Sunday, January 16, 2011
Meandering in Marrakesh
In the last few years I've developed a fascination with Morocco. To me, it's a mystic, far-off place filled with rich colours, sounds, spices and of course, food. On my list of places I need to visit, it ranks pretty close to the top.
I've also recently discovered a love for the spicy, savoury yet surprisingly sweet flavours of Moroccan food, l and have been struck with the urge to test out some Moroccan dishes in my own kitchen. There's just one problem: I don't own a tagine. For those of you who are unfamiliar, a tagine is a method of cooking and also a cooking dish extremely common in Morocco. It's a shallow pot with a cone shaped lid made from terra cotta that both simmers and steams food...the tall cone shaped lid allowing for condensation to collect and then drip back down into the dish, ensuring that a meal cooked in it will always be juicy. It's a great "one-pot-meal" type of cooking.
Of course, I could easily add a tagine to my growing collection of kitchen gadgets, but I kind of have this rule about what I bring into my already way-too-small-for-a-serious-cook kitchen: if it only serves one purpose and can't be used everyday, I don't own it. I'm not a fan of single-purpose gadgets or equipment. I just don't have the space for them. Maybe someday in my dream kitchen...but right now, space is at a premium, so I rely on things like my food processor or stand mixer that get a workout multiple times a week. A tagine, as lovely as it would be, just wouldn't be practical right now. Sure - one could to argue that my coffee maker is only a single-purpose gadget, and that's true - but it performs a function in my kitchen on a daily basis (sometimes multiple times a day) and that's a function I cannot live without (really...you don't want to know me before I've had some caffeine).
So I was elated to stumble across this recipe for Marrakesh stew that didn't require a tagine, but just a dutch oven or heavy pot - something we all have in our kitchens. And of course, I had a fridge full of vegetables that needed to be eaten, so I gave this a try. It's the perfect "make ahead" meal (it will freeze well for up to three months) and it's rich and satisfying and perfect for the bitterly cold and snowy weather we're having in Toronto right now. Perhaps the best thing about this stew is that anything goes - you can swap out any of the vegetables in it for others, or add them all. I'm already thinking that the next version of this stew will need some cauliflower and zucchini thrown in for kicks...and colour.
So, until the day comes that I find myself walking through the spice market in Marrakesh, absorbing the sights, smells and culture of the Moroccan people, I at least have my stew...and some extra counter space.
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 large red onion diced into large chunks
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 to 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (depending on how much heat you like)
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
4 large carrots cut into 1-inch pieces
2 russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 small butternut squash, peeled and cut into one inch pieces
coarse salt and pepper to taste
1 can of diced tomatoes
3 3/4 cups low sodium vegetable broth (or chicken broth if you're not concerned about keeping this one vegetarian)
2 small eggplants, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1. In an 8-quart dutch oven or heavy pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cayenne and allspice and cook until fragrant, 1 minute. Add carrots, potatoes and squash and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to brown, 5 minutes.
2. Add tomatoes and broth (vegetables should be completely covered by liquid; add water to cover if necessary). Season with salt and pepper again and bring to a gentle simmer and cook uncovered for 20 minutes.
3. Add eggplant, stir to combine and simmer until eggplant is tender, another 20 minutes. Stir in chickpeas, season to taste with slat and pepper and cook until chickpeas are warmed through, 5 minutes. Serve with couscous or rice.
(to store, let cool then refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 1 week or freeze for up to 3 months)