Random recipe: Orange and lamb tagine

Once upon a time I used to scour charity shops and school fairs for cookbook gems, hoping to find a first edition Mrs Beeton tucked among the multiple copies of Alison Holst’s Microwave Menus. While that never happened, I did come across plenty of great finds – The Silver Palate cookbooks, pristine paperback Elizabeth Davids, a Jill Dupleix that I’d always wanted and once – a brand new copy of How To Eat for 50p – among others.

But a year or so ago I realised I was in danger of being swamped by these dusty finds; that I didn’t really need to pick up every half-decent cookbook I found and that it would be perfectly safe for someone else to buy. Then I met a woman who told me that one of the largest charity shops in Wellington gets so many books donated to it that twice a year they load up a container and take it to the tip. No, not the recycling depot, the tip. The charity can’t afford to send them overseas, so they dump them. Now – there are all sorts of issues here, not least being – why don’t they give them away – but it made me reconsider what I do with my own collection. I’ve recently decided that there are lots of books that, while I don’t use them anymore, deserve better homes than being stuck in a damp charity shop while waiting to be bulldozed into landfill. I’ve selected both the books and their recipients carefully and it was such fun watching their reactions that I’m planning to do it again in a few months’ time.

The thing is though, that all this largesse has meant that I had very few books to choose from for this month’s Random Recipe challenge. The instructions from Dom at Belleau Kitchen were to select a book from the throw-out pile you’re supposed to compile when spring/autumn cleaning – and in truth, I had only one. But the results were so convincing that I’m going to have to keep it!

A few years ago you couldn’t move for being offered something made out of Jo Seagar’s ‘You Shouldn’t Have Gone To So Much Trouble, Darling’. This book, which features the author up to her pearl-strewn neck in a bubble bath, was first published in 1997, then a reprinted and updated version came out 10 years later. I have the original version, which I picked up from a charity shop for $2. I bought it out of nostalgia, more than anything. It was badly waterstained and I didn’t expect to ever use it, but the thing that swung it for me was the inscription on the front to the previous owner, ‘Anna’ – ‘ with much love from Momma and Poppa’. Gulp.

Moroccan Lamb Tagine

Lamb and Orange Tagine
Anna obviously used it her copy of ‘You Shouldn’t Have…’ a lot – the book fell open at the recipe for lamb tagine, which has ‘Excellent!’ scrawled across the top in blue biro. It turns out Anna was right – though I played around a bit with Jo’s original recipe to make it even more ‘excellent’ – or at least, a little lighter and not as sweet. I’ve annotated the book accordingly, all ready for its next owner.

500g lamb shoulder, diced
2 Tbsp olive oil
4 cloves garlic, sliced
2cm ginger, grated
2 onions, roughly chopped
3 medium carrots, washed, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp cumin
1 cup vegetable stock
3 large mandarins or 2 oranges, washed and roughly chopped, (including the skin)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup prunes, cut in half
1/2 cup almonds, toasted and roughly chopped
1/4 cup sesame seeds, toasted
Handful of coriander leaves, roughy chopped

Heat the oven to 160C.
Put the olive oil in a large, cast iron casserole and set over medium heat. Tip in the lamb, onion, garlic and ginger and cook for five minutes, stirring frequently, then add the carrots and spices. Cook for another minute, then add the mandarins or oranges and the vegetable stock. Stir well, then cover tightly and bake for 1 1/2 hours, until the lamb is very tender. Check it a couple of times to make sure it isn’t drying out – add a little water if it seems dry.
Add the prunes and stir well. At this point you can let the tagine cool completely, then refrigerate and reheat the next day. If you’re planning to eat it now, return it to the oven after adding the prunes and let cook for another 15-20 minutes. Sprinkle with the toasted almonds and coriander just before serving with rice, couscous or flatbreads. Serves four.

Are you a charity shop cookbook buyer?



  1. May 21, 2014 / 12:20 pm

    Isn't it amazing how many cookbooks we all seem to own! this recipe looks and sounds magnificent – I can almost smell it cooking!

    • May 25, 2014 / 4:00 am

      Hi Mary – it's best not to think about how many cookbooks we have, it's too shocking. But they are worth it!

  2. May 21, 2014 / 8:30 pm

    that cookbook cover is both hysterical and entirely scary at the same time… WTF is she doing in the bath… and why does she look SO much like my Auntie Sonia?… love the tagine though – looks terrific and so glad I could assist in the clearance of at least one book!

    • May 25, 2014 / 3:58 am

      I know! (The 10th anniversary cover was much less terrifying – no bubbles for a start!) It's a little bit dated now, but there are still some good things in this book… I know, I'll send it to you!

  3. May 22, 2014 / 9:22 pm

    Sounds good to me and it's long been a dearly held ambition of mine to compliment a woman in a bath on her tagine. I recently saw Ms Lawson's latest book in a local charity shop inscribed 'Love you forever, Mark'. Obviously not a mutual feeling. Next time Mark should try a well-chosen bouquet, I think.

  4. May 30, 2014 / 4:02 pm

    I love the idea of books having a chain of ownership – so sad that they could end up in landfill instead. I hope your annotations for the next owner are appreciated. The tagine sounds delicious – I've never added oranges or mandarins to one but I'm going to have to try it now.

    • June 2, 2014 / 7:41 am

      Hi Jane, I like the idea of a chain of ownership too. I love finding old books with someone else's newspaper cuttings etc tucked inside. Adding the whole oranges is my tweak to this recipe and I think it works really well. Let me know what you think!

  5. May 31, 2014 / 5:02 am

    I'm glad I'm not the only one to scribble comments on my recipe books ! Lovely dish and hilarious book cover 🙂

    • June 2, 2014 / 7:42 am

      Scribble away, safe in the knowledge that the next owner of your books will really appreciate it!

    • June 2, 2014 / 7:39 am

      It definitely stands out, doesn't it?! Obviously it did the trick at the time, though for some reason the 10th anniversary edition didn't feature the author in a bath tub…

  6. May 31, 2014 / 7:45 pm

    What an amazingly beautiful looking tagine. Anna obviously had excellent taste and I can see why she might have made this often! I've been looking for a decent tagine recipe recently, so will definitely bookmark this one.

    • June 2, 2014 / 7:46 am

      Thanks Kate, I hope you'll try this one. I've tweaked it a bit so it's not too sweet.

  7. June 5, 2014 / 9:39 am

    Do you think your copy is waterstained because Anna took the cover a little too literally and felt obligated to clamber into the bubble bath après-every bout of tagine making?
    I have a similar inclination in Charity shops, especially when I see new titles that I know are £20 in the shops going for a few quid. I managed to reign myself back and not buy 'Jamie's at Home' recently in pristine condition for £3 because, after leafing through it, I seriously doubted I'd ever use it or learn anything from it. That was a rare moment of control though…

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