Ingredients for Vegetable Tagine
2 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, chopped
½ tsp each ground cinnamon,
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp coriander
2 large courgettes, cut into chunks - they need to be chunky, so that when cooking they don't go mushy
1 red or yellow capsican pepper
400g tin of good chopped tomatoes
400g can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
6 tbsp raisins (need the sweetness to compliment the spices)
400ml vegetable stock
300g frozen peas (optional)
Big bunch of roughly chopped coriander, to serve
Ingredients for Sweet Potato Mash
4 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
2 tbsp tahini paste
3-4 tbsp olive oil
I'm not a big couscous fan, so tend to use sweet potatoes or a lovely harissa, scallion rice dish as a substitute for traditional couscous dishes. Obviously, if you want couscous, follow the suggested instructions on the packet.
To start, as always, try to get everything you need out onto your work surface and similar to all the cookery shows, start the chopping process. Having all you ingredients chopped in front of you helps you create different shapes which are pleasing to the eye and the overall cooked dish. Also, having all the right weights and measure of ingredients to hand ensures there is no sudden 'oh pants, I've forgotten an ingredient' moment. And one last note on being prepared, this dish is really so simple that you really only need a few minutes between the adding of ingredients.
Firstly, you want to get the chopped sweet potatoes into a pan of cold salted water, put the lid on and bring to the boil. Cook these until you can easily push a kitchen knife through them. It should take 8-10 minutes depending on how small you have cubed the pieces. Whilst these are cooking, you can get on with the main show piece.
Get a nice thick bottomed pan out, one that is fairly large and pour in a few glugs of olive oil (if you don't have any, find an oil with a not too overpowering flavour; vegetable oil doesn't add much to the dish), and let that get warm in the bottom of the pan. Now throw in your neatly diced onions and let them cook on a low heat, sweating them for 5 minutes. I do like to use a cartouche at this point as it helps with the process and speeds it up a little but it is not an essential part of the cooking process. Once your onions are easy to cut in half when you press down on them with a wooden spoon, you know you're cooking on gas and you can get motoring. Add the finely chopped garlic (if you don't want to make a garlic cream or find it hard to chop so small, then use one of the pre-chopped garlic products from your supermarket), and stir into the onions. You will be able to smell the garlic releasing it's lovely scent almost immediately which is a good sign it's cooking; now add those lovely spices. At this point it is important to keep stirring, you really mustn't burn the spices, stir occasionally but keep the heat down and let the flavours combine.
After you have cooked the spices (and garlic) through, the onion paste will be a brownish colour. Do not be concerned by this, add your pepper, courgettes and chick peas and stir gently. Try not to bash the courgettes when you stir, as you need them to hold their form but you also want them to start sucking up the lovely spices/oils/flavours. Stir until all your ingredients are well coated in the spice mixture. This will take all of about 2-3 minutes and your courgettes will be softening.
Whilst the courgettes are softening, return to your sweet potatoes, they should be ready by now. Drain them well, put back in the pan and back on the heat without a lid and cook for 1 minute. This just helps to get the excess water to steam out of them. Turn the heat off and let the sweet potato cool (no more signs of steam) and put the lid back on to keep them warm.
At this point, it's time to get your stock (homemade vegetarian stock is super easy or purchase a low-salt stock cube) and tomatoes ready. You should pour in the tomatoes first, stir, making sure that you get all the spices on the bottom and in the corner of the pan incorporated. The mixture will now be fairly thick and bulky but not really 'taginey' (another technical term), add your stock until the vegetables are almost covered. Don't add too much vegetable stock but don't worry if you do, as you can reduce the liquid later.
Now, to add the kicker ingredient - the raisins - you need these to add that level of sweetness that a tagine should have. Personally I like raisins so tend to be overly generous but add the six tablespoons suggested, cover the pan with a lid and leave to cook on a low heat for 6-8minutes.
Time to taste ... an essential part. All the flavours should be incorporated now - so with a clean spoon (no double dipping please), taste the sauce, it will seem quite thin in flavour at first but really what you are establishing is that you have the right combination for your palate of spices vs. sweetness. This is where you can play around a little but for first time making, I'd stick with the suggested recipe as it does work.
Only another 5-6 minutes to go - bring to the boil and let the juices thicken by simmering the liquid so that it reduces in consistency. Back to the sweet potatoes, these should still be warm, so mash them with a potato masher or use a potato ricer if you prefer. Add two tablespoons of olive oil and one tablespoon of tahini to the mash and mix well. The tahini adds a lovely nutty depth to the mashed sweet potato, so taste - add seasoning if you feel the need - taste again. If you want a stronger nutty taste, add the second tablespoon of tahini and similarly, if you want or need a more creamy consistency, add more olive oil.
Time to plate up, make sure that you sprinkle generous amounts of fresh chopped coriander over the Tagine. Or as I did, let the Tagine cool down, put in the fridge over night and eat for lunch over the coming week - it holds perfectly, is easy to reheat, as well as being packed with great slow releasing energy.
I did cook the sweet potato tahini mash but the family was slightly piggy and ate all of it before I could get a photo. So instead, below are pictures of the dish plated up with some simple scallions and harissa rice which is equally delish. Maybe you too can make a decision to be more of a 'Flexitarian' with your eating habits, although Lord knows why we need to have a name for someone who isn't vegetarian but eats several vegetarian meals a week. Perhaps I just shouldn't have mentioned the word in the first place!