eating: lamb and fresh fig tajine

Michael came back to Berlin for the weekend, a welcome surprise that coincided nicely with my weeks-long desire for a certain dish. We met in Saint Georges, where I was picking up one book and ordering another, and found ourselves wandering through supermarkets in search of spices and mmm… organic lamb.

Many of my friends seem to have read “Eating Animals” in the past weeks and months – myself included in Vienna. Reminding me why I became vegetarian in the first place, and specifically putting the onus on me to be responsible in my eating, the immediate impact has been to cut my already minimal meat and dairy eating to almost none.

With some provisos, eating meat or dairy in Europe – when these delicacies come from organic farms – is a substantially different thing to eating McDonalds or other fast food either here or in America. Nonetheless, being reminded once again of the suffering such a predilection causes – to animals, the environment, to ourselves – means I have found myself without a trace of desire for any casual eating of flesh.

Organic lamb meat is not cheap here, more than twice the price it was in Australia, some €26 a kilo. As to how the animals are treated in their lives and deaths, I’m not sure, though the German guidelines for organic farming are fairly strict. I pay then, for some salving of my conscience, though maybe it’s not enough.

Figs then. A safe topic of discussion and eating. It is fig season here, and the prices are in direct opposition to lamb and Australia. Ten ripe, fat and purple-skinned fruits for a mere €3. And spices. I have had an idea for a fresh fig and lamb curry for more than a year, though mostly finding only Tajine recipes; admittedly not so distant from a curry. I discover the name of a mixed spice called Ras el Hanout, which I don’t find in any Turkish supermarket. Maybe it has a different name. Having a long history of love with Chinese and northern Pakistan curries, I came up with this from various recipes and self-enjoyment.

Cooking with Michael and Dasniya; bottles of wine, my favourite spices an aromatic haze in the apartment, figs seared and then braised in honey and lemon juice with an avalanche of walnuts. Stewing for hours until we eat. (I should have taken photos.)

1kg organic lamb
2 red onions

cinnamon stick
cardamom pods
mustard seeds
ras el hanout (if you can find it or make it yourself)
cayenne or paprika

lamb or chicken stock

8-10 fresh figs
lemon juice

3-4 tomatoes
fresh corriander

brown basmati rice (or couscous or flatbread)

Notice the lack of measurements. I cook by throwing in as much as I think might work and then a little more. I like spices and chillies and can’t understand why anyone would want to eat such a divine thing as a curry only half-spiced.

Mash the garlic and ginger, thick slice the onions and fry on low-ish heat while cubing the lamb (leave the fat on; it’s yummy). Add lamb and turn the heat up to sear it.

Mix all the spices together – I used around a half to full tablespoon for each – crumble the cinnamon stick, throw it on top of the lamb and keep stirring till it becomes aromatic and sweats.

Add the stock, put a lid on and simmer on a looooow heat (barely bubbling) for two hours.


Sear the figs in a pan. I cut them into sixths first but it might be better to sear them whole then cut them and sear a bit more. Add the honey – a couple of big tablespoons – and let it caramelise, careful not to turn the figs to mush. Add the walnuts and lemon (juice of one) and try to avoid eating this in the next two hours.

Brown rice takes 40-50 minutes. Put it on about an hour after finishing the figs. Other things that would go well are Couscous or warm flatbread.

Two hours or so later…

Remove the lamb from the sauce, turn up the heat and reduce it till it’s fairly thick. Add the tomatoes and continue until they have become one, maybe 15-20 minutes.

Return the lamb, till it’s warmed up again, then add the figs, carefully stirring through. Throw on a good handful of fresh corriander leaves and take it off the heat.

Have some fresh figs, corriander, walnuts, lemon, other spices around for garnishes and mmm… bottles of red wine… happiness for three greedy people (or four if Gala comes along).