|Moroccan lamb tagine - a treat for tiny tastebuds|
I have never really understood the notion that young children prefer bland food. It is often assumed that when cooking for babies or toddlers, you hold back on the garlic, spices and herbs. I know that I am lucky that my boy is a 'good eater' (so far) but I think that it is important to introduce children to as wide a variety of flavours as possible in their first few years of life. How dull to have the same things over and over again! There are plenty of the usual staples on my toddler's menu (cottage pie, pasta with tomato sauce, fish pie, chicken casserole) but I do try to inject as much variety as possible and make a habit of regularly trying new recipes for him. From mild fruity curries to fish chowders via barbecue pulled pork and basil-heavy pesto: I love watching him discover new flavours for the first time. For the record, so far grapefruit and spinach are the only two flavours that have had a resolute thumbs down.
Where practical, he eats the same things as us but, as we generally eat at different times (not ideal, but hey ho), this is not always do-able. I also like to have good stash of homemade 'ready meals' stashed away in the freezer for him so tend to do a lot of batch cooking. At the weekend, we indulged in a fantastic lamb curry and there we had some lamb left over. Rather than cook up the usual casserole (Master Greedy is a huge fan of all slow cooked meat and vegetable combinations), I decided to inject a little Moroccan flavour into his diet. I slightly toned down the spices of my favourite lamb tagine and simmered the meat with tomatoes, carrots and dried fruit. The combination of sweet spices and a touch of honey was a winning one which he wolfed down.
I made the classic error of starting the cooking without actually checking to see that I had the relevant ingredients. I do this fairly often - you'd think that I would have learnt by now. Normally I use tinned tomatoes for a tagine and these would be fine if you can't be bothered with all the peeling and chopping. I also had to use sultanas rather than dried apricots as I didn't appear to have any. Master Greedy didn't mind but I think I would prefer apricots myself. Dates would be an alternative too.
He tried that tagine alongside plain couscous and yes, I did sprinkle a little fresh coriander on top. You may laugh (I almost laughed at myself) but I do think that we all eat with our eyes as much as our tummies. If the flash of green made the dish look more appealing to me, then perhaps it would to him too. Besides, fresh coriander is so delicious.
This is a great dish for toddlers but also for babies once protein is well established. The sweet flavour will appeal to their palates and you can simply purée to the desired consistency. Honey should be avoided for the first 12 months so just leave this out or perhaps use a little maple syrup instead. You could also add extra sweet vegetables such as sweet potato or butternut squash.
(Incidentally, I find couscous to be a great standby for a hungry toddler when waiting for rice to cook simply isn't going to happen.)
Makes 4 toddler portions
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, finely diced
1 carrot, finely diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
250g leg or shoulder of lamb, diced into small pieces
4-5 large tomatoes, peeled, seeds removed and chopped* (mine were small - I used 8) or 200g tinned tomtsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp ginger
small pinch saffron, soaked in 1tbsp warm water
1 tsp runny honey (omit for under-1s)
1 tbsp tomato purée
6 dried apricots, quartered (or use dates or sultanas)
4-5 large tomatoes, peeled, seeds removed and chopped* (mine were small - I used 8) or 200g tinned tomatoes
500 ml low-salt lamb stock or water
Couscous and fresh coriander to serve
*To peel tomatoes, score a cross on bottom of each tomato with sharp knife, pour over boiling water and leave for 5 minutes. The skins will peel off easily.
1. Pre-heat oven to 170C.
2. Heat oil in a small casserole and brown the lamb. Set to one side.
3. Add a touch more oil if necessary and sweat the onion and carrot together until starting to soften at the edges. Add the crushed garlic and cook gently for a minute.
4. Add the dry spices and stir to coat onion mixture. Next add the saffron along with the soaking liquid, tomato purée, honey and apricots. Return lamb to the pan. Cook for a minute or so, stirring to coat.
5. Finally add the tomatoes and stock. Bring to a gently simmer and transfer to oven. Cook for 1.5-2 hours or until the meat is very tender. Check after an hour and add a little more water if it is drying out.
6. Serve with couscous and a sprinkling of fresh coriander!