moroccan tagine

If you’ve ever seen the Gavin and Stacey Christmas special where Mick worries about debuting a new turkey recipe for the family dinner, then you’ll understand what I mean when I say that I felt a similar anxiety placing this dish in the oven. Much like Mick, once the tagine had begun to cook, I found that a lot of people had had difficulties with the recipe, particularly regarding the quantities of ingredients for the paste that not only flavours the vegetables, but gives the dish its sauce.

Chemoula paste varies from recipe to recipe – whilst the ingredients used and ratios of such ingredients are only subtly different, the effect of these changes shape the dish in entirely different ways. The problem noted with this recipe was the quantity of lemon juice – lots of people said it was overpowering in the dish, and gave it an unpleasantly bitter, acidic taste. In this particular recipe, the lemon juice seemed to be a counter to the honey, each used to offset the sweetness and acidity of the other, to create a balanced taste. Luckily, fate had taken this into account, and I was forced to reduce the quantity of lemon juice as I only had a tiny amount left in the cupboard – I did not find my chermoula paste to have a strong acidity, but equally it was not so minimal an amount that it became too sweet with the quantity of honey.

Further, there were many comments regarding the overall flavour of the dish – people complained that despite the wide variety of spices and vegetables, the dish as a whole was tasteless and bland. This can occur because although there is an array of individual flavours, each has not had sufficient time to blend together and create a wholesome taste. This is easily solved by making the dish in advance. Much like spaghetti bolognese, or chili con carne, when people clamour “it’s much better the next day!”, it’s because the flavours have had time to cook twice – in cooking originally, cooling down, then having another chance to blend when reheated the next day. Using this philosophy, making the chermoula paste a day in advance, or even making the whole dish a day in advance and reheating would increase the overall taste. However, be cautious with making the whole dish and reheating, as the vegetables could become mushy during a second cooking process, or equally possible, the sauce could evapourate leaving the dish dry! I would advise making the chermoula paste a day in advance, and leaving it to marinate the vegetables overnight before cooking for the most intense flavour.

Ingredients

  • 2 red onion, thickly sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled but left whole
  • ½ tbsp. honey
  • ½ tbsp. turmeric
  • ½ tbsp. paprika
  • 30ml lemon juice
  • 50ml olive oil
  • 1 tsp. dried chili flakes
  • 2 tsps. dried ginger
  • 2 carrots, cut into 2cm chunks
  • 1 parsnip, chopped into thick chunks
  • 2 leeks, sliced thickly
  • 1 large potato, cut roughly
  • Dried mint
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil, to drizzle

Method

  1. Begin by making the paste that the vegetables will absorb during the cooking process. Using a blender, blitz one of the onions, the garlic cloves, honey, lemon juice and oil alongside the turmeric, paprika and chili flakes.
  2. Blend until it is largely smooth, and then decant into a small bowl. Set aside this paste for later. In a heat-proof casserole dish or large frying pan, warm a drizzle of olive oil over a medium heat.
  3. Heat the oven to 180 degrees.
  4. Add the potatoes, parsnips and carrots, sprinkle with the ground ginger, and fry until lightly browned, stirring to prevent them burning.
  5. Once these have browned, transfer them into a tagine or a large casserole dish. Then fry the leeks and remaining onion with a dusting of ginger in the heat-proof casserole dish until also lightly browned, then place in the casserole dish/tagine alongside the potato mix.
  6. Pour the paste over the lightly browned vegetables, and then add 500ml of warm water. Put a lid on top of the casserole dish/tagine, and place in the oven for 30 minutes.
  7. After 30 minutes, turn the oven down to 160 degrees, and remove the casserole dish/tagine from the oven. Season, and replace in the oven without the lid for a further 30 minutes.
  8. Remove the tagine from the oven, top with mint and serve with either cous-cous or rice.
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lamb with cous-cous

Cous-cous is a really handy thing to have in your cupboard. Considered ‘the‘ traditional dish of North Africa, its wide geographical spread across the continent (especially to Morocco and Algeria, where it is known as a national culinary staple) has contributed to its popularity in the West; a result of both cultural assimilation and the increase in travel abroad. Its arrival in the West ought to be celebrated perhaps far more than it is, taking advantage of its versatility as an ingredient without the labour intensity undertaken by traditional producers of cous-cous. In its North African home, cous-cous is made by rolling semolina with water to form the fine, recognisable grains of cous-cous before steaming; whilst most of this is now done by machinery, the previous production by hand conjures amazing images of individuals sitting around for days rolling the semolina in huge batches. Our ability to buy a strand of cous-cous that is ready in a matter of minutes with the addition of only boiling water provides us with a speedier, and healthier, alternative to other carbohydrates such as pasta and rice. And for those reasons we definitely ought to use it more than we do!

It is the cooking process of cous-cous that provides us with a frame for flavour that pasta and rice either do not, or cannot, to the same extent. Whereas a pasta and rice accompaniment will give a plain component to the meal that is complementary whilst ensuring the main focus of the dish remains on the spaghetti, or curry, for example, cous-cous is cooked by, as afore mentioned, the absorption of water. This means that although plain water can be used and the cous-cous serves as a speedier alternative, stock from the dish can too be utilised, manipulating the cous-cous to serve as a tastier alternative as it too shares the flavours of the main dish. In this recipe, the cous-cous absorbs the reduced stock (which has simmered with lamb, garlic, onion and the seasonings), topped up with boiling water and finished with both lemon juice and zest. Fluffing the grains through with all of these fantastic flavours leaves only one question – who is the star of this dish? Arguably, it is the cous-cous.

Ingredients (serves two) 

  • 4 lamb chops
  • Smoked paprika
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely sliced
  • ½ bell pepper, cut into squares
  • ½ red onion, sliced
  • Zest and juice of ½ lemon
  • 1 cup of cous-cous to 1.5 cups of liquid
  • 250ml vegetable stock
  • Fresh flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

Method

  1. Lightly pierce the skin of the lamb chops, and season with some smoked paprika and some salt. Heat a small amount of oil in a large frying pan, and sautee the chops until beginning to brown on both sides. Add the onion and garlic, until soft and golden.
  2. Stir in the pepper squares, and fry for a further few minutes until soft.
  3. Add a further sprinkling paprika, and season with black pepper. Pour over the vegetable stock, and add a lid. Turn the heat down to low, and simmer for fifteen minutes until it has reduced.
  4. Lift the lamb chops out of the pan once the sauce has reduced, and keep warm on a plate.
  5. Take the pan off the heat, and add the cous-cous. Top up the simmered stock with boiling water if necessary, and add a good squeeze of lemon juice. Replace the lid on the pan.
  6. Allow the cous-cous to absorb the water, and then add some butter and stir through to ensure the grains don’t stick together!
  7. Fluff through chopped parsley after the butter, and some lemon zest.
  8. Nestle the lamb chops against the cous-cous once served, and squeeze over some more lemon juice and sprinkled parsley.

black bean chili with chocolate and lime

Yesterday it poured with rain, and today it is brilliantly sunny. The weather really influences the food I desire – when it is cold and miserable outside, I want something in the evening to make me feel like being cooped up inside isn’t so bad after all. So yesterday, this Black Bean Chili was a fine example of the type of warming hearty dish you’d long for when you’re in need of comfort, because it’s just not that nice outside.

I’ve wanted to try to make a Black Bean Chili for ages. Although it’s not particularly any different to a normal chili con carne in terms of flavour, I wanted to see the textural differences between beans and the usual mince component. After the success (and personal enjoyment) of the spaghetti bolognese using lentils and beans last term, I thought this would be similarly tasty! The black beans are soft to bite, which means as a comfort meal, it has an element of indulgence, as essentially it doesn’t require much strength to chew! Moreover, the beans soak up the flavours of the spices – the chili powder and the smoky paprika make an excellent combination, that is flavoursome throughout the dish in comparison to a usual chili, where the flavours only usually reside in the sauce.

The thing that sets this aside from a meat chili con carne for me, however, is the addition of cocoa powder and the topping with lime juice. Hearing about both of these accompaniments to chili con carne, I couldn’t wait to try them out. Whilst I was initially sceptical about using chocolate in a spicy dish, I was brought round to the idea by seeing the popularity of items such as chili chocolate – if chili/chocolate is a combination that can be enjoyed where chocolate is the main staple, chili/chocolate must surely work where there is a hint of chocolate amongst a wealth of warming spice. In actual
fact, the use of cocoa powder gives a depth and a richness that I haven’t really tasted elsewhere! It doesn’t taste at all sweet, but the sauce takes on a new consistency, appearing more like velvet; something I am sure must come from the chocolate. The lime squeezed on the chili before serving gives a refreshing zesty tang to the beginning of the dish. As it is not stirred throughout, its citrus tones are not lost in the dish; it stays as an accompaniment that is authentic, as limes are used frequently in Mexican dishes, such as guacamole. Together, they give an excellent spin on the usual chili con carne that I was previously unaware of, but from now on, will be using with regularity. So for those, like me, experiencing strange day-on-day-off weather, combat the rainy blues with a helping of this comforting chili.

Ingredients

  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • Button mushrooms, halved
  • Half an orange pepper, chopped
  • Half a yellow pepper, chopped
  • 400g tin of black beans, drained and thoroughly rinsed
  • Small tin of kidney beans
  • 400g tinned tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp of tomato puree
  • 4 tsps chili powder
  • 2 tsps smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp cocoa powder
  • Juice of a lime to taste, squeezed before serving

Method

  1. Place a saucepan over a medium heat, and add a drizzle of oil. Fry the chopped onion until it begins to soften, and then add the crushed garlic cloves. When the garlic becomes fragrant in the pan, add the peppers and mushrooms and fry until the peppers begin to soften.
  2. Sprinkle in the chili powder and the paprika, and stir to coat all the ingredients in the spices. Allow to fry for a few moments further, before adding the drained and rinsed beans and the tomatoes.
  3. Stir in the tomato paste, and the tin of kidney beans. Bring to the boil, and then reduce to a simmer. Add the cocoa powder, and stir well.
  4. Place a lid on the saucepan, and heat through for thirty minutes until the sauce has thickened and reduced.
  5. Accompany with rice, and a fresh salad for garnish. Before serving, squeeze the lime juice over the dish, to add zesty freshness! If desired, top with grated cheese.