Sometimes cooking becomes a routine and you end up only cooking the same 4-5 dishes over and over. Maybe it’s time to refresh your menu? Making tajine is a great idea for a special night with your family. And a flavorful one, to boot.
I think I keep mentioning the fact that I used to be such a picky eater until a couple of years ago. The truth is I had plenty of bad experiences with food growing up and I stuck to just a few meals I was comfortable with, to make my life simpler. But joie de vivre found me and with it, a hunger to experience as many cuisines and dishes as humanly possible. I realized all I had to do was to change my perspective on unfamiliar food. You know what else helps? Associating meals with happy memories.
I’ve tried so many things now and I feel like there are so many new things to try and that makes me feel really happy. Especially since I’ve been cooking them, too. So how about you? Want to try making tajine? Let’s see what it’s all about.
What is a tajine anyway?
It’s basically a Maghrebi stew that it takes its name after the dish it is cooked in. So, tajine is a word used to describe both the stew and the earthenware pot it’s stewed in. The dish has a long tradition in plenty of places in this world. It’s a fairy tale dish, and that’s literally true because it was mentioned a few times in the famous story collection ‘Arabian Nights’.
The meal has come a long way since then and is even adapted to our time – people eat it with French fries now and you can definitely try to do that. Just add the fries as a topping or as a side dish.
An Arab scholar, ibn al-Adim, described the process of preparing a tajine back in the thirteenth century. He wrote this: “Boil the meat and fry with fresh coriander, onions, and hot spices and a little garlic. Then pick out the fennel hearts and cut in half. Put over the meat. Put back some of the broth on it along with sheep's tail. Boil until cooked and the broth has been absorbed. Remove [from the heat].”
Bedouins in the Arabian Peninsula also added dried fruits like dates, apricots, and plums, to give it so much more extra flavor and texture.
What about the pot for making tajine?
The tajine pot is sometimes painted or glazed and has two parts. One of them is a circular base unit, flat, with low sides. The other one is shaped like a dome or a cone. It sits on the base during cooking. Why is it designed like that? Because the cover is supposed to return condensation to the bottom part. The top of the lid has a specially designed well where you add cold water, to help the process.
The cooking takes place over hot coals that are spaced out because the temperature shouldn’t rise too quickly. The charcoal bricks are big so that they stay hot for hours and help the tajine slow cook the ingredients inside. But these days, you can also use a slow oven or a stove top to cook the dish. You want everything to slowly simmer.
This method of cooking is ideal for the desert where it originated because it doesn’t use too much water, a scarce resource sometimes. The lid of the dish where you add cold water evaporates the liquid but also takes it back down, condenses it, and reuses it.
Making tajine – the ingredients
There are plenty of types of tajine out there. Moroccan and Algerian tajines are slow-cooked savory stews like the ones I’ve been describing so far. On the other hand, Tunisian tajine is more like a frittata, so we’ll leave it out of this.
But the stew tajine is made with sliced meat, like lamb, or poultry or fish, together with vegetables or fruit. There are also plenty of spices like ginger, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, and saffron. For vegetable tajines, people use paprika and chili too. Lamb tajines are usually made with dates and spices and end up being sweet and sour and delicious. You can also add nuts, if that’s your thing, especially since they’re healthy.