Coucou student and food journalist Nikkitha Bakshani shares her favorite recipes. Today, she explains how North African and French cuisine overlap and teaches you how to make a delicious vegetarian Tajine!
Tajine (or tagine), a sort-of-sweet-sort-of-spicy Moroccan stew, is named after the earthenware vessel it is cooked in, not its ingredients—which is why its ingredients can vary so much, from chicken to lamb to pigeon to chickpeas, which is the recipe I have for you today. (Sorry to dissapoint—I know you were craving pigeon, but sourcing it is harder than you’d think!) Tunisian tajine, on the other hand, is nothing like its Moroccan homonym; it’s more like a frittata or quiche.
“Contemporary French cuisine is what it is because of North African flavors.”
Besides having the same name, and being delicious, both foods come from countries France colonized. Tempting as it is to make a connection between stewy beef bourguignon and any kind of Moroccan tajine, the latter has been a part of North African cuisine way before French influence, in the 9th century. The vessel even makes a cameo in One Thousand and One Nights. But you could say Moroccan foods have definitely left their mark on French culture and vice versa. After all, legendary French ceramics brand Emile Henry sells six kinds of tajines. Yes, traditional French cuisine is very grand and very wonderful, but contemporary French cuisine is what it is because of North African flavors.
Listen, this upcoming recipe is not authentic tajine. This is tajine for the busy person’s soul (and stomach). You don’t need any fancy equipment—but you do need a fancy Moroccan spice mix called ras el hanout. I bought mine at Whole Foods. Could you DIY it at home? Probably, but it’s easier to just purchase at a store or online, because it has over twenty different spices, including rosebuds. You can add it to anything from leftover rice to fried eggs to caramelized onions, and call it Moroccan-inspired. This tajine tastes best with the heels of a baguette (or any other parts of any other bread), and is sweet at first but gradually opens up to the coriander/cumin/rosebuds/etc. And you can make it in less than an hour—even if you decide to roast squash to eat along with the stew, which I highly recommend; they taste like pommes frites.
I adapted this recipe from Alexandra Stafford’s recipe over at Food52. I swapped raisins for dates, because I don’t like raisins, but if you don’t mind them, use golden ones here. I simmered it all for about 15 more minutes. I added some spinach at the end to
use up wilting produce make it healthier, and added some chile flakes because I felt like it. You do you!
Chickpea Tajine with Roasted Delicata Squash Recipe
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for the squash
1 onion, thinly sliced (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon ras el hanout
1 teaspoon chile flakes
1/2 cup finely diced cilantro, plus more for sprinkling at the end
4 to 6 Roma (plum) or other tomatoes, finely diced (2 heaping cups)
2 handfuls spinach or kale (less or more, depending on your preference)
2 cans of chickpeas, drained (about 3 cups, if you’re cooking from scratch)
1/4 cup chopped dates (or golden raisins)
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
1 delicata squashed, halved lengthwise, seeded, and sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
Bread, for serving
1. If you are roasting squash, preheat the oven to 450° F. Prepare the squash for roasting: Cut the squash in half, and take out the soft inside parts with a spoon and toss. Lay the squash skin-side down and make cuts about 1/2-inch apart through the entire thing, so the resulting pieces look like half-moons. Rub some oil over a rimmed sheet pan. Spread squash over sheet pan and drizzle with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil; season very generously with salt. Toss to coat, then spread back into a single layer. Don’t put it in the oven yet, but keep it ready.
2. Heat the oil in a stock pot or large skillet over medium-high heat. When it shimmers, add the onion and turn the heat down to medium. Season the onion with salt. Cook until the onion softens, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Make sure the onion doesn’t brown.
3. Add the minced garlic and cook for one more minute. Add the ras el hanout and cook for another minute. Add the cilantro and cook for another minute. Add the tomatoes, season with lots of salt and the chile flakes, and stir. Cook for another minute, then add the chickpeas, dates/raisins, vinegar, and chickpeas. Bring it to a simmer or a low heat, enough so that the top of the stew should be bubbling just a little. Cook it that way for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Check on it after 30 minutes, and add your greens. If the stew reduces too much, add 1/4-cup of water.
4. While that’s doing its thing, put the squash in the oven and roast for 20-25 minutes. The underside should be golden. When you feel it’s golden enough, turn the oven heat up to a broil for about 2 minutes, until the top is golden too. Set aside.
5. Taste the mixture, and add salt to taste. If you feel it needs more spice, add chile flakes or any other spice you prefer. It might look a little watery, but don’t worry, it will thicken as it cools. Dip a wooden or metal spoon into the stew around 35-40 minutes; if it lightly coats the spoon in a film, it’s done. Serve in bowls with bread and roasted squash.