For chef Claire Thomson, co-author of new book Camper Van Cooking, the key to a successful camping holiday is preparation.
“The best tip in the book is to take the first meal with you that you’ve frozen at home,” she says. “You’ve had time to cook some sort of curry or braised whatever, and then you take that with you frozen. It defrosts as you go to wherever you’re going, and then all you need to do is heat it up that evening – and it boosts the refrigeration of all your other ingredients as you get there.”
After a long drive to your campsite and the inevitable faff of unpacking everything, you’ll be glad to have a sumptuous meal ready to go, like this lamb and date tagine.
Lamb and date tagine recipe
Makes: 4 servings
50g butter or 50ml olive oil
600g lamb (shoulder is best), cut into 3cm dice
1 tsp salt, plus more if needed
1 x 400g can of chopped tomatoes
2 onions, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
½ tsp chilli flakes, or more to taste
2 tsp cumin seeds, toasted and ground
2 tsp coriander seeds, toasted and ground
1 tsp ground turmeric
1½ tsp ground ginger
1 cinnamon stick
1 small orange or 1 lemon, 2 small strips of zest removed and reserved
2 tbsp runny honey
16 dates, pitted, or 12 dried apricots
50g whole almonds, chopped
Couscous, cooked as per the packet instructions
1. Melt half the butter in a small saucepan, then transfer it (or half the olive oil) to a large bowl and mix it together with the lamb, salt, tomatoes, onions, garlic and all of the spices. Cover and leave refrigerated for at least a couple of hours – overnight is ideal.
2. To cook, put the marinated meat in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add the remaining butter or oil and cook the meat over a moderate-low heat, uncovered, for 20 minutes, stirring from time to time.
3. Meanwhile, halve the orange or lemon, squeezing and reserving the juice from one half and reserving the remaining half to cut into wedges later, to serve.
4. After 20 minutes, add 400ml of water to the saucepan, along with the honey, orange or lemon zest and the juice, and the dates or apricots. Stir to combine and reduce the heat to low, then cover and simmer very gently for about one to one and a half hours, or until the meat is melting and tender. Check the tagine from time to time to ensure it doesn’t catch, adding a splash more water to the pan if you think it needs it.
5. Check the seasoning, adjusting with salt and pepper to taste – you want a heady mix of savoury, sweet and spice, with the lamb and its sauce in perfect balance. Refrigerate, or freeze, to take camping.
6. To serve, heat the tagine over a moderate heat until piping hot and serve topped with the almonds with couscous and orange or lemon wedges on the side.
Recipe extracted from ‘Camper Van Cooking’ by Claire Thomson and Matt Williamson (Quadrille, £20; photography by Sam Folan).