Tajine is a way of cooking that gets its name from the earthenware utensil used to cook it. This style of cooking is popular in northern Africa, especially Morocco and you will be able to find recipes online for various Moroccan tajine dishes, with or without meat.
If you have ever had dum-cooked food, like biryani, then you can, almost, equate tajine to that. The vessel used for dum cooking is sealed using dough so that there is no loss of steam and the food cooks slowly in its own moisture. Similarly, in this process too, the ingredients cook together at a low temperature for a long time, except that no effort is made to seal the tajine. At least I haven’t come across one that does, but that’s a thought.
It is interesting to note that the process of dum-cooking is associated with Mughlai food, which is heavily influenced by Persian and central Asian cuisine since the Mughals did move around those areas before making India their home. It wouldn’t be a stretch to think that maybe both these methods are linked.
This is what my tajine looks like. It was a gift from my husband’s maternal aunt. She and her husband are food connoisseurs, forever ready for a culinary adventure. Thanks to them I not only have a tajine but have used it extensively.
The great thing about tajine cooking is that it is a one pot meal that needs little attention. Put in the ingredients, turn on the heat and forget about it for at least an hour. And, it can be really low-fat, great for those watching their calories. Plus this stew makes for a great communal dinner. Place it in the center of the table, hand everyone a naan or chapati or whichever bread you love and dig in, get your hands dirty!
Here’s how to get started with your Tajine (Tagine)
Preparation: 1 hour active, 30 minutes prep and overnight marination & soaking.
Serves: 2-4 persons.
For this recipe I marinated the chicken in a marinade of yogurt and spices. This would be great done overnight but even a half hour soak works well. The spices added to the marinade are all the seasoning you need. You can adjust it later if anything is wanting. Similarly, soak the chickpeas overnight or soak them at least for half an hour in boiling water. And if you absolutely do not have time to do any prep then give them a spin in the microwave or boil them in ample water on the stove. The reason this is recommended is that it reduces the cooking time in the tajine and gives you chickpeas that are well done. Chicken doesn’t take very long to be cooked through. A tajine with ingredients at different stages of cooking is an out of sync tajine – all ingredients go in at the start.
- 5 chicken drumsticks (1 pack, approximately 1.5 pounds),
- 1/4 cup chickpeas~ washed and soaked,
- 1 or 2 small potatoes, washed and cubed (optional),
- 1 red onion, sliced,
- 3-5 cloves of garlic, crushed and sliced,
- 1 inch piece of ginger, roughly chopped (optional),
- 1 tbsp oil,
- 1/2 tsp cumin seeds,
- 1/2 – 3/4 cup water
Marinade for chicken:
- 1/2 cup plain low-fat/non fat yogurt,
- 1 tsp turmeric powder
- 1 tsp salt,
- 1 tsp pepper,
- 1/2 tsp red chilli powder,
- 1/2 tsp coriander powder.
First, in a large bowl mix together all the ingredients for the marinade. Then, wash and pat the chicken dry and it to the mix. Coat the chicken well, you can also poke a few holes with a fork. This helps in the absorption of the marinade.
I used drumsticks since they are easy to place alternatingly in the base of the tajine. But feel free to use any cut of meat. Also, if you do not have a tajine then use a heavy bottomed pan with a heavy lid that seals properly.
While the chicken is marinating, start prepping the vegetables. The onion should be sliced, not very thin. Garlic can be sliced long or chopped roughly. Same for ginger. Sometime I put in a few cubed potatoes. But the first time, keep it simple.
Once the prep is complete, put the tajine on the stove at low heat. Tajines are typically cooked on hot coal, which give consistent but low heat. To mimic that you should start at low heat and raise the temperature somewhere between low and medium. Do not ever go to high! Another way of doing this is to use the oven. But I need to figure out a temperature to tell you for sure.
Add oil to the tajine base or pot that you are using. Let it heat up for a few minutes. Add cumin seeds and once they are sputtering, throw in the garlic. This recipe is influenced by my Indian roots and will differ from others out there especially since I do not use any citrus or sweet elements. Moroccan food makes use of dry fruits, nuts and raisins, the whole gamut along with citrus fruits.
Next start layering the rest of the ingredients. Begin with spreading out half of the sliced onion.
Top this with the marinated chicken. Then add all the chickpeas. If you heated them, reserve that water for the tajine. Finish with another layer of onions. This process of layering is reminiscent of a recipe my grandmother makes in the pressure cooker. I will share that some day!
Before you cover the tajine with its conical lid, add 1/2 to 3/4 cup of water, use the reserve from boiling the chickpeas if you did that. The key point is to estimate if the lid can sit comfortably without the liquid spilling over. Ideally, the water should only reach until the innermost edge of the base.
That’s it, cover it and leave at low medium heat for about an hour. Then come back and check. If the meat is falling off the bones, your tajine is ready.
All you need is some bread and friends to break it with!