What else can I do with a butternut squash? I’ve risottoed, roasted, baked, stewed and curried, it’s now time for some new flavours. So I’m heading back to Morocco, the place were the husband and I took one of our first holidays (in that magical time, way before we had children) and I’m trying to encapsulate the aromas and flavours of a traditionally spiced and fruity tagine. I’m also hoping that these new flavours go down well with the children… as they weren’t there when we were perusing the street food vendors of the Djemaa El Fna late in the evening, or enjoying a sweet mint tea in the back of a small village shop nestled in the Atlas mountains, or haggling in the markets for the large yellow fruit bowl they now grab their apples and bananas out of… Ahhhh.
After researching dozens of ‘authentic’ tagine recipes, which all varied wildly in their ingredients, I settled on this combination of vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes and spices… It’s difficult to know exactly how ‘authentic’ this really is, but it is definitely evocative of my north African memories and takes my senses right back there. I have also fine tuned this set of ingredients to be relatively accessible to anyone with a well stocked whole food kitchen and spice rack. This dish is achievable, and lets face it, that’s really all that most of us want!
What I’ve discovered is that many of the western tagine recipes are basic spiced thick tomtoey stew recipes, whereas the authentic art of the tagine seems to be more in the marinating, and slow cooking/steaming of the chunky cut vegetables in a richly spiced sauce. I have included marinating time in this recipe, which could probably be skipped with still perfectly good results. I would suggest though, that the veggies and marinade are prepared the night before and then arranged in the ‘tagine’ or slow cooker ready for slow cooking later that day. This way the dish is still manageable if you have a busy couple of days. Then you only really need to prepare the bulgar wheat, which is easy peasy.
I don’t have a traditional clay tagine, so for this recipe I have used a large, shallow cast iron pan with a lid, which can be used on the hob and in the oven. The recipe adaptation for the slow cooker is near the bottom of the post.
For the tagine:
- 2 onions, sliced (40p)
- 1/2 a butternut squash, peeled and cut into long wedges. (£1.04)
- 2 carrots, peeled and cut into long wedges (20p)
- 1 large waxy potato, peeled and cut into long wedges (20p)
- 200g of cooked chickpeas (85p)
- 75g of dried apricots – organic unsulpherd dark ones are best (£1.04)
- 75g of green olives (79p)
- 1 tsp of cumin seeds (15p)
- 1 tsp of ground turmeric (11p)
- 4 cloves of garlic, finely sliced (20p)
- 3 tbsp tomato puree (24p)
- 2 tbsp ras-el-hanout spice mix – you can make this yourself, click for my recipe. (35p)
- 600ml of stock (20p)
- the juice of 1/2 a lemon (25p)
- salt and pepper
- a small handful of flat leaf parsley and coriander (30p)
- a handful of sliced / flaked almonds (55p)
In a large traditional clay pot, or a heavy cast iron pan, fry the onions on a medium heat for 10 minutes, then add the sliced garlic and fry for another 5 minutes. Add the spices to the onions and garlic and fry for another 2 minutes. remove from the heat and mix in the tomato paste, stock and lemon juice to create a liquid marinade.
Toss the rest of the ingredients in the marinade and transfer the covered pan to the fridge for a few hours or overnight.
When you are ready to begin the slow cooking, heat the oven to 180 degrees c. Arrange the large chunks of potato, carrot and squash into a pyramid/flower shape (see photo) and then cover again and cook in the oven for up to 2 hours.
If you’re using a slow cooker, fry the onion garlic and spices as normal, transfer all the ingredients to the slow cooker for marinading, then arrange the veg in a similar way and cook on low for approximately 6 hours or high for 4, or until all the veg is tender.
15 minutes before serving, you’ll need to prepare the bulgar wheat.
For the bulgar:
- 1.5 (250g) cups of bulgar wheat (74p)
- 2.5 (600mlcups of stock (20p)
- The juice of half a lemon (25p)
- a large handful of flat leaf parsley and coriander (40p)
- salt and pepper
Simply bring the stock to the boil and add the bulgur wheat, simmer for 5 minutes with the lid on and then turn off the heat and let the bulgar absorb the stock and fluff up for another 15 minutes. Once the bulgar is light and fluffy and all the stock is absorbed, add the lemon juice, herbs and salt and pepper and stir it all through.
Finish the dish with more coriander and parsley leaves and slithered almonds, and also some dried rose petals if you can get hold of them for a really special touch.
This is an impressive dish which looks fantastic taken to the table so everyone can help themselves. I hope to make this again for guests, although it definitely wasn’t wasted on my family – they oohed and aahed appropriately and were suitably delighted by the appearance and exotic aromas and flavours. My husband is convinced that this version blows the Morrocan tagine of his memory right out of the water; and although my husband is probably not the greatest authority on North African cuisine, I sincerely hope I’ve done this traditional dish justice.
The ingredients for this whole meal come to £8.46. Which works out at £2.11 for each generous portion. This is a little more expensive than my usual recipes, which very rarely exceed £2 a portion… but this one is a little bit more special.