I must admit – I find food fascinating and exotic, and a window into the colorful cultures of others. For me, cuisine and culture are forever entangled in a unique dance that is orchestrated by the history and geography of a place; indigenous, local foods; and the story of its people.
Perhaps one of the most exotic of cuisines ( and I bestow that moniker to foods from geographic places that display an enticing quantity of aromatic ingredients, offer an eye-pleasing palette of colorful foods, and that has created unique utensils that add flair to cooking, presenting and serving food ) is Moroccan cuisine and tagine-cooked stew dishes in particular.
Tagines are clay ( glazed or unglazed ) vessels that consist of a shallow bottom piece and a cone shaped top. As Paula Wolfert says in her book, The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen, Recipes for Passionate Cooks, published by John Wiley & Sons, 2003: ” Moroccan tagine pots, shallow, earthernware pots with high cone-shaped tops, glazed on only one side, are great for cooking meat stews. As the stew simmers, steam rises into the cone. The unglazed interior of the conical top absorbs some of the excess moisture, ensuring a steady, slow reduction of liqiud below.”
Tagine cooked dishes appeal to me on many levels. First, I love cooking in clay pots and vessels ( and still rue the sad demise of the rustic, very large ’you-could-bathe-the-baby-in-it’ black glazed red clay cazuela that I attempted to bring back from Mexico ) because of the rustic, natural feeling of the vessel and the simple, elemental way that they speak without words about the cuisine they represent. Unlike metal pots and pans, humble clay pots connect us with ‘a place’, and are a magical conduit that connects the cook to the alchemy of cooking in a way that metal pans do not.
Secondly, food cooked in a tagine looks great, smells divine, is yieldingly fork tender, and pleasurable in a way that only slow cooked food is. What a great way to create enticing aromas in the kitchen on a cold New England winter day !
Another book that I enjoy for delicious tagine recipes is: The Momo Cookbook: A Gastronomic Journey through North Africa by Mourad Mazouz, published by Simon & Schuster, 2004. Look for either of these books at your local book seller or Amazon.com and you will be glad that you added them to your cookbook collection.
Cooks Shop Here stocks many of the pantry ingredients ( unfortunately, no tagines ! ) that you will need to add authentic flavor to tagines and Moroccan dishes.
Additionally, for fans of Middle Eastern cuisine, we have some pantry items for you as well:
Harissa ( chile paste in a tube )
Mograbeyah ( large-sized Israeli Couscous )