Vegetarian Tagine was bursting with flavors and turned out to be as exotic as it sounds. I have been hearing about tagines since my carnivore days. But my attempts to eat at Moroccan restaurants never really bore fruit. The local CousCous restaurant was famous enough but parking issues kept me from actually going there. So the ‘tagine’ took on a monumental aspect as far as trying a new dish goes, and lack of ingredients always kept me from trying it out.
Even though the title says vegetarian tagine, this is a vegan recipe and dairy free.
I finally took the plunge this week and decided to improvise with what I had on hand. Chickpeas were a must to give some hearty flavor to the dish. Since olive oil is a big part of the dish, and eggplant and olive oil go well together, I chose the eggplant for its unique flavor. I would have preferred some root vegetable like raw plantain, sweet potato or yams or maybe some raw jackfruit, but couldn’t get any. I chose against tofu because I wanted to do something different. As vegetarians or vegans, we fall back on tofu too often, and it overshadows the other veggies in the dish.
Some of you might know, tagine is actually the vessel or container in which the dish is made, as well as the name of the dish itself. The tagine is a shallow earthen dish with a conical cap like lid. The lid recirculates the moisture in the form of steam. This is a slow cooked dish, traditionally cooked over a coal fire. I don’t have the tagine pot so I just chose a large sauce pan with a tight lid without any holes in it.
I searched around the web for recipes and a lot of people used coriander powder and turmeric. To a non-Indian, turmeric equals curry equals exotic, but I use turmeric 3-4 times a day in almost every Indian dish I cook. When I cook something ‘international’, my foremost attempt is to stay away from turmeric.
The main flavoring for a tagine comes from the unique Mediterranean flavors of extra virgin olive oil, sweet paprika, smoky cumin, harissa chili paste and the divine saffron. I didn’t have any harissa and was almost out of saffron. So I used a homemade sambal type chili paste along with gulkand which is a rose petal and sugar concoction. The paprika I used was local and not really paprika in my opinion, but I made do with it. Preserved lemons are also used in a tagine. I used some lemon zest, and a whole peeled lemon. It was completely absorbed in the cooking process, so that turned out well.
The tagine is smoky, hot and sweet. The sweetness comes from raisins, prunes or apricots. I used apricots and they imparted a sweet flavor to the dish. Tomatoes give some nice depth to the sauce.
This is a dish made from scratch without any canned or frozen stuff. You can substitute canned tomatoes and chickpeas, or frozen vegetables if necessary.
The detailed recipe is as follows –
Vegetarian Tagine is a hearty Moroccan dish with chickpeas and eggplant. Slow cooked with smoky cumin, paprika, olives and apricots, it is a perfect hot and sweet stew served best with couscous.
- 2 cups chickpeas or garbanzo beans
- 1 large eggplant cubed
- 2 carrots
- 2 medium onions
- 12 garlic cloves
- 12 pearl onions
- 8 plum tomatoes
- 3 medium potatoes
- 3 Tbsp EVOO
- 15 black olives
- 10 apricots
- 1 whole lemon or half preserved lemon
- 2 Tbsp chopped parsley
- 1 Tbsp harissa or chili paste
- 1 Tbsp gulkand
- 2 Tbsp paprika
- 1-2 Tbsp cumin powder
- 1 tsp coriander powder
- 2 pinches saffron
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Wash and clean all vegetables. Cut the carrots and eggplant in large chunks. Slice the onions, chop or crush the garlic. Chop the tomatoes. You can use canned crushed/ diced tomatoes if you like, about two 20 oz cans.
- Half or dice olives and apricots and keep aside.
- In a large stock pot or sauce pan or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil. Add chopped garlic and let it change color without burning.
- Add the sliced onions and sauté until they are softened on a low heat. The onions should be soft and sweet. We do not want to caramelize or burn them. Add a pinch of salt to avoid burning.
- Add the chili paste and the gulkand or rose extract.
- Add the root vegetables – carrots and whole scrubbed potatoes, pearl onions and add the eggplant. Stir until coated with the oil and onion/garlic and slightly softened.
- Add tomatoes and chickpeas and all the spices and parsley.
- Add some liquid if needed. Season with salt and pepper, cover and cook on low heat.
- After about half an hour, add the apricots and olives.
- Cook on low flame for 1-2 hours until the tomatoes blend into the sauce, the sauce thickens and everything comes together.
- Taste and add more paprika or cayenne pepper if you want it more hot.
- Serve on a bed of couscous and enjoy.
The vegetables here are just an example. You can use mushrooms, zucchini, peppers or anything else you fancy. Although I think chickpeas are a must, you could use white beans instead.
My vegetarian tagine is no longer just a ‘must-make’ recipe, I am happy to say. It tastes much better the next day as the flavors deepen. The sauce is sweet from the apricots and you get some salty bites with the olives. The eggplant is meaty and chickpeas give good texture.
Vegetarian tagine has a permanent place on my dinner menu and I urge you to try it out!