18/05/2009

Meatball Tagine

Tagine is a North African dish of Berber origin (Tajin) named after the earthenware pot within which it is cooked and the mainstay of Moroccan cuisine.

Traditionally, the tagine is made from heavy clay and needs curing by soaking in water before first use - see: iTagine, the tops often decorated and glazed. Moden tagines often feature a cast iron base.

The shape of the lid is designed so as to return cooking steam back to the base of the dish and the weight keeping the dish sealed. Think of the tagine as an ancient pressure cooker.

Tagines combine meat, spices, vegetables, fruit and herb garnishes in a slow-simmering over the coals of an open fire ... or the cooker hob in our case. Cooked, the dish should be a deep, complex and warming meal brough to the table in the base, the lid removed and the heady, steamy aroma enjoyed as a precursor to the meal eaten from the base itself, or spooned over couscous on an individual plate.

Don your Fez, we're off to Casablanca ...


First, something to serve the dish over: the couscous. Again, of Berber origin (Seksu, meaning well rolled, formed and rounded), couscous is made from millet so not a lot of use to paleo people.

One obvious substitution is cauliflower couscous, finely grated and slightly dried in an oven before warming through in a dry frying pan.

So, to the tagine itself.

First, make the meatballs by placing a pound or more of lamb mince into a mixing bowl and adding in some spices - ground coriander and cumin, a little salt and maybe some white pepper. Squeeze the meat between your fingers a few times to ensure that the spices are combined and the meat is broken down a little. Form little meatballs about the size of large marbles.

Begin by browning the meatballs off in the tagine base with a little dripping or coconut oil, adding in a chopped onion to soften, some minced garlic and shaved fennel. Shaved? I do this with a vegetable peeler. Fennel adds in a subtle flavour which works in the background, rounding off all the other flavours.

Pour in a carton of chopped tomatoes and perhaps a little puree to thicken and compound the tomato flavours.

Slice some carrot and courgette and fold in.

Finally, add a good handful of olives.

Lid on ... low heat for a couple of hours, or more; timing is simply not an issue with a tagine, so just let it cook away happily.

Serve out over the cauliflower couscous and garnish with fresh coriander leaves and a further pinch of cumin.

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