As my overflow cookbook shelf is starting to overflow, I decided to go through my cookbooks and weed out a few that I never use. Just out of curiosity, I decided to do a quick count and was a little surprised to find that I own 122 cookbooks. How did that happen?
I do love them all, even the ones I never use, so the thought of getting rid of some was difficult. In looking through them, I realized I was faced with a dilemma – what if a cookbook has one truly great recipe, but that one recipe is the only one I use or even like in the book? Do I hang on to it or give it away?
One of my cookbooks in this category has an incredible Moroccan Tagine recipe that I have made countless times. Everything else in the book feels so overwrought, so over-flavored that I have given up on the rest of the recipes. Vegetarian food often has one of two faults – either it is severely under flavored (think brown rice and overcooked vegetables), or the food has 12 too many different tastes going on in any one dish. This book’s recipes fall firmly in that second camp.
I decided to challenge myself. Could I make a tagine based on my tastes, my knowledge of food, and my memory? I have made that recipe and others like it many times, couldn’t I just re-create it? If so, the book is out of here.
I was compelled to set this challenge for myself not only because of my cookbook real estate situation, but also because I ended up with a large amount of leftover couscous after Friday’s party. I made the couscous to be served in endive spears. The recipe actually suggested serving it in those Asian soup spoons but seeing as I don’t have 55 of those on hand, endive it was. Each spear was topped with a scoop of buttery orange-scented and currant-studded couscous and a dollop of plain yogurt spiced up with curry powder. The dish was a hit, I just ran out of endive so the leftover couscous came home with me. I had no doubt about what to make to serve with it – a tagine.
A tagine is Moroccan in nature and is often made with lamb or chicken. It can also be made with fish. And it can, of course, be made vegetarian. A tagine actually refers to the vessel in which the stew is traditionally cooked, one that is shaped kind of like an upside down funnel. The thinking is that the broad base and the narrow top allows very little steam to escape so meat gets exceptionally tender and the flavors are allowed to really harmonize.
I don’t have a tagine (although don’t think I haven’t eyed them at Sur la Table) so I use a large heavy Dutch oven with terrific results. For this one I used a mixture of carrots, potatoes, canned tomatoes, bell peppers, and chickpeas. The spices I did by taste memory – cumin, coriander, tumeric, paprika and saffron. I like heat so I added a bit of cayenne too. One of the thing I love about tagines is their mixture of salty and sweet so I used a few Kalamata olives and chopped prunes. You can use raisins, dates, or even dried apricots for that bit of sweetness.
I guess I don’t have to tell you that I love this tagine – otherwise I wouldn’t be writing about it, right? It is just what I wanted so I suppose it’s time to ditch that cookbook. Fresh fennel and sweet potatoes would be good substitutions or additions, I would just be sure to keep the carrots and potatoes. I like my tagines to be on the brothy side so that the couscous gets a good soak, so add more water as necessary. Like most stew-y things, the flavors here improve with age so don’t hesitate to make it a day ahead. I would just wait to add the parsley until just before serving, or add more to get that green pop.
One Year Ago: Sushi Rice Salad (a favorite of mine)
Tagine with Carrots, Potatoes, and Olives
Dana Treat Original
This may look overwhelming, but many of the ingredients are spices and really, it’s just a bunch chopping and a lot of letting the deliciousness happen on its own.
1 large onion, diced
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground coriander
½ tsp. tumeric
½ tsp. paprika
Large pinch of cayenne pepper
Pinch of saffron threads
2 large carrots, cut into ¼-inch thick slices
3 medium red potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 red pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 yellow pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 14-oz. can diced tomatoes
1 14-oz. can chickpeas, drained
1/3 cup Kalamata olives, coarsely chopped
3 large prunes, coarsely chopped
¼ cup chopped parsley
Heat a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add just enough olive oil to coat the bottom and then add the onions and a large pinch of salt. Sauté until the onion starts to soften but not brown. Add the spices and stir to coat the onions well. Add the potatoes and carrots and give a good stir.
Cook for five minutes, stirring often so the spices don’t stick to the bottom and burn. Add the peppers and the tomatoes. Take the can the tomatoes were in, fill it halfway full of water and add that to the pot as well. Stir and turn up the heat so the mixture comes to a boil. Lower the heat to medium-low and cover. Cook for 10 minutes, then add the chickpeas, olives, and prunes. Cover again and cook until the vegetables are tender, about another 15 minutes. About 5 minutes before serving, add the parsley. Serve over couscous with a dollop or Curried Yogurt on top.
Orange-Scented Couscous with Curried Yogurt
Adapted from Bon Appétit
2/3 cup plain whole milk yogurt
½ – ¾ tsp. curry powder
1 cup vegetable broth
¾ cup couscous
1 tbsp. butter
Zest of ½ a large orange
2 tbsp. orange juice
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
½ cup currants
Mix yogurt and curry in bowl. Cover; chill.
Bring broth to a simmer in small saucepan. Mix in couscous. Cover; set aside until couscous is tender and broth is absorbed, about 10 minutes. Use a fork to fluff up couscous, then mix in (using fork) butter, orange juice, orange zest, and cinnamon, then currants. Season with salt and pepper.