What’s the first word that comes to mind when I think about the food of Northern Africa and the Middle East? Colorful! The array of fragrant, exotic spices found in their open-air markets are used in abundance in native dishes and have become a trademark of their cuisines. Warming spices of turmeric, saffron, paprika, cinnamon, coriander and cumin are widely used in the aforementioned regions, and they create a harmonious experience for the eyes, nose and palate. Poultry, lamb, beef and goat are also staple proteins to the Arab diet and are often accompanied by rice and sometimes couscous. Replicating the cuisine from this part of the globe isn’t difficult at all and doesn’t require a trip to an exotic grocer — most ingredients can be easily found in the spice and World Flavors aisles at your local grocery store.
Now I’m sure a “tagine” (or “tajin”) may sound fancy and complicated to some, but it is simply a type of dish from North Africa. It gets its name from the cone-shaped clay pot with detachable base in which it is traditionally cooked and served in. For this recipe, a proper tagine pot isn’t required — a cast iron or heavy-bottomed pot with a lid will do just fine.
The following recipe for chicken tagine hails from Morocco, but the ingredients are commonly found in most cuisines from North Africa to the Arabian Peninsula. It gets its bright yellow color from the addition of turmeric. Substituting beef or lamb for the chicken will work just fine, and feel free to play with different spices if you so choose — add a dash of cumin or coriander to the braising liquid, or even a pinch of saffron.
Traditionally, tagines are served with couscous: tiny pellets made from semolina flour (the same ingredient in traditional pasta) that are cooked by pouring boiling water over them and then allowed to steam for about 15 minutes. The couscous soaks up the lemony olive sauce, making it an ideal base for serving.
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