A Taste of the Middle East

A neighbor on my local Buy Nothing group just posted a photo of a lamb tagine she had to share. It reminded me of a class I used to teach and I thought I’d share the recipes with you. You may not have access to all the ingredients right now, but there are substitutions you can easily make, and when life returns to whatever our new normal will be, I’ll make this feast to share once again.

Be well.


A Taste of the Middle East with Chef Karen Nelson

A Trio of Spreads

hummus, muhammara, and charred eggplant with tahini

Lamb Tagine 

apricots, preserved lemons and couscous

Sticky Fig Pudding 

salted caramel and coconut


Moroccan Lamb Tagine

This recipe is actually a riff on a tagine. A tagine in a specific type of clay pot with a conical lid found in North Africa, I’ve adapted the cooking technique for other cooking vessels. Getting a good sear on the meat, then slow roasting it with preserved lemon and olives is key to flavor development. Ras al hanout literally means, top shelf, is a spice mix that has many variations, most commonly including cardamom, cumin, clove, cinnamon, allspice, coriander, and paprika.


  • Salt and pepper to taste 
  • 3-4# leg of lamb, cut into large pieces 
  • 2-4 T avocado oil
  • 1 onion, julienned
  • 1/2 cup lamb, beef, or chicken stock
  • 1 to 2 T ras el hanout 
  • 4 large garlic cloves, crushed
  • Rind of 2 preserved lemons, cut into strips
  • 1 cup black or green Moroccan olives, pitted 
  • 10 dried apricots
  • 3/4 c toasted, slivered almonds
  • 1 bunch of fresh cilantro, chopped


  1. Preheat oven to 350 F
  2. Rub meat with salt and pepper.
  3. Heat 2T oil over high heat, sear meat on all sides until very brown. Do this in batches to get a good sear. Set meat aside after it’s seared.
  4. Reduce heat; add onions, cook about 1 minute, until starting to brown
  5. Return meat to pan, add garlic, spices, olives, and preserved lemon. Cover and cook for 2 hours in the oven.
  6. Garnish with cilantro and almonds. Serve with rice or couscous.

Preserved Lemons


  • 8 lemons (about 1 1/2 pounds) 
  • About 1/2 cup kosher salt 
  • 1 cup fresh lemon juice, plus more if necessary 


  • Cut each lemon lengthwise into quarters, cutting to but not through the opposite end. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of salt into the cut sides of each lemon.
  • Put the lemons in a large jar (it’s fine if you have to squeeze them in, because they will shrink), cover completely with lemon juice. Store in a cool place, but not refrigerator, for one week. After one week, refrigerate indefinitely, the longer you keep them, the more flavor they develop.

Ottolenghi’s Sticky Fig Pudding


  • 2 medium Granny Smith apples
  • 200g soft dried figs, tough stalk removed, roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 250ml water
  • 200g plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 125g unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • For the salted caramel coconut topping:
  • 75g unsalted butter
  • 95g soft light brown sugar
  • 60ml double cream
  • 95g unsweetened coconut flakes, or desiccated coconut
  • ¼ tsp salt


  1. Peel and core the apples and cut into 1cm pieces (you should have about 200g). 
  2. Place the apples, figs, bicarbonate of soda and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then simmer over a medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring from time to time, until the figs are starting to break down. 
  3. Remove from the heat and set aside until cool.
  4. Preheat oven to 400°F
  5. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together into a bowl and set aside. 
  6. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. 
  7. Add egg and vanilla, beat until combined. 
  8. In alternate batches, fold in the fig-apple mix and the sifted dry ingredients.
  9. Divide the mix between muffin liners and bake for about 20 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
  10. Make the topping while the cake is baking. 
    1. Place all the ingredients for the topping in a saucepan and stir over a low heat until the butter is melted and the ingredients are combined. Once the cakes are cooked, remove from the oven (keep the oven on) and spoon about 1½ tablespoons of the topping mixture over the surface of each pudding: it should rise up about 1cm. Return to the oven for another 12 minutes, or until the topping is golden brown.
  11. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for 10 minutes, before transferring to a wire rack to cool before serving



  • 1 15oz can cooked chickpeas
  • 1/2 c tahini sauce, more to taste
    • 1 jar tahini
    • 1/2 jar water
    • 1/4 c lemon juice, more as needed
    • 3 garlic cloves, more to taste
  • 1/2 c water
  •  Salt to taste
  •  ¼ c Olive oil, more for garnish
  • Paprika or harissa spice blend


  1. Boil chickpeas in water for 10 minutes, strain, set aside to cool
  2. Puree tahini sauce in a food processor until smooth
  3. Remove tahini sauce from food processor (don’t worry if there’s some left)
  4. Add chickpeas to food processor with 1/2 c of water, puree until it becomes a paste
  5. Add 1/2 c tahini sauce and olive oil, puree until smooth
  6. At this point you can add more garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil to your taste 
  7. Adjust seasoning as needed




  • 1 roasted red pepper
  • 1 t lemon juice
  • 1 t pomegranate molasses
  • ½ t ground cumin
  • 1 t dried Aleppo chili flakes
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 60g toasted walnuts
  • 2 t olive oil, plus extra to finish
  • Salt to taste


  1. Puree all, but nuts in a food processor until smooth 
  2. Add nuts and pulse until it’s the texture of coarse pesto
  3. Alternately, hand chop pepper, galic, and walnuts very fine, mix all together in a bowl
  4. Serve with dates or pita bread


Charred eggplant with tahini


  • 1 large eggplant, cut lengthwise into quarters
  • ¼ c olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 clove garlic finely grated
  • 1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 T fresh lemon juice
  • 1 T tahini 
  • ¾ tsp ground cumin
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Optional 1/2 tsp liquid smoke


  1. Preheat oven to 475°. Place eggplant on a baking sheet and toss with ¼ cup oil; season with salt and pepper. Roast until lightly charred and very tender, 20–25 minutes; let cool slightly. Chop eggplant (skin and all) until almost a paste.
  2. Mix eggplant in a medium bowl with garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, tahini, and cumin; season with salt and pepper. Drizzle with oil and top with sesame seeds.

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