One of the most unique earthenware pots hails from Morocco. Rooted in Berber culinary tradition, the tagine (or tajine) is a two-piece portable clay oven that consists of a circular, shallow base dish and a cone- or dome-shaped cover that fits into the base. The tagine pot produces its namesake dish: a slow-cooked stew of vegetables (potato, carrots, peas), meat (usually lamb, chicken or fish) and a variety of regional herbs and spices like cinnamon, ginger, cumin and paprika. Nuts and fruits like prunes, apples, quince, preserved lemon and olives are also common ingredients in a traditional tagine dish.
There are serving tagines and cooking tagines. Serving tagines are typically made of porcelain and ornately painted. They haven’t been fired to withstand cooking and will break if exposed to high temperatures. Cooking tagines have been high-fired and can withstand low-to-medium direct heat or oven cooking. A heat diffuser is recommended for electric cooktops. Most tagines will have a small hole at the top for venting. Not there? A spoon nestled between the base and lid serves the same purpose.
How a Tagine Works
Once the meat and vegetables are layered into the base dish, herbs and spices can be spread over the food or made into a slurry with a small amount of water and poured in. Because this cooking method draws the natural fluids out of food, minimal added water is necessary — too much and the juices will overflow from the shallow base.
Although the characteristic cone-shaped cover may seem entirely aesthetic, it is functional. During the one- to two-hour cook time, the conical cover traps the rising steam that beads onto the slanted sides and falls back into the base dish. This condensation produces meltingly tender meats, beautifully steamed vegetables and a dense, spice-rich sauce. For the occasional check-and-stir, the cover can be lifted with ease; the bottom stays hot while the top is cool to the touch.
Slow Food is Good Food
Slow cooking in a tagine is cost effective as it renders cheaper, tougher meats flavorful and moist. Along with a variety of nutrient-rich vegetables, dried and fresh fruits, and seasoned primarily with herbs and spices, a tagine is a wholesome one-(clay) pot meal. Traditionally served with bread, couscous or rice, you can use the whole-grain varieties and add beans to make your tagine a hearty, healthy and filling meal.
Beef Tagine with Squash and Beets
3 Tbsp. avocado or olive oil
1 onion, cut in half and sliced
1 Tbsp. Ras el Hanout or hot sauce
1 pound cubed stewing beef
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 hot chili pepper, chopped or 1 dried cayenne pepper, crushed
1 slice candied ginger, chopped
4 medium beets, chopped
2 cups diced butternut squash
1 cup low-sodium beef broth
2 peeled oranges, cut into segments
2 cups frsh or frozen Swiss chard
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro or flat-leaf parsley
- In the bottom of a flameproof tagine, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and ras el hanout or hot sauce and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes.
- Add beef, garlic, chili pepper and ginger, stirring well to coat beef with vegetables and seasonings. Cook, stirring occasionally for 7 to 10 minutes, or until beef is browned on all sides.
- Add beets, squash and broth and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Cover with tagine lid, reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes.
- Add oranges and Swiss chard, replace lid, and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, or until beef cuts easily with a fork.
- Garnish with parsley.
Serving size: 1 1/3 cup
Total fat: 12g; Saturated fat: 2.5 g; Trans fat: 0g
Cholesterol: 70mg; Sodium: 180mg
Carbohydrate: 21g; Fiber: 4g; Sugar: 10g
Adapted from 150 Best Tagine Recipes (Robert Rose 2011) by Pat Crocker.