Marrakech is a name you can almost taste. The very word is infused with the fragrances emanating from the city’s souks; each letter is coloured by canary-yellow saffron, bright-orange paprika, ruby-red tomatoes. It’s a feast for the eyes and nose well before the belly.
Morocco’s history has fed into its fêted cuisine: the Arab invasion brought ginger, cinnamon and caraway; a little bit of the Med arrived with the Moors in the form of olive oil and preserved lemons; the French left their pastries and wine. The crowning jewel of this culinary culture clash is undoubtedly the tagine, the rich stew-like dish that takes its name from the earthenware pot that’s used to slow-cook its ingredients. You can put almost anything in your tagine: meat, fish, vegetables or a combo of the three. All you need to get started are some spices – salt, pepper, ginger and turmeric are the basics, but saffron, paprika, cumin and cinnamon are also commonly used.
The tagine pot itself, usually made from glazed terracotta, is placed on coals and the ingredients are left to infuse for hours. The conical lid allows steam to form inside, rise up, then fall back down, which helps to keep the food moist and flavoursome.
Moroccan cuisine in general has been described as ‘the perfumed soul of the culture’. If so, the tagine – intrinsic to the Moroccan family table, shared with couscous and bread – must be its heart.
There are two types of tagine pots: serving tagines and cooking tagines. The highly patterned serving vessels aren’t suitable for cooking – they will crack in the heat.
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
400g baby potatoes, cleaned
1 onion, peeled and chopped
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 celery sticks, trimmed and sliced
2 bulbs fennel, trimmed and sliced lengthways
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon ground cumin
Sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
250g shelled fresh or frozen peas
1½ tablespoons of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
1½ tablespoons mint, finely chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
1. Heat the olive oil over a medium heat in a casserole dish or tagine. Add the potatoes, onion and garlic, cook for 2-3 mins. Add celery and fennel and cook for a further 2-3 mins.
2. Add the ginger, cumin and coriander, and season generously with salt and pepper. Then add the peas and enough water to just cover the mixture. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat, cover, and simmer for 15 mins, or until the veg is tender.
3. Add the parsley and mint, and remove the lid. Cook for 10 mins or until the sauce reduces and thickens, stirring to prevent it from sticking to the pan.
4. Lastly, add the lemon juice, drizzle with olive oil and serve with couscous.
Recipe taken from A Month In Marrakesh by Andy Harris (Hardie Grant Books, £17)
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