Until a few years ago I had only used a tagine now and then for work. I’d never considered having one at home until, out of the blue, my sister-in-law bought one for my husband’s birthday. Now it’s one of my favourite ways to cook, and it’s inspired my husband and me to one day visit Morocco.
It’s so simple but it delivers a delicious flavoursome and tender stew every single time. Traditionally it’s used over hot coals, but your hob or oven will do. Made out of clay and usually pretty bulky, the secret is the simple design and the shape. The tagine is made up of two parts: the base and the lid. The cone lid means the steam rises, hits the pinnacle and trickles down back into the stew. This keeps the flavours moving and stops the dish drying out.
We have often used it for when we have had a few friends over, making feasts by serving a meaty tagine with couscous, flatbreads, yogurt swirled with harissa and a crisp salad, which is all typical of the Moroccan cuisine. The tagine is a big part of Algerian cuisine too, but they do things a little differently.
Algeria was once part of the Ottoman Empire, and as a result has some strong Turkish influences, such as making flatbreads to go with the stews and using lots of Mediterranean vegetables. It’s the latter that has inspired my tagine recipe below.
Whatever ingredients you use, the tagine ensures that your finished dish is full of flavour, and is tender and juicy. In most recipes the meat and base ingredients (usually onions and garlic) are browned off first in a heady mix of spices, the most common being cinnamon, ginger, saffron, cumin, turmeric, paprika and chilli. Next the vegetables, liquid and fruits are added. It is traditional to combine sweet and sour flavours – I love to use dates or apricots when making a lamb tagine, and chicken thighs work really well with sultanas. Once the lid’s on, it’s left on a low heat for hours and hours, until the sauce is thickened and meat and veg are beautifully tender.
The recipe below is for a vegetarian aubergine tagine. Have a go yourselves and don’t be scared to change bits until you find something you really like. I often use what I have left in the kitchen, so each one it is slightly different, which I love. I had a bag of baby aubergines so I used them as the main ingredients, but this would work just as well with normal aubergine or butternut squash, as well as roughly chopped chicken thighs or lamb neck fillet. If you’re going for meat make sure you brown it off at the start, and give it an extra 30 minutes with the lid on.
Algerian-inspired vegetarian aubergine tagine
- 1 red onion, roughly sliced
- 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
- 2 sticks of celery, roughly chopped
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp tumeric
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 10 baby aubergines, halved (or 3 large ones, roughly chopped)
- 1 tin of plum tomatoes
- 1 tin of chickpeas
- 1 vegetable stock cube
- 10 apricots, roughly chopped
- 1 sweet potato
- 400g couscous
- 1 lemon, zest and juice of
- 2 tbsps of natural yogurt
Place the tagine on a medium heat and add a little oil and a knob of butter. Add the onion, garlic, celery and spices, and cook for 5-10 minutes, or until starting to soften.
Add the aubergines and continue cooking for another 10 minutes, stirring continuously to get all the spices and flavours into the aubergine.
Next, add the tomatoes, chickpeas and their water, the stock cube and the apricots. Season with salt and pepper, give it a good stir, then place the lid on for 1 hour, or until thick and the aubergine is cooked through.
With a few minutes to go, cook the couscous according to the packet instructions, then add the zest and squeeze in the juice. Serve next to the stew, with a dollop of yoghurt for some creaminess.
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Header image by Simon Mackenzie