Cookbook Profile

Sweet Ragout of Quince and Lamb

Maraqat al-Safarjal
Makes 4 servings


This recipe will help me explain some confusion in Mediterranean culinary terms. In North Africa there are two very different words that mean "stew." In Morocco, a stew is called a tajin (or tajin), but in Tunisia a stew is called maraqa. In Tunisia, a tajin is not a stew but the word for a kind of omelette. The Italians have the same kind of omelette, which they call a frittata. The Spanish have this too, but they call their omelette a tortilla (it never means a flat bread in Spain), a word the Mexicans use not for an omelette but for a kind of flat bread. Now, to complicate matters further, my Arabic-English dictionary (Wehr) translates maraqa as a kind of broth or sauce, but, more accurately, it really is what the French call an etuvé, a slow-cooked covered stew containing very little fat or liquid, although I call it a ragout since that's the word I believe readers are most familiar with. The tajin of Morocco is also nearly identical to this French etuvé. The word tajin, although referring to either the stew or the omelette, actually is the name of the shallow earthenware pan that both the stew and the omelette are cooked in, and that word derives from the Greek teganon, meaning frying pan. (By the way, safarjal means "quince.")

The maraqa-style of cookery had a wide enough influence that one finds it in Provence, probably brought back by the Pied-Noirs, the returned French settlers from North Africa, as evidenced by J.-B. Reboul's recipe for la marga in his nineteenth-century cookbook La cuisinière provençal. There Reboul has completely changed the concept but the ingredients are purely North African with the combination of lamb and chicken cooked with fava beans, chickpeas, cardoons, zucchini, artichokes, and onions seasoned with cayenne pepper, cumin, and other spices.

This sweet recipe can be made with prunes or dried apricots instead of the quince. Dried rose petals are traditionally used as a flavoring. This particular combination of lamb and fruit appears to derive its provenance from Persian cuisine via the Ottoman Turks. Although the Greeks know a similar dish called arni me kithouma or kidonia that they make with veal or pork as well as the cinnamon, it too is probably derived from the Persians through the Turks.


1-1/4 pounds boneless leg of lamb,
   trimmed of all fat and cubed
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon dried and ground rose petals
   or 1/4 teaspoon rose water
Salt to taste
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1-1/2 pounds quince (see Note),
   peeled, cut into eighths, and cored
3 to 4 cups water
1-1/3 cups sugar


1. In a medium-size bowl, toss the lamb together with the cinnamon, rose petals or rose water, and salt.

2. In a medium-size casserole, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat and brown the lamb, about 2 minutes, stirring. Add the quince, cover with the water, and bring to a boil. Reduce the beat to medium-low and cook for 1 hour, uncovered. Add the sugar and stir. Cover and cook until the lamb is very tender and the quince soft, about another hour. Remove to a serving platter with a slotted spoon and serve.


Quince are like very hard apples. Although there is a sweet variety in North Africa, the quince available in American markets are inedible in the raw state. Use a sharp knife and don't cut them up until you need them because they discolor.


A Mediterranean Feast
The Story of the Birth of the Celebrated Cuisines
of the Mediterranean, from the Merchants of
Venice to the Barbary Corsairs,
with More Than 500 Recipes

By Clifford A. Wright
William Morrow & Co., November, 1999
Hardcover, $35.00
ISBN: 0-688-15305-5
Recipe reprinted by permission.


A Mediterranean Feast


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Cookbook Profile Archive

Modified August 2007