I’ve always loved exotic hand-painted pottery from all parts of the world. There is something organic and artistic about pottery serving pieces that gets me excited every time I see them. They make all my food look beautiful and appetizing. My fetish for handmade pottery is how I came across this beautiful Moroccan pottery called tajine. Years ago when North African cuisine was first featured in the Williams-Sonoma California catalog I bought a Moroccan tajine pot from them. It is no surprise that I bought it because it is a gorgeous piece of hand painted pottery! What makes these North African pottery so unique and beautiful are their intricate hand-painted designs in vibrant colors and ethnic motifs. Tajines look like art pieces, each one different from the other, and each one a potter’s masterpiece. Very often among North African families tajines are collected as family heirlooms and passed down generation after generation.
Tajine. A beautiful hand painted serving piece.
After I bought my first tajine pot, for years I was hunting for a vegetarian tajine recipe but it was proving hard to find one, and not being familiar with North African cuisine at that time, I wasn’t able to improvise either. Rather than let the tajine sit as decorative pieces in the cabinet I started using them as serving bowls for a variety of vegetarian dishes. Anytime I wanted a beautiful serving bowl, I would use my beautiful tajine pots.
What is a tajine?
So what is so special about a tajine pottery? Tajines are native to the area of North Africa in countries such as Tunisia, Sudan and Morocco where tajine pots are used to cook meats and fish. A tajine is a North African clay cooking pot that consists of two parts; a base that looks like a shallow bowl, and a lid that is shaped like a cone. The cone shaped lid is designed to promote the return of steam and juices of the food being cooked back into the pot. This method of cooking is very useful in areas like North Africa where water is in limited supply because the cone-shaped lid helps trap steam and returns the liquid back into the dish, this way the cook doesn’t need to use much water. Think of tajine like a ceramic slow-cooker designed to cook vegetables and meats slowly into a tender stew.
Tajine the stew
The word tajine is often used interchangeably to describe the tajine pot and also the tajine dish that is being cooked in it. Most of us are familiar with the Moroccan tajine that is usually made with meat, poultry or fish that are slow cooked with vegetables, spices, and dried fruits. Moroccan tajine is unique in that they use a combination of sweet and savory ingredients in their tajine such as dried fruits like dates, apricots, plums, figs and raisins along with a variety of spices such as cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg, turmeric, saffron, paprika and chili. This sweet and savory combination of fruits, meats and vegetables is what gives the Moroccan tajine that unique sweet and savory exotic flavor.
A Moroccan Tajine Menu
A few years ago while watching Food Network, we came across a new Food Network star Melissa D’ Arabian. On that particular episode we were watching Melissa was making a Moroccan meal that consisted of a chicken tajine, side of glazed carrots, and couscous with dates. I taped the show and for the first time made a tajine but with my vegetarian substitutions. I didn’t add the chicken; instead I used chickpeas, and substituted chicken stock with vegetable broth. The rest of the ingredients I left the same which were mostly vegetables and dried fruits. To accompany my vegetarian tajine I made the glazed carrots and the couscous with dates just as Melissa had served on her program. The entire menu was a hit with the family!! In fact, I’ve made this vegetarian Moroccan menu a few times for dinner guests as well and it’s always well received! If you like the melding of sweet and savory flavors combined with Eastern spices try making a Moroccan tajine. This is one dish that screams EXOTIC.
Moroccan Tajine Menu
Vegetarian Moroccan Tajine
Couscous with dates
Store bought baklava
Vegetarian Moroccan Tajine
- 1 lb cubed butternut squash – about 4 cups or use pumpkin
- 1 carrot cut into cubes – about 1 cup
- 1 large bell pepper cut into cubes
- 5 garlic cloves finely crushed
- 1 onion finely chopped
- 2 15oz cans chickpeas or garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 15oz can crushed tomatoes in their own juices
- 1/2 cup black olives in brine, drained
- 1 tsp ginger paste
- 1 tsp saffron threads
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp cumin powder
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon powder or 1 stick of cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- 1 tsp paprika
- Chili powder if you like
- Dried fruits
- 4 dates pitted and cut lengthwise
- 2 dried apricots cut lengthwise
- 2 dried prunes cut lengthwise
- 2 dried figs cut lengthwise
- OR any combination of the above dried fruits – as much as you want
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
- Olive oil
- 1 bunch parsley finely chopped – as much as you like
- In a large pot heat 2 tbsp olive oil and sauté garlic and onions until tender. Add all the spices. Toast spices in oil for a 3-5 seconds. Add all the vegetables, garbanzo beans and dried fruits and mix-in. Add salt, 4-5 cups water or broth and cook vegetables covered for 20-30 minutes until vegetables are tender. Check periodically to make sure there are enough liquid to keep the vegetables moist and a stew like consistency. Add more broth or water if needed to keep the dish moist and saucy.
- After 20 minutes add the can of diced tomatoes in their juices and the brown sugar. Warm through for an additional 5 minutes until the tajine is hot and bubbly. Tajine is ready.
- Top with fresh chopped parsley and serve tajine with a side of couscous.