A few years ago I visited friends from Washington D.C. who had relocated to Morocco. They live in Rabat, Morocco’s capital city, where they had a housekeeper who was also a good and generous cook. Although Fatima spoke only Arabic and French while I speak English and Spanish, we both understood the language of food. I would sit at the kitchen table or stand by her, taking notes as she worked her magic with fresh ingredients from the local market.
True to Moroccan cuisine, Fatima was skilled at cooking in a tagine, that wondrous North African earthenware pot with the conical lid that creates tender, flavorful dishes of the same name. Tagines always involve lots of vegetables, and sometimes meat. The shape of the tight-fitting lid traps the rising steam as the food cooks, which condenses into drops of liquid flavor.
Like most of you, I don’t have an actual tagine. But after returning from Morocco, I discovered that a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot can work as a stand-in, provided it has a tight-fitting lid. Many enameled Dutch oven lids have condensation rings, which are helpful. Try not to lift the lid as it will break the steam-condensation process. This recipe is inspired by Fatima’s cooking. Imitating the tagine method, vegetables are added in layers, with the ones needing the longest cooking time at the bottom.
- Usually only about a cup of broth or water is added to the tagine, but
- Be sure to leave a couple inches between the top of the vegetables and the lid of your pot.
- There’s a lot of flexibility in the ingredients. No carrots in the house? No worries. Got green beans or eggplant you want to use up? Add the eggplant, cut in 1/2-inch cubes, before the zucchini, and the whole or cut green beans after. Turnips and other squashes also work well.
- I have included a recipe to make your own simplified Ras el Hanout, a spice blend so important in North African cuisines that it
smeans “head of market.” You can also buy it pre-made from Middle Eastern markets, specialty vendors like NY Shuk or even on Amazon. Keep in mind that, like all store-bought spice mixes, the combinations, taste and color can vary.
- This spice mix will freeze well for up to two months.
For the Moroccan spice blend:
- 1 Tbsp paprika
- 1 Tbsp cumin
- 2 tsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp turmeric
- <1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp coriander
- 1/2 tsp allspice
- 1/4 tsp cloves
For the tagine:
- 2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
- 1 large onion, diced
- 3 large cloves garlic, minced
- 2 Tbsp Moroccan spice mixture (below) or store-bought Ras el Hanout, divided
- 1 butternut squash or pumpkin (2-2 1/2 pounds), peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes (3-4 cups)
- 1 can (15 ounces) chickpeas, drained with chickpeas and liquid (aquafaba) reserved separately
- peel from 1 small preserved lemon, diced or cut into very thin strips, or 2 tsp grated fresh lemon zest, divided
- 2 medium sweet or yellow potatoes (1-1 1/2 pounds), unpeeled and cut into 1/2-inch slices
- 2 medium carrots, cut 1/2 inch wide
- 2 medium zucchinis, cut into 1/2-inch half moons
- 1 large tomato
- 1/2 small green cabbage, cut into 6-8 thin wedges
- 2 cups hot vegetable stock or water
- 1/2-1 tsp salt
- 1 cup green or black olives (optional)
- chopped cilantro or parsley (optional)
- To make the spice blend: Whisk all the spices together in a bowl until well blended. Store mix in an airtight glass or stainless-steel container in a cool, dry place.
- To make the tagine: In a heavy-bottomed 6- or 7-quart pot or Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid, heat 1 Tbsp oil over medium heat. Add onions with a pinch of salt and sauté, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, until tender but not browned. Add garlic and 1 Tbsp of the spice mixture. Cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes, until aromatic.
- Add the liquid from the chickpeas (aquafaba) and the squash cubes to the pot, and stir.
- Turn the heat as low as possible while you layer the vegetables, building a domed shape as you go. Sprinkle about a third of the preserved lemon or lemon zest over the squash or pumpkin, then cover with potato slices. Add a layer of carrots, a third more lemon. Layer the zucchini on top. Lean wedges of cabbage against the sides of the vegetable mound.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the hot broth or water with the remaining 1 Tbsp each of oil and spice mixture. Pour over the vegetables. Cover the pot and turn the heat up to medium.
- While the tagine heats, use a small knife to peel the skin from the bottom of the tomato. Holding onto the top or stem, grate the tomato flesh on the large holes of a box grater into a dish, leaving discarding the skin. Add the grated tomato and juices to the pot, on top of the zucchini.
- As soon as the tagine starts to simmer, reduce heat to low and let cook undisturbed until the vegetables are almost tender, about 25-30 minutes.
- Add the chickpeas, olives and remaining lemon. Add a little more stock or hot water if the pot looks dry. Cover and continue to cook for another 10-15 minutes.
- Serve in the pot, or the vegetables can be carefully moved and arranged on a large serving platter, taking care with each layer of vegetables and serving on top of couscous or rice. Garnished generously with chopped cilantro or parsley.