A tagine or tajine is both a special Moroccan pot and the stew made in such a pot. The Moroccan pots are generally made from earthenware and have a conical lid. Any moisture condensing on the lid drips back down into the stew, preventing it from drying out.
This recipe achieves the same effect in a modern stainless steel pot with a tight-fitting lid. This is heated on the stove-top / hob and used both for frying the ingredients and later stewing them.
Moroccan tagines often feature meat - lamb is the most popular choice - but this recipe is a vegetarian one. It's designed with the sort of ingredients that are normally available in a UK or Irish supermarket, and there are a few alternatives choices depending on what's available. The dish will feed 6 to 8 people, and can be served with couscous for that authentic Moroccan feel, or with rice if any of your diners are coeliacs and can't take gluten.
I've spaced the ingredients list into four groups to match the stages of the cooking.
- cooking oil (sunflower is best, but olive is good)
- 2 medium onions (200g) finely chopped
- 4 cloves garlic finely chopped
- 2 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- ½ tsp turmeric - see note 1 below
- ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
- pinch of saffron - see note 2 below
- 300 ml water
- 1½ tsp salt
- 2 tins chopped tomatoes (standard 400g tin)
- 300g potatoes chopped into chunks
- 200g carrots chopped into chunks
- 30g parsley (flat leaf if possible) finely chopped
- 30g coriander leaves finely chopped
- 150g sweet potatoes or butternut squash or parsnips chopped into chunks
- 1 courgette chopped into chunks
- 100g dried apricots or dried prunes
- 1 tin of chickpeas (standard 400g tin)
Note 1: A word of warning - this recipe uses turmeric which has a very strong yellow colour. Make sure not to put any stirring spoons you use down on chopping boards or worktops directly, as the turmeric stain is difficult to get out - it takes a few days to fade away. Instead, place all stirring spoons on a small plate. It can easily be washed afterwards.
Note 2: Saffron comes in red, orange and yellow varieties. It is made from two different parts of the saffron crocus flower, the stamen and the style, which are red and yellow respectively. Orange saffron is a mixture of the two. The red stamens have the most flavour, so in general the redder the saffron the better. A good red saffron may cost five times as much as an orange mix, but is worth it, as it has ten times the flavour. If you're using orange saffron, you should use a lot more of it.
Step 1 - Prepare the Vegetables
Peel the onions and garlic and chop them finely. If you're handy with a knife you can chop the other vegetables as you go, but if you're slow you should prepare them in advance. Peel the potatoes. Chop the potatoes, carrots and courgette into chunks of about 1 to 1½cm (half inch). Cut the apricots into quarters. If you're using prunes instead of apricots, chop them slightly smaller. Chop the parsley and coriander finely. If you're using parsnips or butternut squash, you can peel and chop them now. If you're using sweet potatoes, don't peel them yet as they will turn black.
Step 2 - Making the Onion Paste
Fry the onions in the oil, stirring with wooden spoon, for about 3 minutes until transparent. Add garlic and fry for 1 minute. Add the spices (cumin, ginger, turmeric, cayenne pepper, saffron) and fry for 1 minute, continuing to stir. Remove from heat.
Step 3 - Stewing the Tough Vegetables
Add water, salt, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, parsley and coriander. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer gently for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
When the 20 minutes are nearly up, peel and chop the sweet potatoes into 1 - 1½cm chunks. You can keep them in a bowl of water to stop them turning black if you're ready too soon.
Step 4 - Stewing the Soft Vegetables
Add apricots/prunes, courgette and sweet potato (or butternut squash or parsnip). Cover again and simmer for another 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Put the chickpeas in a sieve. Rinse under the tap to remove the gooey liquid. Remove any black chickpeas or detached skins.
Step 5 - Heating up the Chickpeas
Add chickpeas, cover and simmer for another 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. The chickpeas are already cooked so all you're doing here is heating them up and letting a bit of the salt in the sauce soak into them.
Check the tagine is ready by poking a fork into one of the carrots. If it goes in easily then the stew is ready. Otherwise simmer it for a few more minutes.
To Prepare Couscous
Couscous is one of the easiest things to prepare. All you do is let it sit in hot water for five minutes.
- Boil some water.
- Weigh out 50g of couscous per person and place in a bowl.
- Measure out 80ml of boiled water per person, pour into the bowl.
- Swirl it around with a fork to make sure it's all wet.
- Cover over with clingfilm.
- Wait 5 minutes.
- Fluff the couscous up with the fork to stop it all being in a lump.
To Prepare Basmati Rice - the Hard Boil Method
If any of the diners is a coeliac (allergic to gluten), they won't be able to eat couscous. You can use basmati rice instead.
This method uses lots of boiling water but is very simple and quick.
- Put half a cup of rice per person into a large pot.
- Add a half teaspoon of salt.
- Pour on lots of boiling water and bring back to the boil.
- Boil for 9 minutes with no lid.
- Pour into a sieve or colander in the sink.
- Pour more boiling water over it.