I love that food can take us back to places we’ve been before, and places we dream of going. This tagine takes me back to a trip to Morocco I took with the Mister to visit my soul sister Karissa while she was living there for a couple of years. Morocco was a place I had never imagined I’d visit, but when given the opportunity, I thought, I’ve got to do this! My favorite thing about visiting someplace new is experiencing a different speed and rhythm of life, and observing the way that everything works like clockwork with its own moving parts, in its own way.
On our first night in Casablanca, our friends took us to a magical restaurant outdoors surrounded by garden, with live local musicians playing traditional Moroccan instruments. It was the perfect place to make us feel that yes, we are indeed in Morocco! I felt out of my comfort zone, a sense of nervous excitement the whole time, wanting to see and experience all I could, to be warm and friendly while clumsily and earnestly trying to observe and follow the cultural norms. I probably had a goofy smile on my face that night, trying to soak in everything I could, experiencing it like a new puppy, seeing even the mundane things of everyday life like dishes, plants and doors as new and exciting.
The first dish I ate in Morocco is forever burned into my memory– chicken tagine with preserved lemons and olives. At that point I had never tasted anything like it–A thick vibrant yellow stew filled with braised chicken, onions cooked into almost collapsing tenderness, soaking up all of the cooking liquid seasoned with ginger, saffron, and dotted with little salty exclamation points in the form of olives and and strips of bright preserved lemon rind. It’s a lemony, thick and savory stew, and ours was served with traditional pillowy rounds of traditional Moroccan breads covered with cracked seeds, perfect for soaking up every last bit of the stew.
Traditionally, this tagine would be made in a conical earthenware cooking vessel called a tagine (ha! Imagine that!). If you happen to have a tagine lying around, by all means use it! I don’t have one and like to use my enameled dutch oven–any sturdy pan with a tight fitting lid will work just fine. I even like to saute the ingredients in my Instant Pot and cook it in a ridiculously short amount of time. I’ll include IP instructions below if you happen to have one.
Since I eat a (mostly) plant-based diet now, I wanted to create a vegetarian tagine to satisfy the same craving as the original recipe– In my version, I’ve added potatoes, carrots, cauliflower and chickpeas, braised to soak up the same lemony, savory, onion-laden stew of onions, punctuated with olives and preserved lemon rind of the original. Traditionally, the dish is colored and seasoned with saffron, which does add a roundness and complexity. Karissa told me that many people in Morocco use safflower (in the US it’s called Mexican Saffron) to add color to dishes because true saffron is so expensive. I’ve made it optional in this recipe, as it’s delicious without it and you’ll still achieve a lovely golden yellow stew from the turmeric.
Lately, I’ve been into making “mega-batches” of foods that freeze well, and this is one of them. I freeze small portions in quart bags so that I can quickly thaw them for lunch or dinner. It is so nice to have a home cooked meal when you’re too tired or busy to make a home cooked meal. I’ve saved myself many times this way, and present me always thanks past me for being so thoughtful to prepare such a delicious meal in advance. This tagine is great over couscous or quinoa, and you can make it fresh on the night you’re ready to heat up the tagine.
As Spring approaches, I’m starting to dream of new destinations and foods. I hope this tagine either takes you back to your own trip to Morocco, or transports you there and gives you a little taste if you’ve never been. Enjoy!
Let’s talk ingredients!
•I like buying my preserved lemons from Savory Spice Shop.
•Got some extra time on your hands? Why not make your own preserved lemons? I love making them myself. You can find my recipe here.
•I’m curious about using this method for making “speedy” preserved lemons (speedy, as in one week instead of a whole month.) Will update the post when I try!
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion, quartered and thinly sliced
- 4 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped
- 2 teaspoons Nigella seeds (also known as kalonji or charnushka), optional*
- 1 large tomato, chopped (about 10 ounces)
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 2 teaspoons powdered ginger
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- ¾ pound (12 ounces) cauliflower, cut into bite-sized florets
- ¾ pound yukon gold potatoes, cut into 1 inch pieces
- ¾ pound carrots, peeled and cut into thick slices
- ¾ cup pitted brined mixed olives, rinsed to remove excess salt
- 1 preserved lemon
- 1 15.5 ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (or equivalent cooked chickpeas from dry)
- 1 pinch saffron threads, about ¼ teaspoon, optional*
- 2½ cups vegetable broth (I like vegetarian no-chicken broth for its more neutral flavor)
- juice of one lemon, or to taste
- fresh parsley leaves, to garnish
- salt to taste
- lemony quinoa, for serving (recipe follows)
- Rub the saffron between your fingers to crush the threads a bit, and put them in a small bowl with 2 tablespoons warm water and allow to soak for 15 minutes to infuse the water and release the flavor.
- Quarter the preserved lemon and remove and discard the flesh. Rinse the rind and chop into ¼ inch strips.
- Heat olive oil over medium-high heat in a dutch oven or large heavy pot with a tight fitting lid. Add the onion, and sprinkle with salt. Sauté for 3-4 minutes, until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for an additional minute. Add the chopped tomato, turmeric, ginger, black pepper and ground cumin. Sauté for 2 minutes longer.
- Add the cauliflower, potato, carrot, olives, chickpeas, 2½ cups broth and the saffron water (including any saffron threads left in the water). Add some salt to taste.
- Quarter the preserved lemon and remove and discard the flesh. Rinse the rind and chop into ¼ inch strips. Add rind strips to the pot.
- Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Cook for 55 minutes to and hour and ten minutes, or until potatoes and carrots are tender. Season to taste with salt, and lemon juice to bring out the flavors. Serve over lemony quinoa.
- While tagine is simmering, make the quinoa (see recipe below).
- Instant Pot Adaptation:
- Push the sauté button and allow the Instant Pot to heat up. Sauté and add the ingredients in the same order as in the recipe above through the vegetable broth. The Hit the cancel button on the Instant Pot, then secure the lid and cook on high pressure (or push the meat/stew button if yours doesn't have a manual pressure button) for 9 minutes*. Make sure the valve is set to "seal" not venting. Release manually (be very careful, the hot steam will shoot out. I like to put an oven mitt on and use tongs to turn the valve. Make sure you are standing far away from the pot).
- *Note: I have tested this recipe at many different cooking times, each resulting in very tender vegetables. 9 minutes cooking time still left the cauliflower very soft. When I test again, I'll start with 7 minutes. If you test a different cooking time, please leave a comment below!
*This tagine is wonderful without the saffron--if you have some around and would like to use it, by all means do! It adds a rounded depth of flavor. If you don't want to invest in this expensive little spice, your tagine will still taste great!
- 2 cups quinoa, rinsed well
- 4 cups vegetable broth (again, I like vegetarian no-chicken broth)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- juice from a lemon, to taste
- additional salt to taste
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Put quinoa, broth, ½ teaspoon salt, and garlic cloves in a medium pot. Bring to a boil, then immediately turn down to a simmer. Cover and cook for 12 minutes, or until quinoa is fluffy and the little white tails are visible around the outside of the grains. Fluff with a fork, and add olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste.
Morgan McKenna says
Wow this looks good! Comfort food done middle eastern style.
Thanks Morgan:) Yes, it IS comfort food:)
Jayme Henderson says
I think that some of the most memorable visits were those that I seized the opportunity on and just made it happen. I would totally be down for an on-the-spot visit to Casablanca. I love this dish that was inspired by your trip. It’s filled with some of my favorite flavors and textures – preserved lemons, olives, quinoa. Hoping I can get to making this soon! XO!
Jayme, It’s so true! I love travel experiences that happen because an opportunity arises, and you say why the heck not?!. Thanks for the happy words, and I hope you enjoy if you make it! 🙂