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SIMPLE AND EXOTIC FROM NORTHERN AFRICA

I’ve used the word simple in the title of this post because the food that I would like to share with you here is so easy to prepare and yet so unbelievably delicious. Herbs and spices mingle together with meats and vegetables to form a thick stew to which few others compare. The long slow-cooking and natural smoky wood flavours that are imparted into the North African clay cooking vessel I used here make for a dish that is incredibly moist, succulent and very flavourful. The Fornetto was perfect for achieving this with my tajine!

The Tajine, also spelled Tagine, is a traditional Berber meal cooked in an earthenware dish, also known as a tajine, found in most of Northern Africa. Moroccan tajines, like the one I’d like to share with you here are long, slow-cooked stews often with sweet, sour and spicy flavours mixing together as if by magic. I use the word magic because once the lid goes on and the tajine hits the heat, it isn’t opened or stirred at all until it’s served!

The amazing North African Tajine. What an incredible experience with it in the Fornetto!

The amazing North African Tajine. What an incredible experience with it in the Fornetto!

Leg of lamb tajine with merguez sausage and vegetables cooked to perfection in the Fornetto.

Leg of lamb tajine with merguez sausage and vegetables cooked to perfection in the Fornetto.

As Berbers are a nomadic tribe indigenous to the North of Africa, the tajine not only serves as the cooking vessel but doubles as the serving dish. As cutlery isn’t normally used, flatbread is always served and is what is used to scoop up the stew. A tajine is traditionally made of natural clay and may be glazed or not. It is comprised of a shallow dish with low sides that’s used to hold the stew and a conical or domed cover designed to return much of the condensation created on the wall of the lid back to the stew while cooking. This is of great importance in places where water is at a premium, such as in the Berbers’ native Sahara desert. Though they can be used in a slow-oven or over gas or electric burners with the use of a heat diffuser, tajines are meant to sit above coals and therefore become infused with smoky flavour, making the Fornetto the perfect option for tajine cooking. Here are some simple steps to follow:

Step 1. Oil the bottom of the tajine with extra virgin olive oil Step 2. Cover the bottom with chopped onions and aromatic herbs

Step 1. Oil the bottom of the tajine with extra virgin olive oil                                                                                                                  Step 2. Cover the bottom with chopped onions and aromatic herbs

Step 3. Form a layer of vegetables over the chopped onions and herbs.

Step 3. Form a layer of vegetables over the chopped onions and herbs.

Step 4. Form a layer of sliced potatoes over the previously placed vegetables. Step 5. Begin placing the first type of meat over the potato, trying to stay as symmetrical as possible for even flavour distribution.

Step 4. Form a layer of sliced potatoes over the previously placed vegetables.
Step 5. Begin placing the first type of meat over the potato, trying to stay as symmetrical as possible for even flavour distribution.

Step 6. Proceed by placing lamb, beef, chicken, or fish that has been marinated previously to cover most of the surface. Step 7. Prepare the stewing liquid and pour over the entire contents of the tajine.

Step 6. Proceed by placing lamb, beef, chicken, or fish that has been marinated previously to cover most of the surface.
Step 7. Prepare the stewing liquid and pour over the entire contents of the tajine.

Step 8. Cover and slow cook for a minimum of one and a half hours.

Step 8. Cover and slow cook for a minimum of one and a half hours.

Click on the image for the full tajine recipe and the method!

Click on the image for the full tajine recipe and the method!

The cuisine of Morocco boasts a large variety of flavours such as cumin, coriander, ginger, garlic, saffron, cinnamon and cloves. These all mix perfectly and complement meat, such as lamb and beef as well as poultry and seafood. Robust vegetables, most notably potatoes, carrots, pumpkin, zucchini, squash, beans and peas come to tender perfection with the slow cooking in the tajine, not to mention how meat literally falls off the bone. Olives and dried fruit such as raisins, dates and prunes also mingle well with the robust flavours a tajine has to offer. Harisa, a common and very spicy condiment, spices up any stew while couscous, a simple buttered pasta, helps soak up the juice and cleanses the palate.

As I’ve mentionned, flatbread (click HERE for our Fornetto flat-bread recipe) is used instead of cutlery and is a huge hit with kids. There’s something to be said about sitting around a large stew with everyone sharing from the same dish; it tends to bring everyone closer together, children and adults alike. I’m doubtful that it was the original intention however, eating from a common dish continues to maintain the family meal time in Morocco, a custom going back centuries.

Couscous with butter and chickpeas prepared with ease in the Fornetto stew pot. A required side to a flavourful Moroccan stew. Click on the photograph for the recipe!

Couscous with butter and chickpeas prepared with ease in the Fornetto stew pot. A required side to a flavourful Moroccan stew. Click on the photograph for the recipe!

Warm and cold salads are also very popular in Morocco and often precede the main course. Zaalouk, an eggplant and tomato mixture and Taktouka, a green pepper, tomato, garlic and mixed-spice salad are both very popular examples however, I’ve decided to share one of my favourites from Levantine cuisine…….the very popular Tabouleh, a fresh mix of parsley, tomato, lemon and cracked bulgur wheat; a great accompaniment to any tajine.

Tabouleh; refreshing parsley and bulgur salad with tomato, onion and lemon. Click on the picture for the recipe!

Tabouleh; refreshing parsley and bulgur salad with tomato, onion and lemon. Click on the picture for the recipe!

You’re in for a treat. Enjoy!

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