Looking out of my bedroom window these days I can see my stone fruit trees in full flower. This is the promise of wonderful, luscious fruits to come. My peach tree will drip with fruit and that makes me happy, but what really excites me is the coming of the next apricot harvest.
I have a real soft spot for apricots, which by the way are related to the peach. I remember my grandmother’s tress bowing under the weight of that gorgeous sweet, sour, fruit. The season is so short so my mother would bottle them and jam them and of course we would fill our tummies until we doubled over with pain. We were always told not to over indulge for that very reason.
There are so many wonderful things you can do with apricots, fresh or dried. I love to bottle them whole in brandy to serve later in the year when the season is over. I love to stew them and serve cold over thick Greek Yogurt with chopped toasted almonds – great as dessert, or as a breakfast. Why not chop some apricots into a crumpet batter – it makes them really delicious. Another thing I like to do with firm ripe apricots is serve them with goats cheese and crispy bacon on a bed of delicious salad greens with lots of peppery rocket.
I hate it when commercial apricots appear on the shelves and they are that pale, insipid yellow colour. Give these a wide berth. They are nasty and sour and green and don’t contain the same amount of anti-oxidants as luscious ripe fruits do. I know that we are not all fortunate enough to have the pleasure of our own tree ripened fruit, but I have to say they really do taste better.
As I grew older I started to appreciate the wonderful nutritional content of these beautiful, velvety orange fruits with a pinkish blush on their cheeks. They are full of beta-carotene and fibre, have so much vitamin A and C to offer as well as being rather rich in plant antioxidants and what’s better they are not very high in calories. I’m also told they are good for your eyesight.
Now, dried apricots have also got their own place in the pantry. Can you imagine a tagine without the soft, sweet-sour flavours that a dried apricot brings to the party?
My mum always had a packet of dried apricots and a can of apricot jam hidden in the back of the pantry. This would come out if we ran out of chutney. This is how she made it.
Mum’s Chutney in a flash
- 1 small onion
- 1 handful of dried apricots
- 1 cup smooth or chunky apricot jam
- ½ cup white vinegar
- 1 tbls chopped fresh ginger
- 1 clove garlic crushed
- 2 whole cloves
- ½ cup chopped coriander
- 2 green chillies finely chopped
- Juice of 1 lemon
Peel and chop the onion, then chop the apricots very finely. Place them into a saucepan with the apricot jam, vinegar, ginger, garlic, cloves and coriander, chillies and lemon juice, simmer very gently till the jam starts to bubble, remove from the heat and cool.
Delicious served with lamb, beef or chicken curry.
© Jenny Morris 2014
Saharan Lamb Stuffed with Couscous and Fruit
While I was filming with Food Network, I was introduced to a delightful Berber family in a little village called Ait Ouzzine. They lived in complete rhythm with the seasons, eating only what had been harvested or reared on their own land, or what could be caught or foraged. It was as if time had stood still: they collected wood in the mountains every day when they took the goats and sheep to graze, and they stockpiled for the winter.
While they were bundling up sticks and twigs to take home, the mother told them to look for lizards so that they could make me a very special mountain tagine. I said my prayers and they were answered, for the deeper they pushed their sticks into the holes, the deeper the lizards burrowed down.
With a happy heart, I promised them a fruity lamb tagine instead.
Ingredients for the Lamb:
- 1.5 kg deboned leg of lamb
- 3 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- ½ tsp freshly ground white pepper
- ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp crushed dried chillies
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- ½ tsp ground coriander
- ¾ tsp salt
- 100 g soft butter
Ingredients for the Couscous Stuffing:
- 2 tsp olive oil
- ½ cup chopped onion
- ½ cup finely chopped red pepper
- ½ cup finely chopped carrot
- 1 handful dates, pitted and chopped
- 10 almonds, toasted and chopped
- 10 walnuts, toasted and chopped
- 2 Tbs sultanas
- 2 Tbs cranberries
- 10 prunes, pitted and chopped
- 2 dried figs chopped
- 10 dried apricots chopped
- 1 Tbs chopped preserved lemon
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 cup cooked couscous
- ½ cup chopped parsley
Ingredients for the Casserole Base:
- 2 onions, cut into thick slices
- 1 preserved lemon, thinly sliced
- 1 garlic bulb
- Some dried fruit, for scattering
- 250 ml chicken stock
Make the flavoured butter first. Set aside. Place all the ingredients into a bowl and mix well, chill, remove from the fridge 20 minutes before you need it.
Now make the couscous stuffing. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan, and sweat the onion for a minute or two. Add the remaining ingredients, except the couscous and parsley. Season the mixture with salt and pepper and stir over a moderate heat for 5 minutes, adding a little water if it starts to stick.
Remove from the heat and stir in the couscous and parsley.
Preheat oven 160°C. Lay the lamb onto a flat surface and open it up gently with a knife. Spread the flavoured butter paste onto both sides of the butterflied lamb. Spread the couscous filling onto the lamb and roll it up tightly, securing with string or toothpicks.
Scatter the casserole base ingredients over the bottom of a casserole dish or deep oven tray. Place the stuffed lamb on top and pour over the chicken stock. Cover with foil and roast in the preheated oven for 2 ½ hours or until cooked.
Tip: I like to use a few dried apricots, figs, prunes, dates and cranberries for scattering over the base of the casserole dish.
© Jenny Morris Taste The World with Jenny Morris 2013 -2014