Monday, 12 May 2008
the loveliest lump of clay
Back in February I dragged a huge tagine home from the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. Last month I cooked in it for the first time. Now I'm finally posting the results. Slow cooking indeed.
A couple of things I did manage to do way back when were prepare the tagine (by soaking and oiling it) and preserve some lemons. Lemon preserving is perfectly suited for my kind of attention span. I had no trouble dumping them in the back of a dark cupboard and forgetting about them for weeks on end and they taste an absolute treat for the neglect.
There are probably more techie ways to do this but I went with the directions given to me in Fes. Essentially, cut a cross in the top of each lemon, stuff the fruit with sea salt, squash the lemons into a tightly sealed jar with some lemon juice, water and more sea salt. Then leave them well alone for three to four weeks. I am happy to report that this method proved successful in my kitchen (though stuffing the lemons with salt was a bit of a bastard).
What you'll need for the tagine
Whatever veg your heart desires. I reckon aubergine would have been lovely but I went with what was in the kitchen:
1 Sweet potato (chopped)
1 leek (washed and quartered)
2 zucchini (sliced fairly thickly)
3 fresh tomatoes
1 tin of tomatoes
1 preserved lemon
1 bay leaf
A handful of green olives
A handful of dried dates
1 tin of chick peas
Make a little veggie stock on the side
With so much veg getting skinned, chopped and grated, this is the perfect opportunity to put all the scraps and peelings into a separate saucepan and make some stock while your tagine is simmering.
Making the tagine
With an electric stove you need a rivet under the tagine to prevent the veggies at the bottom burning. If you are planning a real slow cook, it is advisable to do this with an open flame also.
Heat olive oil in your tagine on med-low heat then soften the onion slowly (I grated mine to make things a bit gooey). Add the chopped dates and a pinch of paprika.
Quarter the preserved lemon. Chop three quarters into small pieces. Toast your seeds in a separate pan, crush them then add them to the onion along with the chopped, preserved lemon. Stir through, followed by all the other veggies, the bay leaf and olives.
Cut your tomatoes in half and grate the flesh off the skin to pulp them. Add with the tinned tomatoes to the tagine. Pour in a generous splash of red wine, seal your tagine and let it simmer on a very low heat for hours on end (about four in this instance).
I think it's best to ignore the whole thing from here on in. If you open the lid too often you'll lose moisture. Just make sure the little bowl at the top of the tagine stays topped up with cold water so the heat circulates through. Twenty minutes before serving, mix in the chick peas. Cut out and discard the flesh of your remaining preserved lemon quarter then slice the skin into thin strips. Add this bit of tang to the cooked tagine to serve (along with some fresh coriander if you like or a few more olives).