The tagines of Morocco indulged us. I try to remember one meal that stood out, instantly taking me back to this country of many flavors, but there wasn’t one; it was all of them! We became accustomed to delicious food awaiting us under every lid. Like at a magic show, we were enthralled at every meal when the garçon lifted the lid to reveal the meats and vegetables, dates and olives steaming in the swallow dish.
We quickly discovered the ubiquitous tagine at every mid-day and evening meal, whether in our riad in Marrakesh or by candlelight in our Bedouin tent in the Sahara. We learned the dish is not only the name of the traditional cooking pot but has grown to include the meal inside. The chicken with lemons and olives was my favorite, the lamb meatballs and eggs, called kefta, a close second.
The distinctive pointed lid and shallow dish came originally from the Berbers, the mountain people of Morocco. The ingredients are simple, usually chicken or lamb, vegetables, oranges, olives, dates. It is the spices that give these simple ingredients their complex flavors. Saffron, cumin, cinnamon and twenty-seven others make up a special blend called ras el hanout. There is no recipe that makes up ras el hanout; it is a unique combination of the best spices a seller has to offer.
We stopped in the village of Tamegroute, famous for its distinct green pottery, where I bought a tagine. There were beautiful hand-painted colorful ones used for serving and decoration, but I wanted one for cooking so I bought the traditional terracotta red with a few beige and yellow designs on the lid. The traditional method of cooking with a tagine is to place it over coals. Since I would be using my tagine on the stove-top, I was told to soak it in water for an hour, rub olive oil into it and cook it at 300 degrees Fahrenheit for 2 hours. I was also to use it at a very low temperature or to use a heat diffuser to prevent it from cracking.
Scott graciously carried my new tagine home for me; its heavy terracotta pot and lid not exactly lightweight carry-on baggage. We will see how well I duplicate the Moroccans tasty cooking. I did buy a packet of ras el hanout from the local spice trader in Ouarzazate, the strong smelling spices also giving my suitcase and dirty clothes a distinct flavor of their own!
P.S. Want to try your own hand a cooking a tagine? You can find recipes and buy Moroccan tagines at www.tagines.com. To increase the authenticity of your tagine, you can buy the special blend of spices, ras el hanout, from the same spice trader in Ouarzazate I went to at La Caravane des Epices. You’ll have to decipher the French though! And finally, to virtually wonder the spice souks in Morocco, visit these fabulous photos that I found online.