Around the World – Morocco – Chickpea Tajine with Couscous

I found some fabulous M’Hamsa Couscous (hand rolled and sun-dried for a toasted flavour) and tomato passata from Les Moulins Majoub. Time to get my tajine out and make a stunning veg packed dish!<< REW
In 2002 we booked a last-minute holiday with friends to Agadir, Morocco. As proper tourists, we spent our first day at the beach. Massive underestimation of the power of the sun so much closer to the equator + refreshing sea breeze + selective application of sunscreen = burnt to a crisp. I actually had a white hand print on my back were there actually had been some sunscreen… In short, we had to recover for a couple of days, so we spent our days poolside, in the shade, playing mah-jongg and cards.

We stayed in an aparthotel so either needed to self-cater or venture out wandering through in the city and grab a bite in one of the many bakeries or restaurants. Besides loads of fish coming straight from the harbour we had our first experiences with tajines: stews that cooked in namesake earthenware pots with dome-shaped lids that are packed with spices, fresh herbs, veg and usually a sweet and savoury combination by the addition of (dried) fruit.

We soon agreed that the prospect of having to spend another week and a half at the hotel pool – or worse, at the beach – was not very appealing. Therefore, we decided to grab a bus and head off north and travel up the Atlantic coast to Essaouira and then inland to Marrakesh. There, still recovering from the Mother Of All Food Poisonings – likely caught at one of the restaurants on the famous Jemaa el-Fnaa square – we decided to book a multi-day tour to visit the spectacular Moroccan inland. Hooray for loperamide!

Via the desolate views from the tops of the High-Atlas mountains, the lush strip of green in the Dadès Valley, the 300m straight walls of the Todra Gorge, the kashbah of Aït Benhaddou, we spent a night at Erg Chebbi, one of Morocco’s two Saharan ergs – large seas of dunes formed by wind-blown sand.

High Atlas

Dadès Valley

todra gorge

ait benhaddou

Erg Chebbi

Perhaps it was the intensity of the last part of the trip – the blistering heat from desert, the breathtaking scenery, the rather uncomfortable camel ride at dusk, the thousands and thousands of stars, the immense Bedouin tent – or just that I finally was getting better, but the tajine we had there was really astonishing. On the way back to and in Agadir we had quite a few tajines, but none of them came close.

I am still not sure what caused my food poisoning, but that last thing I ate before all hell broke loose was a b’stilla pie. This a pie which combines sweet and salty flavours; a combination of crisp layers of phyllo type of dough, savory meat – usually pigeon or chicken – slow-cooked in broth and spices and shredded, and a crunchy layer of toasted and ground almonds, cinnamon, and sugar. When returned home, it took me at least 5 years to mentally grow over the food poisoning and be able to appreciate the Moroccan cuisine again. For some stupid reason this commonly used combination of flavours tripped some circuits in my brain for many years and it was able to make me feel physically sick again.

>>FF

Luckily I grew over it… This recipe is based on Jane Hornby’s Slow cooker chickpea tagine over at BBC Good Food. Using my tajine, I needed to adapt it as I really wanted to first sauté some of the vegetables instead of merely stewing them. Below is my version.

The recipe

  • 400g/13oz can chickpeas in water, rinsed and drained
  • 1 red pepper, deseeded and thickly sliced
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 small butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 courgettes, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 150g/5oz haricots verts, cleaned and halved
  • 12 dried apricots
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus a drizzle to serve
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 500g/16oz tomato passata
  • 1 tsp harissa (and extra to serve)
  • 2 tsp honey, plus a drizzle to serve
  • handful chopped fresh mint and coriander to serve
  • thick Greek-style yoghurt, to serve
couscous ingredients
1. 
tajine mixed
1. Heat olive oil in the tajine and fry the onion union until slightly softened. Add the pepper, squash, courgettes and fry them about 5 minutes until slightly browned. stir in the chickpeas and haricots verts and top with the apricots and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
tajine covered
2. Heat the oil in a frying pan, then fry the garlic and spices until fragrant, about one minute. Add the passata and bring to a boil. Pour the sauce over the vegetables and add the honey and harissa. Cover with the lid on the tajine and cook about 1,5-2 hours
tajine cooked
3. Season to taste with plenty of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Tear in most of the mint or coriander, stir through, then scatter the remaining leaves over the top.
couscous served
4. Drizzle with a little more oil and honey, then top with spoonfuls of yoghurt. Serve with couscous and a couple of tea spoons of harissa.

What worked and what didn’t:
This was a fabulous and rounded tajine; a spiced tomato sauce, a slight kick from the harissa, balanced by the sweet touch from the apricots and honey and the freshness of the dollop of yoghurt. Yum!

To my surprise, the couscous turned out a bit too wet. It wasn’t as nice and fluffy as I thought it would be even though I followed the instructions and ratio of liquid to couscous. It still tasted very good though and I recommend (at least for the adults) to stir a teaspoon of harissa through the couscous; it is a truly fantastic combination.

Recipe accuracy:
The recipe was easy to follow and serves 6-8 persons (instead of 4).

Suggested tweaks:
Adding some more spices is definitely possible, just use 1,5 to 2 times the mix from the recipe. For a carnivorous option, you can add some merguez sausages to the tajine about 30 minutes before the end the cooking time (to prevent overcooking)

Verdict: 8/10; Will be made again

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