadow to the beach.

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I can’t recommend Morocco enough as a travel destination.  Avoid Marrakech and head off the beaten track.

Moroccan cuisine is awash with spices, cinnamon, saffron, ginger, paprika, turmeric, cumin and more, this is contrasted with sweet and savoury; honey, dates and nuts in particular.  The method of choice for cooking is a tagine.  A tagine is a clay pot with a conical lid.  The shape of the lid draws down evaporating moisture back into the dish.  Historically, tagines were an essential part of desert gastronomy as water was incredibly limited, they cooked food using an absolute minimum of water which was recycled throughout the cooking process.

The incredible side effect of this very functional process, is food that is incredibly succulent, the slow cooking time combined with a very moist environment, produces mouth-watering food.  North African chefs maintain that the internal ‘climate’ of a tagine actually cooks the food in a different way that produces different textures and flavours.  Either way, there is nothing like a lamb tagine, it is spicy, sweet and succulent, and despite all the flavours it retains a certain subtlety.

Lamb tagine is the inspiration for this recipe, the ingredients are almost identical, substituting lamb mince for whole meat, and where a tagine would be served with bread or cous cous, this is served with baked sweet potato.

To feed 5, you will need:

Lamb mince, 1kg

Lamb stock, half a pint.  Make your own, most butchers will give you bones for free.  Don’t piss on this recipe by using a stock cube.  Make a large batch and freeze what you don’t need, it makes wonderful gravy and is good for at least 6 months in the freezer.

6 Carrots

3 red onions (white will do)

a thumb sized piece of peeled and chopped ginger

Bunch of coriander finely chopped (save the stalks)

5 Dates finely chopped

Honey, 2 tablespoons

Turmeric, 1 tablespoon

Cinnamon, 1 tablespoon

Cayenne pepper, 1/2 a tablespoon

Cumin, 1/2  a tablespoon

Tomato puree, 3 tablespoons

First off Set the oven to about 190 c and once it has reached temperature put in the sweet potatoes.  If you like, you can cut a criss cross pattern in them and add salt and oil.  You will get a really crispy top.  They need about an hour.

Next brown the mince.  Lamb mince is quite fatty, so if using a decent frying pan you won’t need any oil, start on a low heat and the fat in the mince will liquefy which will then be perfect for cooking.  If you begin with oil you will end up with too much liquid in the pan.  ‘Browning’ mince is probably the thing that most people get wrong, it is a common misconception that the purpose is to cook it before adding to the dish, this is completely counter intuitive, especially when you then cook it with the other ingredients for hours.  The reason you do it is to invoke the maillard reaction, amino acids and reducing sugars react to air and heat resulting in a fundamentally different flavour to other cooking methods, this is partly why roast potatoes taste different to build ones.

Most people ‘brown’ mince until it is grey, which aside from being pointless is frankly offensive.  You may worry about drying out the meat, but in a recipe (like this one) that will then involve cooking the meat in liquid for an extended period of time it isn’t a problem.  Any dehydrated meat is effectively rehydrated.

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In the above photo you can see pink, grey and brown.  Your goal is to get as much lamb as possible at least as brown as the mince in the bottom left.  You may not be able to get it all that brown without burning some.  You don’t want any black.  if you do this you will be rewarded with an incredible, rich flavour that essentially comes for free (minus the cost of energy).  If you don’t do this all you will taste is the spice and you may as well be using tofu.

Once the mince is thoroughly browned set it aside in a sieve over a bowl, whilst the fat drains off, chop and peel the onions and carrots.  Using a little of the reserved lamb fat, fry them in the same pan, making sure they pick up any crispy bits left by the lamb.  Then pulse the lamb and veg for 5 to 10 seconds in a food processor depending how chunky you want the final dish to be.  You could omit this stage altogether, I personally go for 10 plus seconds.  Return the entire mixture to the pan and fry on a medium heat for about 5 minutes.

Add all the other ingredients to the pan, reserving half of the chopped coriander.  Use more coriander than you think you need, it’s an aromatic balance to all the other flavours, and unless you are using a kilo of the stuff you *can’t* use too much.  Coriander stalks are incredibly flavoursome but because of their fibrous texture not useful as an ingredient.  However tie the stalks together with a piece of string and add this to the pan, you will get all the flavour and none of the unwanted texture.

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Crank the heat up high and reduce the mixture until it is about 5 percent too watery.  Taste and adjust the ingredients according to your pallete, do you want more heat?  Add cayenne.  Want it sweeter?  Honey.  Savoury?  Tomato puree.  Trust your taste buds, they will tell you what the dish needs.  If you want an overall more subtle taste you can add less of the spice ingredients.  You are probably an adult, it’s up to you.  When the potatoes have about 10 minutes left, add the lamb mixture to the oven in a casserole dish, or if you have it, a tagine.

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To serve, sprinkle on the remaining coriander, remembering you can’t use too much in this dish.  If you really don’t like coriander you could use parsley instead

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The end result is a meaty, dark, spicy, sweet, warming yet humble dish.  Great for kids or the queen if she happens to pop by.  Let me know if you make it.

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