Monday, July 28, 2008

Tajine Madness. The winter of the slow cooked Moroccan ‘casserole’

This was one of our wedding gifts and I have had fun playing with it this winter. Tajine refers to both the pot used to cook meals in as shown above, as well as the dish. It is traditionally served with couscous, rice or flatbread (or all three). The idea behind the pots shape is that the steam rises to the top of the strangely shaped lid which then runs down back into the food, trapping in moisture and hence leading to a tastier result. The design also means the lid can be lifted off without burning your hand To be honest I don’t really know if there is any benefit to the tajines shape, or if a heavy cast iron crockpot or dutch oven would lead to the same result. The benefit of the modern tajines is that they can be heated directly over a flame so that meat can be browned before the stewing (this leads to a more complex flavour). Because of the long cooking times, cheaper cuts of meat can be used and the flavours have more time to develop.

I started off by following a recipe that came with the tajine – beef with dates and almonds.

This is a picture of my first attempt, looking quite retro with the boiled eggs on top! I found that this recipe led to an overly sweet tajine (probably shouldn’t have added the sugar AND the dried fruit they suggested) so decided not to follow any more recipes. The almonds on top provided a nice contrast to the rest of it though (texturally and flavour-wise).

The basic concept is to brown the meat, onions and fry the spices (often cumin, coriander and cinnamon, but I have played around with this) and then add vegetables, water or stock and other flavourings and simmer.

The chicken, preserved lemon and olive version above was more successful and great served with couscous, a salad, a yoghurt dip and some hot harrissa. I am now unfortunately out of preserved lemons so have to make or buy some more before I can play around with this recipe.

The fish tajine I approached a little differently and made a chermoula paste which I used to both marinade the fish and fry in the oil as the spice base. Using the magimix I also got as a present, it is very easy to make spice pastes, in this case a combination of onion, garlic, ginger, parsley, coriander, cumin, lemon and oil. I then made the stock base with some home made chicken stock and added potatoes and oven roasted red capsicum. The fish I only added in the last 10 minutes.

In the spirit of the casserole, this is great to use up old vegies in the fridge and is easy to put together and then leave on the stove for 1-2 hours. Once you develop your favourite/ preferred spice combinations, it is easy to get this meal on.

What’s your favourite tajine recipe?

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