A tagine is a Moroccan dish that is named after the clay pot that it is cooked in, which is also called a tagine. It comes from a Berber tradition and similar dishes can be found throughout North Africa. Tagines dishes are usually made with some kind of meat, an exotic mix of spices, vegetables and often, some kind of fruit. Traditionally the dish would be cooked over hot coals. This cooking method was popular because it required very little water as a small amount of moisture would create condensation which would then collect in the top of the tagine and then roll back down the sides of the conical-shaped lid.
Several years ago I bought a glazed, ceramic tagine. I felt like I had to own it because it was beautiful and I could imagine all sorts of wonderful, exotic meals prepared in it.
Two or three times a year I haul out my tagine and make my version of a Moroccan meal. Last weekend, the mood struck me, and I made a chickpea and butternut squash tagine. I cooked a Moroccan spiced chicken for Husband. I served that along with some whole wheat couscous.I recently learned the secret to making really good couscous – and I am going to share that with you!
So let me start with the tagine.You don’t have to own a tagine to make this meal. A good Dutch oven will work just as well. I looked at a number of recipes for tagines and then decided to make up my own, taking a little inspiration from all of them.
I made a spice blend using the following:
- 1 Tbs. Paprika
- 1/2 Tbs. Cumin
- 1/2 Tbs. Ground Ginger
- 1/2 Tbs. Ground Coriander
- 1 tsp. Cinnamon
Earlier in the day I cooked 3/4 cups of dried garbanzo beans. To the tagine pot I added the drained cooked garbanzo beans, 3 cups of cubed butternut squash, a can of Rotel (any diced tomato would work), chopped garlic, chopped dried apricot, lemon peel, a boquet of cilantro and parsley (to be pulled out later), and a healthy dose of the spice blend. I like things to be highly spiced – but you should use your own judgement on that. I added some of the garbanzo bean cooking liquid so that the mixture looked moist.
My tagine was ready for the oven.
I wanted to make this a meal that Husband would also enjoy. He likes a little more protein with his meal. So I cooked a Moroccan spiced chicken for him. I am a vegetarian so handling a chicken is a problem for me. Husband helped with the prep. He put several cloves of peeled garlic, slices of lemons and oranges into the cavity of the chicken. He put the chicken into my Royal VKB Slowcooker. We used the Moroccan spice blend as a rub on the outside of the chicken.
This cooking dish has a terracotta lid that has to be soaked in water for a few minutes before cooking. We placed the well soaked lid on top and then both the tagine and the chicken were ready for the oven.
I put both dishes into a cold oven and turned the temperature to 400 degrees. The pot that the chicken was cooking in cannot go into a hot oven. I figured that would work OK for the tagine as well. I let both the tagine and the chicken cook for an 75 minutes. They both came out looking great.
I finished the tagine with some grated lemon zest, chopped green olives and some raw cashews that I had toasted.Traditional Moroccan cuisine would use preserved lemons rather than lemon zest. I wish that I had some of those preserved lemons!
I let the chicken and the tagine rest for a few minutes while I prepared the couscous.Couscous is not technically a grain. It is actually a small pasta. But in this case it was made from whole wheat – so let’s call it a grain! I have never really been crazy about couscous because it always seems a little gummy to me. I’ve never been able to prepare it so that it is delicious and fluffy. But this is really a great recipe. I saw this on America’s Test Kitchen and now I feel like I have the cracked the couscous problem.
The first thing you need to know is that you should ignore the directions on the couscous box – it calls for too much water. I used RiceSelect While Wheat Couscous.
I finely chopped about a half of an onion. America’s Test Kitchen suggested using a shallot, but I didn’t have one. I sauteed the onion in a little bit of butter and olive oil until it was soft. Then I added one cup of couscous to the pan and toasted that for about 5 minutes. At first it looks like nothing is happening – and then it happens very quickly. So keep an eye on it at this stage. Add one cup of water to the pot (the package directions call for a cup and a quarter). I added a couple of tablespoons of raisins at this point. Quickly bring the water to a boil. Cover the pot. Remove from heat and let sit for 7 minutes. Perfect, fluffy couscous. Tasted delicious!
We got some whole wheat flat bread at the store to serve along with this meal. You can see the whole grain stamp on the front of this package. I heated up our outdoor grill and toasted the flat bread then I brushed it with some good olive oil. The flat bread was tasty – but the list of ingredients was bothersomely long.
Well – as you can imagine I went to quite a lot of trouble to make this meal. I am sure there are easier ways to get all this done. But sometimes I enjoy the labor of putting together an unusual meal. Since I had gone to all this trouble I decided to go all out and set a romantic table. Serve a nice bottle of wine. Make it special.
So how was it? Well – it all tasted really good. I will say that somehow the vegetarian tagine never quite lives up to my expectation. I think that when you slow cook a meat tagine it somehow ends up with a certain richness and body. I’ve never eaten a meat tagine – so that’s just a guess. But my vegetarian version, while very flavorful, seems to lack that unctuousness that I am looking for. I will keep working on that! I am thinking that perhaps the addition of some potatoes would help because they would give off starch and perhaps create a more cohesive sauce.
Husband enjoyed the chicken.
And seriously, that couscous is a winner. I will never follow the package directions again. It was wonderful. That’s the only way to go!
Let me make a few points about the tagine pot. I love my tagine. I think it is gorgeous. But it is a little hard to deal with because it is so tall. I have to put my oven rack on the lowest rung. Also, my tagine cannot go on the stove top. Well maybe it could but I don’t want to risk breaking it. If I had it to do over again, I would buy the Le Creuset Enameled Tagine.
Because it is enameled cast-iron, it can sit directly on the stove top so that you can sautee onions, brown meat, etc. before you put the tagine in the oven. That seems like a plus to me. The one drawback of the Le Creuset is that it is pretty heavy.
There are a lot of interesting websites about tagines and Moroccan food. Here are a few links if you want to learn more:
And finally, here are some Moroccan cookbooks that I own and enjoy:
Mourad: New Moroccan – This is a beautiful book with lots of color photos. Some of the recipes are complicated. I would call this a new take on an ancient cuisine.
Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon – Another beautiful book. Lots of great recipes, many that are fairly simple.
The Vegetarian Table: North Africa (Vegetarian Table Series , Vol 4) – color photos and lots of exotic meatless options.