I love Morocco, the sleepy mountain villages and endless desert sands. I always made time for the local spice markets, checking out the intoxicating mix of aroma and colour. I shipped many bags of the stuff back to Spain, running the gauntlet of some very suspicious customs officers and barking Alsatians. Apparently my bag smelled like a vagrant (must have been the intense cumin?!)
The variety and freshness of these spices make a tagine. It’s a bit like Guinness and Ireland, something is lost when eaten anywhere outside of its Motherland.
Add fistfuls of dried fruits, olives and ras el hanout and you have a perfect expression of Morocco’s incredible produce. This is one of those evocative dishes that can sum up the spirit and atmosphere of a diverse country, on one platter, better than a lengthy commentary or travel article. It’s basically Morocco on a plate.
Having said all of this, due to financial constraints (being a skint traveller), I rarely ate in decent restaurants during my stay there and have had better Moroccan food in London than Marrakech! My Moroccan diet mainly consisted of triangles of manufactured cheese, handfuls of figs and the ubiquitous flat bread.
However, I was lucky to meet some truly amazing and hospitable folk, who invited me into their homes (the finest place to sample true culture and food worldwide). I especially remember a chap named Khalid, staying in his family home in Taroundant made me understand the importance and pride attached to the traditional of the tagine.
I met Khalid in a spice market and immediately realised he was the kindest of sorts. He showed me around the old city for days, but one afternoon he took me, with a big gang of friends and family, to an oasis where we sat under a fig tree and shared a delicious lunch. We ate straight from the dish, with hunks of bread and greedy hands. It contained a few spices, vegetables and a whole lot of care and pride. It was not a tagine strictly speaking, we cooked it in a heavy pan with a good lid, as we do in the B.H.K (we’re tagine-less, hence the generic tagine pot picture), but it’s almost as good. Only the name changes, its called a ‘Gimb…….’ something or other. The results are very similar, but you just lose some of the mystique and authenticity.
Tagine is named after the earthenware dish used in the cooking. The dish is normally cooked slowly and captures all the condensation, making the dish moist. It’s an easy and healthy way to cook vegetables.
This recipes is slightly more complex than Khalids, and not completely traditional. It’s another one of my Mum’s favs. We are lucky here that we have a wonderful organic farm, just over the way, that grows brilliant pumpkins. Good pumpkin is as important, as the spices. Use fresh spices and keep all opened spices in a cool place in a tightly sealed container. Being tagines-less at the moment we opt for a thick bottomed pan or a casserole pot:
Makes one big tagine or pan full, enough for four. Like all stews, it is better left a while in the fridge to infuse and serve the next day.