I haven't the camera to persuade you of the sumptuous delight that was last night's Lamb and Fig Tagine...She writes, swallowing down the last leftovers in a bout of shovelling, smiling, chop-licking. But picture: sweet nuggets of Lamb, slow cooked in North African spices with whole homegrown Figs, Patisson and Squash... the lot layered in a ceramic Tagine in an expression of artistic diligence and decadence...Oh, had I but the photo to share.
Instead, let me share the Recipe.
I learnt to make Tagine having found myself living in a dustblown village on the edge of the Moroccan Sahara five, perhaps more, years ago. Tagine was a staple, a simple dish, prepared by roughly chopping a few veg, placing them in the Tagine with Water, Cumin, Paprika and Olive Oil, and then leaving sat on the stove slowly cooking. Effortless, delicious. On grander occasions, a chunk of meat, often Lamb or Chicken was added, some Fruits or Olives. The lesser members attending the feast would eat the vegetables and the guest of honour, a well-married aunt perhaps, would take the meat, leaving a smidgen for the others. We ate with our hands of one bowl. We broke one bread. Memories are now vague, but, as often when travelling, the food remains, the flavours, the tastes and textures, and the communal act of sharing a meal with the people of that land. Morocco draws memoryscapes heavy with rasping sweet Mint teas; Rose and Orange scented Sweetmeats; Oases where Pomegranates grow; Dates ripe, sweet and large as your fist; Rooves lain with Apricots sundrying... Those, Polenta bread at dawn eaten dripping with Honey and steaming milky Coffee. Or, Loubia a streetfood not unlike classy baked beans, Round baked breads dipped into endless bowls of Harira ( a lentilly/chick-pea Soup mad with beef or Lamb or... Thick and Yellow and sustaining); on the coast Sardines fresh grilled. I have no memory of eating Couscous, nor did I ever try Bastilla (sweet Pigeon Pie) 'til quite recently in Norfolk, but, need I say, falling deeper into reveries, the Hashish sticky and black as Opium, the Opium...
Somehow I hefted a ceramic Moroccan Tagine all the way back overland to Norfolk...
So, the recipe for a basic Tagine:
Chop onions in large rings, place on base of Tagine with Olive Oil, Paprika and Whole Cumin. Heat without the lid. Meanwhile seal the meat. Then layer Meat, Veg (keep large), Legumes, Fruit, Nuts, Olives, whole Cloves of Garlic, whole Chillies artistically - a sort of Food-Mandala in the dish. Placing the veg that need more cooking lower down, those that need less higher. Top with a few half-Lemons, more Chillies, fill to rim with water,adding salt, spices, Harissa, Chermoula, and cook lidded for an hour to an hour and a half, until meat cooked, veg tender but not fallen to pieces, juice full of flavour. I tend to serve with Couscous or a large Flatbread (actually Nigella's recipe from Domestic Goddess), perhaps some Yogurt and extra Harissa.
For Lamb and Fig Tagine I used: Onion, Garlic, Shallots, Florence Fennel, Pumpkin, Patisson, Courgette, Fresh Figs, Black Olives and Fresh Chillies. Paprika, Cumin, Ground Ginger, Harissa and Ras-el-hanout.
Otherwise, root veg are great in Tagines, Cinnamon and Apricots are nice additions, as is Pheasant or Chick Peas. Once again, when you have the basics, you can put in what you best like.
Saucy additions to Tagines come in the form of:
Chermoula (Sauce for tipping on your Tagine and for cooking Morroccan style fishes, meats etc)
2 Cloves Garlic, Salt, Chilli Powder, ground Cumin, Pepper, Fresh Coriander and Flat Leaf Parsley, Juice of 2 Lemons, 1 tsp Vinegar, 1 Tbsp oil.
Crush Garlic and Spices to a paste in a Pestle and Mortar. Mix with rest of ingredients. Heat gently to release aromas, do not boil.
(Recipe from a great, seemingly authentic Moroccan Cook Book A Taste of Morocco, published Hachette)
There are a million recipes, my favourite a basic blend of Olive Oil, Whole Cumin, Crushed Garlic, Coarse Salt and Loads of crushed Chilli.
But otherwise Roast Garlic, Red Peppers, Chilli, and blend with Olive Oil and ground Cumin.
I had meant to combine this post with recipe and pics of part-cured pig with apple and greengages, but it'll have to wait...
Likewise, photos to be posted someday soon.