Last week I was rummaging through a box of old keepsakes and came across a journal I kept while I was living in Paris in 2010. While I was there, my mom and I took a mother-daughter trip to Morocco, an adventure of memories I still cherish dearly. We started in Taghazout, a sleepy little fishing town turned surf mecca on the coast about an hour north of Agadir. Knowing nothing about the area, we spent a few quiet days wandering the beaches and enjoying long afternoon lunches on a windy point overlooking the sea where we could watch the surfers. It was on this windy point, that we had a life changing meal. We discovered what we still quote as “the best meal we’ve ever eaten”…also known as…the most amazing fish and vegetable tagine we had to fight a tribe of stray cats off for (which was completely worth the effort). If tagine is new to your world, as it was to mine that sunny afternoon in coastal Morocco, let me know introduce you…
Tagine is a traditional Berber dish, a savory slow-cooked stew consisting of a variety of spices, vegetables and some sort of protein – usually chicken, lamb or fish. The dish gets its name after the cookware its prepared in, a clay pot with a cone-shaped lid. Once marinated in the spices and oil, you layer it in the clay pot and allow it to slow-cook on the coals of a charcoal fire for a few hours. The result is the most incredible layering of complex flavors and textures.We became addicted. Fish tagine became our new quest food, but as we left the coast to head inland for Marrakech it was a hard search to find anything comparable to what we had at this amazing hole-in-the-wall restaurant overlooking the sea. But Marrakech was filled with its own treasures, and we soon got lost in a different kind of hustle there.Inside the medina we stayed in this breathtaking riad, and convinced the cook there to teach us how to make our coveted fish tagine. A sweet older woman, and kitchen magician she was, took us one morning to the nearby market. We haggled together for our fish, which I hardly wanted after I watched them hacking through the bones as the blood dripped down the antique table onto the cobblestone where the cats ate the carcasses. But hey, cultural experience trumps all for me when it comes to travel adventures, and so we hurried back with our ‘catch’ and commenced our cooking lesson.Through a mix of broken English, French and Berber, we learned the ins-and-outs of making the perfect spice blends and how to finesse the coals for the tagine to cook just right. I scribbled notes in my weathered Moleskine as fast as I could, hoping someday to recreate this for friends.I would have never guessed that time would come four years later on the Great Plains of Oklahoma. It was the most joyful moment flipping through that old journal to find this recipe scribbled down somewhere in the middle of introspective Paris musings and recalling Berlin late night escapades. I quickly transcribed the recipe and sent out a tweet calling out for a tagine to borrow (the beautiful tagine pictured here is from Williams- Sonoma). Even though this is a great winter dish, I was a woman on a mission to recreate this meal for our summer solstice party that night.I made this version twice over solstice weekend, one using some sustainably-caught white fish and one with vegetables alone. Both were equally incredible, and even the meat eaters didn’t miss the protein in the vegetable version. The recipe I’m blogging about is for the vegetable tagine, but if you’d like to add white fish to this you do so by layering the fish at the bottom of the pot then covering it with the veggies to slow cook for an hour to an hour and half.
And even though we were able to enjoy a small fire in the backyard pit we have, the burn ban prevented us from slow cooking this baby in on the coals. The oven proved just fine for this alternative. But do note, if you are using a gas stove top to cook this, you must use a hot plate to avoid cracking the tagine pot. I also recommend placing a baking sheet under your tagine pot to catch any bubbling oil when baking in the oven. Lastly, don’t be intimidated by the long list of ingredients here – the recipe process is quite simple and easy to prepare for a result that is unbelievably amazing. And I’m happy to report my friends now claim this as “The best meal I’ve ever cooked for them.” Success!
MOROCCAN VEGETABLE TAGINE
2 tbsp paprika 2 tbsp ground cumin 1 tbsp ground coriander 1 tbsp chili powder ½ tsp cinnamon ¼ cup fresh cilantro, chopped 4 cloves garlic, grated 1 lemon, juiced 4 tbsp tomato paste 2 tsp salt ¼ cup water ½ cup olive oil 1 fresh tomatoes, chopped 2 red potatoes, cubed 1 small eggplant, cubed 1 small head cauliflower, chopped 1 zucchini, sliced & quartered
1 yellow squash, sliced & quartered 2 carrots, peeled & sliced ½ cup green olives ¼ cup raisins 1 preserved lemon, sliced
In a large bowl, combine spices, lemon juice, garlic, tomato paste, and salt. Add ¼ c water until a loose paste is made, then stir in the olive oil. Toss and coat the chopped vegetables, olives, raisins and preserved lemon in the bowl of spices. Cover and place in the fridge for 4-5 hours, allowing to vegetables to marinate.
In a tagine or clay pot, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Coat the bottom of the tagine pot with a thin layer of olive oil. Pour the marinated vegetables into the pot. Cover and slow-cook for 1 ½ to 2 hours, or until the vegetables are tender and juicy.
In a slow cooker, pour the marinated vegetables into your slow cooker and cook for 2-3 hours, or until tender and well cooked in the spices and oils.
Serve over top steamed quinoa, amaranth, millet or couscous – or enjoy alone as a hearty stew.
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