tagine

The word tagine (tajine, الطاجين) is both the name of a North African stew, and the conical earthenware pot in which it is usually cooked. The use of ceramics in North Africa was the result of Roman influence, and these dishes have been enjoyed for thousands of years.

Tagine pots are unique in that they trap steam and return the condensed liquid to the dish, enabling chefs to make tender foods with minimal added water, which is ideal in areas where water is scarce. For today’s recipe, I’ve provided instructions to create this dish with a dutch oven or deep skillet; so long as the lid has a very tight seal, you should be able to closely mimic the original dish – some folks like to cover their pots with tin foil before adding the lid, to ensure a completely tight seal.

There are countless spice options when preparing a tagine, but for this particular recipe I modeled my approach after a traditional Mrouzia, a tagine that is often served during Eid al-Adha (Festival of the Sacrifice). This Muslim celebration honors Ibrahim’s (Abraham’s) willingness to sacrifice his son at God’s command, only to be provided a sacrificial goat at the last minute instead. During this celebration, a lamb (or sometimes goat) is ritually sacrificed and shared among family, neighbors, and the needy; in many settings, they prepare Mrouzia using the sacrificed lamb.

Mrouzia is served with toasted (blanched) almonds, and typically flavored with saffron and Ras el Hanout, a popular North African spice mixture. Commercial versions of Ras el Hanout exist, but it’s not too challenging to put together your own fresh spice blend (my recipe is below); you’ll likely have most of these spices in your pantry already, except perhaps for mace. While potatoes aren’t a typical accompaniment to Mrouzia, I find that they add a hefty balance to the sweet/salty mixture of the dish; steamed basmati rice (or couscous, if you’re not gluten-averse) also works well as a starch.

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Tagine Makfoul is a traditional Moroccan curry made with goat or lamb. When my friends Brent and Heather of Virginia is for Hunter-Gatherers recently invited us over for dinner, promising some goat shoulder to accompany their excellent company, I knew that this recipe was the perfect choice; goat becomes tender after extended cooking, and serving it with makfoul (caramelized onion and tomatoes) adds a deliciously sweet and fresh dynamic to an already tasty dish.

This post is actually the second of a joint collaboration with Brent and Heather – be sure to check out another dish that we made on that same day, Tom Kha Gai, which is hosted on their wonderful site.

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NOTE: An updated version of this recipe appears in my cookbook, The Ancestral Table.

A tagine is a type of slow-cooked Moroccan stew, which gets it name from the pot it is usually cooked in, also named tagine (طاجين). It is often spelled as tajine as well. A typical tagine is made with cheaper cuts of lamb or beef, like shoulder or shank, but can also be used with chicken and seafood. Seasonal fruits like dates, raisins, and apricots are often used, as well as honey and preserved lemons.

For this recipe, I decided to make a baseline lamb tagine dish – no frills or gimmicks, just a simple template for you to follow. Feel free to experiment with tastes, especially different veggies (potatoes and olives add an interesting dynamic) and meats as you see fit. Since preserved lemons aren’t the easiest thing in the world to find (although making them yourself seems pretty easy), using chopped lemon rind works almost as well, and it’s what I usually use at home. Lastly, while tagines are very pretty looking, that’s a lot of cookware just for one type of dish – my trusty Le Creuset dutch oven worked out beautifully, as always.

Also, don’t forget that I am hosting a $50 gift card giveaway for Lava Lake Lamb this week! I used their delicious lamb shoulder for this recipe, and I can’t say enough good stuff about how well it turned out.

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