Tagine: a dish which put Moroccan cuisine on the world culinary map. Quite literally, tagine is the name given to a deep earthenware pot with a large conical cover, similar to a top-hat. The essence of Moroccan cuisine is to let the meat slowly stew inside the tagine, infusing all the flavors while preventing them from escaping. For an authentic North African dinner, you can even serve in the tagine, once the meat is cooked. Defined by the process of slow simmering, Moroccan cuisine is full of spices, albeit not hot. In short, the flavors of the food is brought forth by the use of paprika powder, cayenne pepper, coriander powder and cumin powder. As soon as you lift the lid of the tagine, or your saucepan, the air will instantly be scented with the fragrance of the cooked spices.
No Moroccan meal can be complete without the inclusion of couscous. What steamed rice is to Thai food, couscous is to Moroccan cuisine. Just like its style of cooking, Moroccan cuisine has soaked in influences from Arab, Mediterranean, Moorish and Berber cooking and slowly simmered its way to creating its own identity. Credit for this authentic recipe goes to my sister, I had borrowed it from her years ago for my mother’s birthday dinner once. Today, 5 years on, I decided to give it another go.
- 2 lb chicken with bone
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 1 red pepper, sliced
- 1/2 tin chickpeas
- 1/2 cup green olives, pitted
- 1 lemon
- 1/2 cup chicken stock
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 tsp cumin powder
- 1 tsp paprika powder
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1/4 tsp coriander powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp red chilli powder
- Handful coriander leaves
- 1 pkt couscous
- Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a deep bottomed saucepan. Add the chicken and cook till brown on all sides
- Transfer into a bowl and season with salt and pepper. Leave to rest
- Lower the heat and in the same saucepan add the chopped onions and garlic. Stirring frequently, cook till light brown in color
- Add all the spices to the onions, stir well and continue to cook till fragrant
- Pour in the tomato paste and mix well. Stir for about 2-3 minutes
- Add the chicken stock to the mixture and stir till all the ingredients are combined
- Lower the heat as the stock begins to simmer and add the chicken, chickpeas, olives, juice of one lemon and red peppers
- Close the lid and let the sauce simmer on very low heat for about 20 minutes. Make sure not to let the sauce dry up. It should not be too runny or too thick, just medium consistency
- Once the sauce has simmered to your required consistency, switch off the heat and garnish with coriander
- For the couscous: Empty the contents of the couscous packet into a bowl and cover with boiling water, about 6 fl. oz. Add a pat of butter (optional). Mix well and let is stand for about 5 minutes till the water has been absorbed. Fluff the couscous with a fork and serve.
To get the best flavor, pour the sauce generously over the couscous, that is essentially how the Moroccans eat their food. It is the fragrant subtleties of this dish, where each spice pushes out its own distinct taste, that makes it a perfect foray into Moroccan cooking. This is one dish where the spices make up the flavor, for me the meat is just an addition. Healthy, low-fat, yet full of flavor; an ideal recipe to make for a weekend surprise or to kick start your week.