Besides couscous, North African cuisine is, perhaps, best known for fragrant tagines seasoned with an array of spices, fruits and nuts. For the most part tagines with heavy sauces are actually special occasion dishes. They are for special guests, holidays, and tourists. Who can eat like that on a daily basis? You would gain too much weight and the heaviness would become monotonous after awhile.
Last year I taught an Algerian cooking class to a mixed group of home cooks and culinary school graduates. As my regular readers know, I rarely get fixated on special equipment for tagine cooking. However, there are a few tagine recipes that showcase the benefits of cooking in clay or flameware with results that are difficult to duplicate in aluminum or stainless steel.
This is a very simple recipe with a short list of ingredients. The result is a beef or lamb stew with North African attitude. Total comfort food. Serve with bread, simple salad, harissa on the side, and grilled or roasted vegetables.
2 lbs of beef or lamb stew meat cut into 2 1/2 inch cubes
1 large sweet onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup tomato concassé or good quality canned tomatoes (I like Pomi brand)
1 tablespoon tagine spices (4 parts ground cumin, 2 parts ground coriander, 1 part ground turmeric)
Salt and peper to taste
Harissa or cayenne to taste
Combine all the ingredients in a tagine. Place tagine on stove top, turn up heat to medium. When the tagine starts to bubble, reduce heat to a low simmer.
Cooking time will vary depending on the cut of meat*, 2 hours. Check the tagine every 30 minutes or so, add a little water and stir if the sauce is reducing too much.
When the meat is done, the onions will have melted into the sauce and tomatoes will be barely discernible. The sauce should be a thick gravy with a hint of earthy spices. This "throw it all in one pot" method does not work with any other type of cooking vessel for this dish.
This is one of the features of North African cooking: common ingredients transformed into familliar but distinctive dishes by varying cooking techniques, ratio of ingredients and cooking times.