How to Cook a Moroccan Tagine.

Moroccan food is one of the most sensual in the world. It appeals directly and unashamedly to the senses of smell, sight and taste in a way that no other cuisine can match, except, perhaps, the Thai cuisine (of which I’ll post next).

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The Moroccan souks are magical places, with smells and sights that make one feel hungry just thinking about them. Around every corner, waft different smells to surprise and delight. Moroccan-born writer Edmond Amran el Maleh described Moroccan cuisine as “the perfumed soul of our culture”, a unique blend of African, Arabian and European influences. The result: a cuisine characterised by its subtle scents, delicate flavours and elegant presentation.

The Tagine (the word, also spelled Tajine), refers both to the cooking pot as well as a stew cooked in it and it is one of dozens of classic tagines prepared in Northern Africa, especially Morocco.

First of all, to be able to make a sensational Tagine (and many other Moroccan dishes) you must use preserved lemons and that’s essential if your dishes are to taste authentic, but it can’t unfortunately be replaced with ordinary lemons or limes. Moroccan preserved lemons are pickled in brine and have a salty silky taste and texture which is difficult to describe and can be bought in specialized supermarkets or online. Tagines are relatively easy to assemble but they do require a long cooking time. This slow steady cooking gently reduces the sauce to produce a smooth texture and blends the spices so that they don’t overpower the dish. Another advantage of this long simmering is that less expensive cuts of meat are made tender by this method of cooking.

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Traditional tagines can range in size from individual servings to ones that are large enough to serve 20 people. As you can see above, the shape of the tagine allows the moisture and heat to circulate in the pot and allow the stew to simmer over a long period without having to add additional liquid or even to pay much attention to the dish (which is good if you want to do a spot of drinking with your guests as it cooks in the background.) This recipe is for a dozen persons so if you want to cook for six, just half it. You will need 2 pints of chicken broth, 1/3 cup lemon juice, 3 tablespoon honey, 2 cups cooked chickpeas (or garbanzo), 1 cup green olives stuffed with almonds, 4 cups cooked couscous, the rinds of two preserved lemons, 4 pounds stewing lamb, cut in 1-inch pieces, 2 teaspoon ground paprika, 2 teaspoons ground cayenne chile, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 2 teaspoon ground ginger, 6 cloves garlic, crushed, 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, 6 tablespoons tomato puree, 8 shallots, quartered, 4 large potatoes, cubed, 4 large carrots, diced, 2 cans chopped tomatoes (or a bottle of Passata) 4 tablespoons chopped fresh flat leaf parsley, salt & pepper to taste.

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Mix the paprika, cayenne, cinnamon, ginger, and garlic in four tablespoons of the olive oil and tomato in a large bowl. Add the lamb and toss it well. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, heat the remaining oil in the bottom of the tagine or skillet and fry the shallots, potatoes, and carrots until they begin to color. Remove. Add the lamb and brown on all sides. Return the vegetables to the tagine along with the chopped tomatoes and any remaining marinade. Cover and cook over a low heat for 3 to 4 hours or until the lamb is tender. Add the parsley, season with salt, and stir in the olives. Continue cooking for 15 minutes.

Serve this tagine with plain couscous. Alternatively you could use chicken or fish and cook it exactly the same way. There is a spice called Ras El Hanout which is a must in tagines, and I think that you can now buy it in supermarkets or even online. If not, ask me and I’ll post the recipe for it, it can be done in your own kitchen!

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