A Moroccan feast in a little clay pot
Up for an adventure? Head to the southern coast of Spain and hop on a ferry. Travel roughly 9-13 miles over the Strait of Gibraltar and you’ll enter into a different world from what one would expect in Europe.
Sitting on the northwest corner of Africa is the mysterious and yet beautiful Morocco. Slightly larger than the US state of Texas, it’s a complex land of gorgeous Mediterranean shores flowing into the dry deserts of the Sahara.
The contrast of this land is very much in sync with its people. Morocco is a wonderful mix of Westernized modernism intertwined with traditional Arabic culture. A visitor would think one moment they might be in Greece, Italy, or Spain, but then travel deeper and know this is a Muslim land. If anything, it would be a reflection of the former Moors who ruled much of Spain and Northern Africa for over 700 years.
At the dinner table
When it comes time to eat, the cuisine of Morocco is everything you would expect of the culture. Loads of spice, flavor, and contrasting textures.
A typical dinner would start with an opening of salads, both hot and cold. It could be greens intertwined with fruit and olives, or seasoned grilled vegetables, or even mashes shared like spreads on warm bread.
Your main course will most likely be a stew called a tagine (“tah-zheen”). Much like the Greeks with saganaki, tagine is a dish more named after the pot used as opposed to the actual food. A tagine pot is usually made of clay or ceramic, usually looking like a shallow bowl with a funnel-like cover. You would simply prep your ingredients and slow cook them in the pot over a stove or hot coals, serving it right to the dinner table.
From my own research, Moroccans use their tagines religiously, as I’ll see couscous, rice, stews, hot salads, and much more made in those pots. Tagines are made in various sizes depending on use, even for individual servings. For our purposes, I wouldn’t advise investing in one unless you plan on regularly using it. I’m not a fan of buying kitchen items that I’ll barely use, thus a Dutch Oven can do the job in substituting for a tagine in your home.
The actual stew often starts with some form of meat marinated in a wide variety of spices generally known to the Middle East. While beef or lamb tagines are the most notable of this Moroccan feast, you can also use chicken, seafood, or simply go vegan.
I wanted to make my first tagine traditional, thus I chose beef. I would have used lamb, but it was a bit pricey at the market that day. Here’s how I made it:
Beef or Lamb Tagine
For the marinade:
- 2 tbsp of olive oil
- 1 tbsp of paprika
- 1/2 tsp of turmeric
- 1/2 tsp of cumin
- 1/2 tsp of cayenne pepper
- 1 tsp of cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp of cloves
- 1/2 tsp of cardamom
- 1 tsp of salt
- 1 tsp of ground ginger
- 1 tsp of granulated garlic
- 1 tsp of coriander
For the stew:
- 2-3 lbs of beef or lamb, trimmed and cut into 1-inch cubes
- 2 tbsp of olive oil
- 3 small onions, chopped
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 4 large carrots, peeled and chopped into fourths (or 25 baby carrots)
- 1 tbsp of fresh ginger
- Zest of one lemon
- 1 pinch of saffron
- 2 cups of beef broth
- 1 can (6 oz) of tomato paste
- 1 tbsp of honey
- In a sealable container or bag, place the meat inside with the olive oil.
- Using a separate bowl, combine all the dry ingredients of the marinade.
- Add the dry ingredients to the meat and olive oil.
- Mix thoroughly, making sure all meat is coated with the spice combination.
- Seal the container and place into the refrigerator for at least four hours.
- When the meat has fully marinated, turn your oven on to 300°.
- Place a Dutch Oven on your stove, add the remaining olive oil, and turn it on to medium-high heat.
- When the oil is hot, start adding in pieces of meat in groups and brown the pieces a bit. Set aside.
- Place the onion and garlic into the pan and cook until the onion softens.
- Add in the carrots and continue cooking until they soften a bit.
- Bring in the ginger, lemon, and saffron. Stir it all up.
- Deglaze the pot with the broth, tomato paste, and honey.
- When the pan is deglazed, add the meat back in and stir until they are coated with the liquids.
- Bring the liquids to a boil, then cover your Dutch Oven and place the whole pot into the oven.
- Cook the stew for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until the meat is fully cooked and tender.
If you do not have access to a Dutch Oven, then try to use an oven-safe pot. If you do not have anything, then consider investing in a Dutch Oven. However, for the moment you can skip the oven and instead slow cook the stew on the stove. When you get the liquids to a boil, cover the pot, turn the heat to low, and simmer the stew until the meat is done.
Do not overcook the meat in the browning process. You just want to sear the sides a bit and then let it finish in the slow cook. If your pot is dry, then feel free to add a little more oil if needed.
Variations come down to you. Many recipes do not use carrots, but I liked the ones that did just for variety. You can also add in dried apricots, dates, raisins, and/or almonds for even more Moroccan flavor.
The traditional method of serving a tagine is with couscous. You could also use rice or even quinoa.