I was debating what type of meat I wanted for my next chili. So many fantastic options out there, especially now when you can order whatever ground up creature you want on the internet. Coon and cactus? Rabbit and red pepper? Antelope and apple? Typically some sort of tasty meat with a featured vegetable or fruit will render a delicious dish. I was leaning towards bison and cranberry, or sirloin and whiskey (sometimes booze is even better than fruit… well, I guess most of the time booze is even better than fruit), but honestly, I was feeling cheap. I wanted a cheap dish with some uniqueness to it so I hit my local grocery store that caters to the foreign crowd and browsed my options (this is a magical land of smoked ham hock, Korean sausage, tripe, and more varieties of whole fish and mollusks than a zoology book). I found lamb.
There were a few different directions I could have gone in with lamb. One of the more obvious is Greek or Mediterranean. Lamb with mint and feta. Good. Not good enough. Tajine!
A tajine, or tagine, is a cone shaped clay cooking vessel that is popular in North Africa. Its design allows the food juices to steam up to the top of the cone, condense, and then drip back down into the simmering food. Really, a genius approach to basting. Tajine has also become synonymous with Tunisian or Moroccan stew recipes. Although I did not use a tajine to cook this chili, I did borrow heavily from the flavor profile seen with a Moroccan lamb tajine.
There is a rainbow of spices involved: bright turmeric, spicy and fresh minced ginger, pungent garlic, and warm cinnamon and clove. However, the big flavor super-stars here are the dates. Chewy, sticky, sweet little dried chunks of North African goodness. They practically dissolve into the chili as is cooks, but occasionally you will bite into a soft little bit and get a burst of fruitiness in your mouth (which is a good thing, I promise).
Not sure what dates look like? Here is a visual of what you’ll be searching for at the grocery store:
Most likely you will see them labeled as Madjool Dates. Make sure you save a few to slice up and drape over the top of your chili. Caution: they do contain pits so be sure to get those out before you throw these into the pot! I also top this with thick, plain middle-eastern yogurt called laban. If you can’t find this, you can substitute a Greek yogurt. Sprinkle with a bit a cilantro, and you have one impressive looking (and tasting!) chili. Shahia tayebah!
In a large pot over medium heat, combine 2 lbs of ground lamb with one large diced white onion (or about 2 cups). Cook until meat has browned, drain the grease, and return the pot to the heat.
Add in 10 chopped dates (about ½ cup), 4 cloves of minced garlic (about 1 ½ T), 1 T fresh, minced ginger, 1 T paprika, 1 T ground cumin, 1 T chili powder, ½ t turmeric, ½ t of ground clove, ½ t ground cinnamon, ½ t ground coriander, ½ t salt, ½ t ground ginger, 2 cups of beef stock, 1 ½ cups of water, and one 6 oz can of tomato paste. Stir until combined, cover, and reduce heat to low. Let cook for 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes.
Ladle into a bowl and top with a dollop of plain middle-eastern yogurt, minced cilantro, and chopped or sliced dates