Lifting the lid on Morocco

Last updated 12:51 04/11/2011
Tagine
MARION VAN DIJK
SPICY: Lamb tagine with couscous,

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At the Table

'Tis the season to be hungry Echoes of the Med Hot from the pot There's no taste like home Land of hops and honey Eating on the street A taste of the tropics Myths and mellow fruitfulness Crustacean craving Oh for onions

I am fortunate to have a partner who likes to buy me lovely kitchenware. I think it is to keep me cooking. He says "buy her top class and she will make top class". I'm not complaining, as over the years he has bought me items I would not necessarily have bought myself.

It is true that good-quality equipment works better and produces superior results. Included in my list is my elegant Emile Henry tagine. It is made from black earthenware, with a 30-centimetre circular base and a matching cone-shaped top. When it is not sitting on the stove, it takes pride of place in my kitchen, to be admired by all.

The tagine is an ancient cooking vessel traditionally used by the nomads of North Africa – part of a portable oven designed to fit over a charcoal burner. The cone-shaped lid acts like a steam oven. When it seals with the base, it retains heat and moisture so you can cook over a low heat and with very little liquid – it does not evaporate.

It is quite ingenious, and the technique of cooking with the charcoal base is still used today.

Cooking in a tagine is an excellent way to braise food, and I use my tagine for many different recipes. The food remains very moist and tender, and the flavours infuse much more than in a regular pot.

Tagine is also the name given to dishes that are prepared in a tagine, and the recipes are many and varied.

It is food from North Africa – specifically, Morocco. This cuisine uses a vast array of culinary taste treats, and the use of spices is alluringly aromatic. Flavours such as cinnamon, cloves, cumin, coriander, nutmeg, turmeric, paprika, cayenne, fennel and caraway abound, as do saffron and sumac, pomegranate, rose water, dates and preserved lemons, almonds and pistachios, apricots and figs.

It sounds exotic, and it tastes exotic as well. The influences on the cuisine are equally varied: Berber, Arab, Mediterranean, Moorish and French all resonate in what is produced at the table.

I love to play around with these tastes and the ingredients to make my own versions of the spice mixes. I love to use chickpeas, making falafel and hummus, and chickpea puree.

Preserved lemons are an essential component in this cuisine, providing an intense sour hit: lamb seasoned with an intense array of spices, eggplant puree, haloumi cheese with pinenuts, and dates and lemon juice.

There are two Moroccan spice mixes that can be the base for both vegetarian and meat tagines. You can build the meal around the use of them to provide intensity of flavour. The first is ras el hanout (head of the shop), a spice mix that is as individual as the person who makes it – the number of spices used is reputed to reach 100 in some cases. (The version I am giving you is more like 10.) The other is harissa, basically a mix of chillies and garlic. Again, the recipes for this vary considerably but the base ingredients are always there.

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The menu today is a combination of tagine, harissa and couscous and salads. The salads act as a contrast to the rich, spicy tagine.

RAS EL HANOUT

Mix 1 tsp each of coriander, cumin and fennel seeds. Toast in a dry pan until they become aromatic. Grind in a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder. Combine with the following: 1 tsp each of ground turmeric, cinnamon, paprika and cayenne; 1/2 tsp each of ground ginger, nutmeg, cardamom, cloves and salt. Store in a sealed jar.

HARISSA

1 roasted red pepper
1 tsp tomato puree
1 tsp each: toasted, ground coriander and cumin seeds
A pinch of saffron
2 hot chillies
1/2 tsp salt
3 Tbsp olive oil

Combine all the harissa ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth. This will last in the fridge for about a week. It is delicious with many different dishes – try it with vegetable dishes as well as fish.

LAMB TAGINE

Feeds 4-6

1kg boneless lamb shoulder
4 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 Tbsp freshly grated ginger
2 Tbsp ras el hanout
1/4 cup fresh coriander
1/4 cup honey
1/2 tsp saffron
1/2 cup beef stock
1/2 cup pitted prunes
Salt and pepper
2 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds

Cut the meat into 4cm squares. Heat a large tagine or casserole, add the oil and the lamb and brown on both sides. Remove from the pan and keep warm. Pour off any excess fat, then add the onion, garlic and ginger and cook for five minutes. Add the ras el hanout and cook for a minute. Return the meat to the pan and add the coriander, honey, saffron and stock. Reduce the heat and simmer for about an hour. Add the prunes and cook for a further half an hour. Adjust seasoning and add sesame seeds before serving.

VEGETABLE TAGINE

Half an eggplant, cut into cubes
2 zucchini, cut into cubes
1 onion, chopped
1 leek, finely sliced
3 cloves of garlic, sliced
400g cooked chickpeas
2 medium potatoes, cut into cubes
1 red pepper, finely chopped
1 Tbsp freshly grated ginger
2 Tbsp ras el hanout
1/4 cup fresh coriander
4 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp saffron
1/2 cup vegetable stock
Salt and pepper

Heat a large tagine or casserole and add the oil. Saute the onion, garlic and leeks.

Add the eggplant, zucchini, pepper and ginger and cook for five minutes.

Add the ras el hanout spice mix and cook for a minute.

Add the chickpeas, coriander, saffron and stock. Turn down and simmer for about 45 minutes.

Adjust seasoning before serving.

Serve with couscous.

PEPPER, TOMATO AND CUCUMBER SALAD

1 green pepper, charred over a direct flame and peeled, deseeded and cut into chunks
3 tomatoes, cut into chunks
1/2 cucumber, peeled and seeded and chopped into chunks
1/2 red onion, sliced
Bunch of Italian parsley, chopped finely
10-12 black olives
4 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp lemon juice
Salt and pepper

Combine all of the ingredients and make the dressing from the oil and lemon juice. Toss well.

APPLE AND CARROT SALAD

1 cup grated apple
1 cup grated carrot
1/2 cup chopped coriander
1 clove of garlic
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp ground cumin
Combine all of the ingredients and toss well, and sprinkle with toasted chopped almonds.

- Nelson

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