Speedy Moroccan-inspired Vegetable Tagine

Meet my newest standby: a warmly spiced chickpea and vegetable tagine served atop quick, buttery couscous. Made from easy to find spices (especially if you have generous friends!), and other versatile ingredients that you’re likely to have on hand, it’s the kind of thing you can put together – in giant batches – at a moment’s notice, with just a bit of chopping and stirring. Which is good news if, like me, you’d rather invest a bit of time upfront so that you can avoid hurriedly slapping a few ingredients between two slices of bread every morning in the name of lunch, when you could instead be, say, denying the reality of the outside temperature from the safety of your blanket cave.

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The stew gets its name – tagine – from the traditional North African cooking dish whose cone-shaped lid helps to distribute the moisture that evaporates over the lengthy simmering process back into the heavily spiced stew. Never having had a Moroccan tagine before, I can’t say how this version compares to the real thing, though given that it’s made in a standard lidded pot, in much less time, using more-common spices, I’d guess it’s more than a little bit different. But then, authenticity’s not the point here; it’s pragmatism – to use simple ingredients and techniques that make for tasty, healthy food that’s miles better than a soggy sandwich. Having made the dish three times in two weeks now, most recently after having consumed a soggy lunch-sandwich, I can say that it definitely fits the bill.

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That being said, there’s a lot to learn by trying your hand at more complex Moroccan tagines, which better show you the transformative power of the slow-simmering technique, and expose you to unique ingredient pairings, making use of preserved lemons, olives, dried fruit and nuts in ways unconventional to the standard North American diet. If that sounds like your idea of a good time, scour your library for cookbooks by Paula Wolfert, regarded by the food community to be one of the leading writers on Moroccan food (her most recent book, The Food of Morocco, picked up a James Beard Award – sort of an Academy Award of cooking). She’s also got a few recipes on her website, and on the web in general, so do some searching. And stay tuned here, because I’ve got plans to send more North African staples your way soon!
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Moroccan-inspired Chickpea Stew
Serves 4 (and doubles easily)
Adapted from morrocanfood.about.com

Ingredients
3 tbsp olive oil (not extra-virgin — save it for something that highlights its flavourful goodness!)
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, squashed with the flat side of a knife
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground turmeric
3/4 tsp grounc cinnamon
1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne (less if you’re not a fan of heat)
1/8 tsp ras el hanout*
4 large carrots, peeled and chopped into 3/4-inch rounds
3 tbsp fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
1 cup water
3/4 tsp salt
19 oz can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 tbsp raisins 
2 tsp honey
1 cup frozen peas

1 cup of dry couscous, prepared** 

Directions
1. In a large pot, heat oil over medium heat until hot. Add onions and garlic and cook, stirring regularly, until onions are beginning to soften, about 5 minutes.
2. Stir in the ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, pepper, cayenne, and ras el hanout and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds to a minute. 
3. Add in carrots, cilantro, cayenne, water and salt. Bring mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. When boilining, reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until carrots are almost tender, 15-20 minutes.
4. Stir into the pot the chickpeas, raisins and honey, and simmer, uncovered, until the chickpeas are hot through and the raisins are rehydrated, 5-10 minutes. (If you haven’t already done so, start preparing your couscous!)
5. Stir in the frozen peas and simmer until hot, 3-5 minutes. Serve over hot couscous!

*The internet tells me that ras el hanout is a traditional Moroccan spice blend, often composed of warm, dry spices like cardamom, chile, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, nutmeg, mace, peppercorns and turmeric. Not having the blend on hand, or the time to prepare a batch from scratch, I substituted an 1/8th tsp of another warm spice blend that I had kicking around — garam masala. If you don’t have either, do your best to substitute with a few pinches of whichever of the ras el hanout spices you have handy. 
**To prepare couscous, bring 1.5 cups of water and 1 tbsp butter to boil in a small, lidded pot. Once boiling, remove the pot from the heat, add in the couscous, and stir with a fork until all of the grains are moistened. Cover the pot with the lid and let sit for five minutes. Remove lid, fluff with a fork, and you’re good to go!

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