Atlas Mountain Soup, Hackney Style

This recipe and write-up is brought to you by my father, Mike.

This isn't really Atlas Mountain Soup. According to my son, the word "soup" is not appropriate to this dish. The truth is that, when I came to cook the classic Moroccan dish I simply couldn't find a recipe. We used to have one in a cookbook but it seems to have gone walkabout - it's probably headed off back to the peace and tranquility of the High Atlas Mountains. And we couldn't find anything on the web, either. So this is my entirely invented dish of Atlas Mountain Stew, with a few comments on how it can be improved still further.

Ingredients (4 portions)

½ kg minced lamb
6 tangerines (select tart fruits, don't use the over-sweet types)
3 tsps ras el hanout spice mixture
2 green bell peppers (I used one red and one green, but both green for added bitterness would be better)
1 large yellow onion
4 tomatoes
4 apricots
6 greengages (tart plums would be a good substitute)
6 figs (with hindsight I would have omitted this ingredient)
1 tsp mixed herbs (herbes de Provence works well in this)
2 bay leaves
olive oil
black pepper
couscous, rice, bread or other carbohydrate base with which to serve the sauce.


The first step is to make a marinade for the meat. Squeeze the tangerines, blitz the juice and pulp in a food processor and strain out the solid material using a strainer with large holes.
Using your (washed) hands, mix the minced lamb thoroughly with the tangerine juice, two teaspoons of the ras el hanout mixture and some salt and freshly ground black pepper to season.
Translated as "head of the shop" in Arabic, the term ras el hanout refers to a mixture of the best spices a seller has to offer. These days the mixture is readily available in spice stores and larger supermarkets. Some mixtures can contain ingredients that are now illegal, so be sure to buy from a reputable source.
While the meat is marinating for a couple of hours, prepare the fruits (note that although we often refer to tomatoes and peppers as vegetables, they are both fruits).
This dish is intended to show a display of colours and plenty of texture, so everything should be rough chopped as shown.

I removed the skins from the tomatoes, greengages and apricots although you could leave these on. The trick for removal is to plunge the fruit into boiling water for twenty seconds and then transfer into iced water. The skins can then be peeled easily by hand.
After the meat has marinated for a couple of hours it will be ready for the main stage of cooking.

Sweat off the onions for a few minutes in olive oil until they start to turn translucent. Then drain off any excess marinade from the lamb and add the meat to the pan.

Stir well until the meat is lightly browned, but be careful not to overheat and allow it to burn.
Add the tomatoes and allow to cook for a few minutes. Then stir in the remaining fruits and add boiling water to just about cover the ingredients.

Season lightly with salt and pepper and add the bay leaves and herbs.
You can either cook the mixture on the hob in a heavy bottomed pan, or place it in the oven on a low-medium heat.

Either way, stir regularly and cook slowly until the liquid has reduced down. This should take about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
At this stage add the remaining teaspoon of spice mixture and some more boiling water and continue to cook for another 30-45 minutes.
The real Atlas Mountain Soup would be eaten as it comes, with chunks of soft, absorbent Moroccan bread. As this is a ragout, rather than a soup, it should be served on the traditional Maghreb carbohydrate staple: couscous. On this occasion, being a coeliac and thus unable to eat couscous, I used boiled basmati rice.

My Atlas Mountain Stew was very tasty and I'd certainly cook it again. But I'll try to find the original recipe and make a proper Atlas Mountain Soup. There was something very special about that.