Last weekend, T and I, along with some friends, drove upstate and spent the weekend hiking through the snowy Catskill mountains. By the time we got back to our cottage, we were exhausted and chilled to the bone. I quickly chopped and sautéed an onion, dumped some beans, veggies, broth, and spices into the pot, then curled up by the fire while the ingredients simmered away and transformed into a tasty tagine. Though it originated in balmy North Africa, this easy, but memorable stew was a perfect foil to the cold air outside.
Traditionally made in its namesake earthenware pot over hot coals, tagine gets its distinctive flavor from ras el-hanout, a North African seasoning mix commonly consisting of many spices, including cinnamon, ginger, cumin, cayenne, paprika, and cardamom. Its flavor is sweet and warm, without being spicy. If you don’t already have it on hand, it’s worth investing in as it’s a great tool to have in your arsenal to give old dinner standbys a more interesting, exotic feel for a change of pace. (Think Moroccan-spiced roasted veggies, marinated tofu, or vegetable soup.) In a pinch, you can use a few shakes of any of the above spices you have on hand.
Vegetable Tagine (Moroccan-Spiced Stew with Chickpeas, Carrots, and Almonds)
- 1 tablespoon olive or grapeseed oil
- 1 small onion, chopped
- ¾ tablespoon ras el-hanout spice mix, plus more to taste
- 1 small pinch saffron (optional)
- 4 cups vegetable broth
- 2 cans garbanzo beans, rinsed
- 1 bag baby carrots, halved on a diagonal
- 2 large zucchinis, halved length-wise and sliced into half-moons about ¼ inch thick
- 1 cup dried fruit (any combo of dates, apricots, and/or raisins is ideal)
- Salt to taste
- ½ cup toasted almond slivers (roasted pistachios also work well)
- In a large Dutch oven, sauté onions over medium heat until completely soft and translucent. Stir in about half of the ras el-hanout, and continue cooking until the onions begin to caramelize somewhat.
- Add broth to pot and scrape up any caramelized bits of onion. Bring to a low simmer.
- Add garbanzo beans, vegetables, ¾ cup of fruit, and remaining spices, including a generous pinch of salt.
- Simmer for about 30 minutes, until vegetables are soft and the broth has thickened.
- Serve over toasted couscous (see recipe below) in shallow bowls, and garnish with nuts and remaining dried fruit.
When simply boiled, couscous can become mushy and starchy. This clever trick, which I learned from my trusty Cooks Illustrated cookbook, is a great way to keep your couscous toothsome, while also infusing it with flavor.
- Heat desired amount of couscous in a dry pan over medium heat, stirring frequently, until most of the couscous grains have toasted and darkened in color at least slightly, with the darkest being the color of bread crust.
- Add an equal amount of water or broth to the pan and bring to a boil. Cover, remove from heat, and allow to sit for about 10 minutes, or until all liquid has been absorbed.
- Fluff with a work and garnish with toasted nuts and/or dried fruit.