[Hearty, slurpy, stick-to-your-ribs Lentil and Almond Tagine]
Up until last month, the only tagine I had ever eaten were this one ** or one at a small Middle Eastern restaurant that the HH and I went to in the early days of our relationship. But then I was contacted by the lovely Martine from Robert Rose publishers, wondering if I’d like to review Pat Crocker’s latest oeuvre, 150 Best Tagine Recipes, and the amazing world of tagines opened up for me.
If you’ve never heard of tagines, you’re in for a treat. The word tagine refers both to the Moroccan clay pot used for slow-cooking a meal or side dish, and also the very meal or side dish that results (don’t you just love the efficiency of those Moroccans?). The (edible) tagine is a thick, rich, slowly-simmered kind of stew that can contain almost any ingredients you fancy, from meat (um, nope) to poultry (nada) to seafood (nuh-uh) to legumes (getting warmer) and all manner of vegetables (jackpot!). It’s also always deeply spiced with a mixture of aromatic blends with African influences. . . Think of it, as Jamie Oliver does, as “stew with attitude.”
At first, I was a little concerned that (given the traditional tagine ingredients) I wouldn’t find much in the book I could cook. But I was assured that the vegetable chapter would provide me with ample choice.
Turns out that was only partly true. There are 16 vegetable tagine recipes in the book; however, considering that there are also full chapters devoted to each of poultry, lamb, beef, and fish/seafood, I’m not sure I’d purchase the book if I were simply browsing in a bookstore looking for a new vegan cookbook. After all, there are so many other wonderful vegan cookbooks on the market right now (in fact, my next book review is going to focus on one of them!). That said, however, the book also contains quite a few recipes for salad and sides, dips and other finger foods as well as beverages and sweets; and it has tons to offer for gluten-free eaters, as tagines are naturally gluten free.
Chapter topics move from a general introduction to a detailed explanation of the concept of tagine cooking, its history and traditional equipment used, to the evolution of the modern (and stovetop) tagine. Crocker also covers information about traditional spices and seasonings used, common ingredients, and traditional spice blends (for which she includes recipes).
Because I don’t own a traditional tagine, I opted to cook the first recipe I sampled using the stovetop method described in the book (basically cooking the ingredients in a large pot with a lid). While it worked just fine, I wondered if I were somehow missing out on the true intent of the recipes, as the cooking time for stovetop preparation was under 30 minutes, when true tagine cooking can take hours. So, for my second attempt, I popped the ingredients into a casserole and baked at a leisurely pace. The result was spectacular: flavors melded beautifully, spices developed their full potential, chunks of veggies caramelized and exuded natural juices to season the entire stew.
When you make these recipes at home, I’d recommend baking in the oven rather than cooking on the stovetop if you have the time (unless you own a stovetop tagine, of course).
And so, on to the recipes!
The first recipe I tried was Lentil and Almond Tagine (see top photo), an aromatic mix of red peppers, lentils, tomatoes and toasted almonds. Both the HH and I loved the Bahrat Spice blend that was included (recipe from the book) and the hearty mix of toothsome lentils with soft, sweet squash.
Next up was the Eggplant and Lentil Tagine, which I decided to bake in the oven to reproduce more of an authentic tagine effect. I used store-bought garam masala for this spice mix (one of the suggested options) and while it was delicious, both the HH and I thought the casserole could have used even more spice.
[Subtly spiced Eggplant and Lentil Tagine]
Finally, I tried out a side-dish tagine, which may actually have been my favorite of the three. As you may know, I already love beets; but this is one dish that anyone can enjoy. As the headnote to the recipe states: “Slightly sweet, this colorful side dish tagine is often enjoyed by ardent beet haters.” That’s quite a confident statement, and one with which I’d concur! The spiced, sweet-and-sour broth is a perfect medium for the delectable roots. This tagine also offers the surprise tartness of green apples (which, by the time I snapped the picture, had absorbed the vibrant fuschia of the beets). And it even included some sliced fennel–the only way I’ve ever loved that veggie!
[My favorite, Beet Tagine–it will make a convert of you!]
Want to Try Tagines? Win a Copy for Yourself!
If you’re already a fan of tagines or just curious to give them a try, the kind folks at Robert Rose are offering a free copy to a DDD reader!
How to Enter: Entering the giveaway couldn’t be easier: just leave a comment here telling me whether you’ve ever tried a tagine (and if so, how you liked it) OR what about a tagine appeals to you.
Second and subsequent entries: you can gain extra entries by subscribing to this blog, following DDD on Facebook, following me on twitter, posting about this on your own blog or Facebook page, tweeting about it (be sure to include @rickiheller in the tweet so I see it), or checking out the Pat Crocker page from Robert Rose and telling me which of her other books you think you’d enjoy.
For each additional entry, please be sure to come back here and leave a comment telling me you did so!
The giveaway will run until midnight my time this Wednesday, November 30th. I’ll announce the winners later in the week. Open to anyone in North America (with huge apologies to my international readers!).
To get you in the mood, here’s a recipe from the book (which you can enjoy wherever you are).
Lentil Almond Tagine from 150 Best Tagine Recipes by Pat Crocker
A great stew for a winter’s evening, the combination of lentils, sweet potato and peppers in a rich and spicy tomato sauce is sure to warm you against the season’s chill!
2 Tbsp (30 ml) avocado or olive oil
2 onions, coarsely chopped
1 fresh hot chile pepper, chopped (I used jalapeno)
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1 Tbsp (15 ml) sweet paprika
2 tsp (10 ml) Bahrat Spice Blend (see below)
1 cup yellow, red or brown lentils, rinsed (I used brown)
1 can (19 oz/540 ml) diced tomatoes, with juice
2 cups (500 ml) diced pumpkin or squash (I used butternut squash)
1/4 cup (60 ml) ground almonds
2 cups (500 ml) shredded swiss chard (I included stems)
1/2 cup (125 ml) toasted whole almonds
In the bottom of a flameproof tagine (or dutch oven), heat oil over medium heat. Add onions, chile pepper, bell pepper, paprika and spice blend and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. [Note: I found the mixture really stuck to the bottom of the pan this way; I deglazed with a splash of vegetable broth.] Add lentils and cook, stirring for 2 minutes. Add tomatoes with juice and bring to a boil.
Cover with tagine lid, reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes or until lentils are tender. Add pumpkin and ground almonds, replace lid and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in Swiss chard, replace lid and simmer for 5 minutes or until greens are wilted and pumpkin is tender. Garnish with whole almonds.
Makes 4 servings. May be frozen.
Bahrat Spice Blend:
2 Tbsp (30 ml) coriander seeds
4 tsp (20 ml) cumin seeds
1 piece (1 inch/2.5 cm) cinnamon, crushed
5 whole cloves
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) cardomom seeds
2 Tbsp (30 ml) paprika
1 tsp ground sumac, optional (I left it out)
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) ground nutmeg
In the bottom of a small tagine or frypan, combine the coriander, cumin, cinnamon, cloves and cardamom. Toast over medium heat, stirring frequently, for 3 to 4 minutes or until lightly colored and fragrant. Remove from diret heat just as the seeds pop; do not let the spices smoke and burn.
In a mortar and pestle or electric grinder, pound or grind the toasted spices until coarse or finely ground. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the paprika, sumac (if using) and nutmeg.
Store in an airtight (preferably dark) glass jar with lid in a cool place for up to 3 months. Makes 1/4 cup (60 ml).
Last Year at this Time: Borscht to Beet Stress (gluten free; ACD All Stages)
Three Years Ago: Tofu Omelet with Pesto, Caramelized Onions and Mushrooms (gluten-free; not ACD friendly)