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Vegetable Tagine (Moroccan Vegetable Stew)

My parents being accountants, my sister being a graphic designer, and myself being a scientist, you can imagine that finding things to talk about at the dinner table would be a tricky affair. After all, my parents want to hear about my newest findings in lab about as much as my sister and I want to hear about the latest tax law revisions in the state of Texas. I have seen my dad’s eyes literally glazing over when I started in on “signaling pathways” and “chemotaxis” (don’t worry if your eyes glazed over just now – no offense taken) and I can assure you that terms like “1099” and “itemized deductions” make me tune into myself faster than any type of meditative breathing.

Luckily, our dinner table has always been saved from total silence thanks to one sure-fire topic of conversation, one that each and every member of my family can talk endlessly about. And that, of course, is eating.

Yes, that’s right. When we’re eating, we talk about eating, specifically where and what we are eating next. Naturally, this has the effect of us basically food-hopping from one place to another and an entire weekend spent either eating, talking about eating, or driving to the next place we’re eating at.

Which is exactly what happened two weeks ago, when my parents were visiting SF.

My sister, documentarian that she is, practically live-blogged the entire visit from her phone and counted no less than 11 stops this time around, including Shanghai soup dumplings, an excellent cioppino, dim sum, jeongol (Korean “casserole”), House of Prime Rib, and a home-cooked seafood dinner with loot from our favorite seafood market.

A weekend like this is not for the faint-hearted (faint-stomached?) and to persevere, Nathan and I have developed battle strategies. Our weapon of choice during this near-professional level of gluttony is a trusty bottle of the digestif Fernet Branca, with Nathan acting as monitor to make sure the bottle never runs dry when the in-laws are in town. After waging a grueling war against overeating, we also take the time to recuperate by being vegetarians for a while, using that as the perfect excuse to discover recipes such as this light, healthy, and vegetable-centric tagine.

I learned of this vegetable tagine from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian cookbook. What makes it the perfect “post-war” food is that it uses hardly any fat and no meat stock of any sort, relying instead on the layers of vegetables to release their natural juices. But before you dismiss this stew thinking it’ll be bland, let me assure you that the spice-paste that you sprinkle between each layer of vegetables magically infuses itself into everything. So as the whole stew starts to come together, the vegetables are bathing in this ridiculously flavorful broth, making it just perfect on top of couscous or anything absorbent.

And before you know it, you’ll be waving around your bottle of Fernet and declaring that you’re ready for battle again.

Adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian.

Although tagines are traditionally cooked in vessels of the same name, it’s absolutely fine to use a heavy deep pot with a cover in its place such as a cast-iron Dutch oven (which is what I used) – just make sure both the pot and cover are oven-safe.

Feel free to substitute vegetables as you like, although I suggest to always have onions and tomatoes in there. The original recipe used cabbage but I opted to use spinach instead because that’s what I had. Just take care to layer vegetables according to their “delicacy”, with the softest/easiest-to-cook ones on the top.

For the spice paste:
3 tsp chopped garlic
3 tsp ground cumin
3 tsp paprika
¼ cup chopped cilantro
½ cup chopped Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
3 tsp kosher salt
freshly ground pepper

2 medium zucchini, cut into ⅛-inch rounds
4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into ⅛-inch rounds
2 waxy potatoes, peeled and cut into ⅛-inch rounds
1 bunch of spinach, washed and drained (ok if it’s not completely dry)
1 large onion, cut into ⅛-inch rounds
2 large tomatoes, cut into ¼-inch rounds
1 bell pepper, seeded and cut into ¼-inch rounds
¼ cup olive oil
½ cup water

Mix together the spice paste. Depending on your preference for black pepper, grind in as much or as little pepper as you like.

Select an oven-safe pot with a tight-fitting cover (also oven-safe!). If you don’t have an oven-safe cover, you can devise one using aluminum foil – just make sure to crimp it tight since you want as little of the water to escape as possible.

Preheat oven to 350F. Arrange an oven rack in the middle of the oven, with enough space to fit the pot.

Now comes the fun part. You are going to layer the vegetables in the pot and sprinkle a bit of the spice paste between the layers (see photos above). It’s very much like building a lasagna. Put the harder-to-cook vegetables (like carrots, potatoes, zucchini) on the bottom layers and the easier-to-cook vegetables (like spinach, tomatoes) on the top layers. For example, here’s how I would build this tagine, from bottom to top:

zucchini
spice paste
carrots
spice paste
potatoes
spice paste
onions
spice paste
bell pepper
spice paste
spinach
spice paste
tomatoes
spice paste

Once you’re done layering, pour the olive oil and water over the top. Cover the pot and bake in the oven for 50-60 min, or until all the vegetables are tender.

After 30 min, check on the pot. You want to start basting the layers with the released juices. If you have a bulb baster like the ones people use for turkeys, you can just stick it in the pot and suck up the juices at the bottom to baste. If you are like me and don’t actually own a baster, then here’s what you do: remove the pot from the oven and carefully tilt the pot, so you can scoop up some of the juices with a spoon. If you tilt as much as you can and still can’t get to any juice, don’t worry about it – stick the whole thing back in the oven and check again in 10 min. Baste a few times during the last 20-30 min of cooking.

Once all the vegetables are soft, give the tagine a nice stir to mix up all the vegetables. Taste and add more salt, if needed. Serve hot with couscous.


Yield: 6-8 servings easily, maybe even more
Time: ~15 min prep + 1 hr simmering

18 Comments

  1. Daisy said:
    24 August 2010 at 9:45 pm

    This is my kind of food!

    • angi said:
      24 August 2010 at 9:47 pm

      Thanks Daisy! Let me know if you try it and how it turns out … always good to have another tester! ;) Hope you guys are well!

  2. Amy K. said:
    27 August 2010 at 6:28 pm

    This looks so easy! I love one pot meals. I’m going to try this this weekend.

    (btw…your sis has a great portfolio! nice work!)

    • angi said:
      27 August 2010 at 6:32 pm

      Thanks Amy! Now that we’re back to true SF “summer” weather again, I heartily endorse trying this – let me know what you think! And nice to meet you finally, at least virtually – perhaps we’ll meet each other in real life someday via a certain chili-feeding blogger ;)

  3. Amy K. said:
    31 August 2010 at 1:34 am

    I just made this dish tonight.

    O.M.G. sooo good.

    I’m always a little leery of all-veggie dishes, but this was really flavorful and hearty. Thanks for sharing!

    • angi said:
      31 August 2010 at 4:33 pm

      Yay!! Glad you liked it Amy! And I totally agree: for an all-vegetarian dish without loads of spices like Indian-style curries, this is incredibly flavorful. For some reason, I also really like the process of layering the vegetables. It’s like an edible arts and crafts session!

  4. suki said:
    2 September 2010 at 5:35 pm

    This looks amazing, but I’m going to save this for some colder weather. ;) I love how food can bring people together, even if the everyday topics aren’t as exciting.

    • angi said:
      2 September 2010 at 7:00 pm

      Hi Suki! Yes, I agree – might be good to wait for a properly foggy SF summer day before blasting the oven for multiple hours on end. ^_^ Thanks for reading!

  5. Michelle said:
    7 September 2010 at 3:44 am

    One of my friends is a fan of your blog/recipes…and because of her, I have also become a fan. This looks amazing, and I’d like to try this (among some of your other recipes). As soon as the weather turns cooler again this fall, I will try this stew. Yum.

    • angi said:
      8 September 2010 at 6:19 am

      Thanks for reading, Michelle! And yes, definitely give the tagine a try when it’s more stew weather – I think you will not be disappointed. Out of curiosity, who’s your friend?!

  6. Michelle said:
    8 September 2010 at 9:29 pm

    I’m friends w/ the lovely AraJane. I can thank her for discovering your blog and all of these interesting recipes contained within. :-)

    • angi said:
      9 September 2010 at 5:56 am

      Ah arajane, she of the amazing photo skills… of course! I need to thank her too for doing PR for me :)

  7. 17 September 2010 at 10:01 pm

    You’re a great blogger, Angi! I never thought I was interested in food before, but I guess I’m wrong. It helps that it’s you writing about it. Better than NY Times! Subscribed!

    Carisa’s family does the exact same thing re: talking about food.

    • angi said:
      18 September 2010 at 12:10 am

      Thanks, Cosmo!! For both the kind words and the subscription! I also have a feeling the whole talk-about-food-all-the-time thing runs in many Chinese families.

  8. brhau said:
    6 March 2011 at 7:34 pm

    Esme had fun helping us layer the vegetables and spices. It didn’t come out as much of a paste for us (more dry and sprinkly), but still delicious!

    • angi said:
      11 March 2011 at 9:44 am

      Omigosh, Esme layering a vegetable tagine may be the cutest image ever!! Also I think “paste” may not be the correct term – mine’s also crumbly and kind of like wet sand… what should I call that?

  9. 6 March 2011 at 8:06 pm

    Your family and mine seem to have that pivotal conversation topic/quest in common. The digestive recommendation is an excellent one and even better, after two heavy/fantastic eating weekends, this looks like the perfect way to flex some spice rack muscle with vegetables.

    • angi said:
      11 March 2011 at 9:50 am

      Thanks! I hope you enjoy it! And it does seem like the talk-about-food-all-the-time thing isn’t all that uncommon, especially amongst foodies. Maybe it’s a hereditary thing? :)

2 Trackbacks

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