North African Cooking: What is Tagine?

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If looking for an interesting new dish to serve friends and family, then consider making a tagine. The tagine is a dish of North African origin however, the dish is little known in the West and as such always makes a novel appearance at the table.

What is a Tagine?

A tagine when compared to Western foods is most similar to that of a stew however, whilst the cooking principal is similar to that of a Western stew, the tagine is a much sweeter affair.

moroccan chicken tagine
Tagine is most similar to a stew in Western food – image by fitmencook.com

The tagine is named after the cooking vessel of the same name and is traditionally made of an earthenware construction.

The tagine is reflective of the landscape for which the dish originates in. The tagine devise its self has extremely good heat distribution and the conical shape helps to preserve moisture. As such the cooking device sees that the usage of both fuel and water are minimised, both key requirements of cooking within the harsh North African environment.

vegetable tagine recipe
Vegetable tagine – image by aimiafoods.com

Traditionally tagines are cooked on the embers of a fire for an extended period of time. Whilst this may be the traditional method, the tagine can be cooked in the home using the usual gas or electric hob. However, in order to achieve the best flavour one should still cook the dish slowly over an extended period of time.

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Traditionally tagines are cooked on the embers of a fire for a long time – image by wiktionary.com

In order to cook a tagine, one does not necessarily need to specifically use a traditional tagine. Whilst a tagine will add both aesthetic value and possibly lead to a better flavoured dish, a heavy based stew pot will yield adequate results to that of a traditional tagine.

Tagine Ingredients

The traditional North African tagine is a stew based around a central meat, usually lamb. In addition to the central meat, a tagine will usually contain a mixture of dried fruits such as prunes and apricots as well as spices including paprika and cinnamon.

Moroccan Lamb Apricot Tagine  scaled
Lamb and apricot tagine – image by grabfood.com

Whilst tagines are usually based around a central meat, vegetarian versions are easily adapted with the use of a mix of vegetables or the addition another central ingredient such as tofu or potatoes.

lamb tagine
Tagine with sweet potatoes – image by independent.co.uk

The selling point of tagine is that the dish does not require the finest ingredients in order to produce a dish of significant flavour. The tagine should be a way of using up cheaper cuts of meat and ingredients in the cupboard which are not necessarily of gourmet standard.

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