Before talking about this tasty North African Eggplant tajine, let’s learn more about this cuisine.
What is a tajine?
The word Tajine or Tagine refers to the pot and the stew. It is widely used in North African regions, but Morocco is the country that’s mostly known for it.
Some say the pot dates back to the ninth century when the nomads used it. It is made out of red clay and has a unique shape. The base is wide and shallow with a cone or a dome-shaped lid. The two pieces together form a portable oven that allowed the nomads to cook food wherever they were.
The dome-shaped lid allows the steam to condensate at the top and then drops back, basting the simmering ingredients with their juices.
The secret of cooking in clay pots
Clay pots, especially the unglazed ones, emit a unique aroma. Some people don’t like it, while others find it quite comforting. It is the smell of earth mixed with the delicate scent of various spices.
Clay cookware takes some time to heat up, and it takes even longer to cool down. The cooking process is low and slow and requires a low flame. Traditionally, they are put on charcoal beds and left alone to do their magic.
The magic of spices
When I started learning to cook tajines, I realized that each recipe calls for a different blend of spices. It all depends on the animal protein used and the seasonal vegetables going with it.
Some spices also go in pairs, and you can hardly find them used separately. Take the example of turmeric and ginger, the ultimate spice combo. They are mainly added to poultry recipes to mask the gamy taste of the bird, which many people find unpleasant.
While the robust spices, such as coriander and cumin, go with beef and lamb dishes. The warmth and earthiness of these two spices complement the taste of the red meats without any overwhelming.
When it comes to seafood, various spices and herbs are in use. Of course, depending on the region, one spice can be more dominant than the others. But they all agree on using garlic, cumin, and paprika to add flavor to the bland fish.
The following is a list of the spices you need to have in your cupboard to be able to make any tajine you wish.
- Paprika (hot, mild)
Morocco is well known for its preserved lemons. They are present in many tajine recipes. The acidity and the refreshing scent of lemons add an extra flavor to the dish.
The fruits are washed, dried then cut into four wedges held together on one end. Then coarse salt is generously put in between the four parts. The lemons then are packed tightly in a glass jar and kept undisturbed in a dark, cool place for four weeks, at the least.
The result is tender wedges of lemons that can turn into a paste when smashed. In addition, the Liquid extracted by the salt has a honey-like consistency. One wedge of this goodness is plenty to transform your dish into a silky refreshing deliciousness.
Down with fried eggplant
Giving up fried food was part of my journey to healthy eating. But unfortunately, that meant giving up fried eggplant, which seemed to be the only cooking method that made it taste good at the time.
I began experimenting to figure out a way to have an elegant eggplant without the oily guilt. The choice remained between grilling and steaming. Each cooking method worked great but with different recipes.
For the gratins, steamed eggplant was the right choice. The result is a creamy smooth texture hiding within the other layers. Grilling was the way to go for the tajines or stews since it allows the eggplant to keep its shape.
Think out of the box
If you do not like poultry, don’t hesitate to try it with Lamb or beef. But keep in mind that the cooking time will be longer.
You can also use meatballs, which you would season with the same spices used in the tajine.
Let’s get to it, shall we?
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/4 preserved lemon, chopped
- 1 lb skinless chicken thighs
- 1 cup chickpeas, precooked
- 1 tbsp pepper paste (or tomato paste)
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp ginger
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 lb potatoes, diced into bite-size pieces
- 3 eggplants, sliced into 1 inch- thick rounds
- 1/2 cup parsley, chopped
Grill the Eggplant
- Preheat the oven at 400F (200 C)
- Wash and slice the eggplants into 1inch thick slices. Sprinkle some salt over them and arrange them on a parchment- lined baking sheet.
- Put in the hot oven, and grill for 30 minutes.
Make the Tajine
- Add olive oil to the clay tajine, then the chopped onions, garlic, and chicken thighs.
- Turn on the heat on medium, and put the cover on. Let it come to a bubble.
- Once the onions start turning translucent add all the spices, parsley, and pepper paste.
- Add the chickpeas and one cup of water. Put back the cover and allow it to come to a simmer before reducing the heat to low.
- Let it cook for 20 minutes. In the meantime peel the potatoes and cut them into bite-size pieces. Then add them to the chickien and cover.
- Take the eggplant out of the oven, arrange it over the potatoes and chicken. Using a spoon try to pour some of the sauce over the eggplant. Cover and continue cooking for 15.
- You can use a heavy bottom pot instead of a clay tajine.
- Use tomato paste if you don’t have pepper paste.
- You can find Preserved lemons in specialty food stores.
- Instead of chicken, use beef or meatball, or keep it vegetarian.
- You can use any kind of meat in this tajine. It will, however, take longer to cook.
- If using meatballs, season them with the same spices used in the tajine.