Monday, 21 April 2014

Cooking tagines the Moroccan way

Today I thought I'll share with you some important points about the famous Moroccan tagine (or tajine) and the general rules one needs to know. A lot has be written about it and so many recipes are out there claiming to be authentic and from famous Chefs. I developped a serious allergy towards some of them who seriously confuse Moroccan tagine with curries (I love these too, but when they're done properly). 

On the other hand, you will find some serious publications In English as well as blog posts about authentic Moroccan cooking.  This is one of them.

So let's start..

What is a tagine?
Tagine is named after the pot it is cooked in. It usually have a rounded base and a conic top. The authentic version is made of clay. As a Moroccan, I do not use any other version because they just do not suit me.

What are the types of tagines we find in Morocco?

The only cooking tagine is big clay one bottom right.

·  We have painted tagines, which are ornamental or used to present the dish after it has cooked, or sweets or salads.

·   We have glazed tagines. Some of them are ok to use for cooking because they’re lead-free but some others might not. So you need to know what you’re buying. Thankfully, the country is going towards a lead-free option across the board.

·   We have the Moroccan-favourite version and certainly the most authentic one: the unglazed tagine. This one is by far our nationwide favourite because it adds a certain “je-ne-sais-quoi” to the dish, especially if it’s cooked over charcoal or wood. The thing with the unglazed tagine is that you have to feed it/cure it/season it first before cooking in it: It should be soaked in water for 24 hours, then dried and finally the interior should be rubbed with oil then placed in a hot oven to bake for at least 1 hour at 160 degrees C. It's good to know that tagines of this sort age with time and with cooking. It just makes the food taste better.
Glazed tagines at the back and unglazed version at the front, both good for cooking

Is there a vegetarian tagine recipe?
Of course. Have your ever tried poached eggs in Tomatoes, a sort of Huevo rancheros Moroccan-style? If you are vegan you won’t be forgotten, , you just omit the meat in the recipes.

What goes into a tagine?
Any meat, any vegetable.

What is the most common spice combination used in tagines

Before getting there, you need to know that we are a nation who likes combining sweet and savoury in a dish. Not Asian-style sweet and sour but SWEET and SALTY. So you might encounter many recipes with a relatively savoury sauce/marqa but topped with a confit or caramalized topping such as pumpkin, quince, dried prunes or apricots or figs, sultanas, aubergines…

We also eat a lots of vegetables. Althought people in urban areas use freezers to keep that agricultural bounty for a longer period, the rural areas do not have this option, they just follow the seasonality. The tagines follow the same logic.
The best seasonal tagines are the ones with green onions, petits pois (green peas), normal and wild artichokes, fennel, fava/broad beans, cardoons, quince, cooking apples, guernina (thistle), mallow…
As a general rule, let’s divide the types of tagines into 4 categories:
1- tagines with sweet topping: the usual spices are: Salt, pepper (white), turmeric, ground ginger, saffron threads (optional but definitely makes a difference), cinnamon stick, a bouquet of coriander or/and parsley. 
A touch of sweetness can be added to the broth/sauce/marqa by adding honey or sugar which actually enhance the savoury side of it. The topping will be handled separately depending on the recipe but it will usually involve cinnamon, sugar, orange blossom water, maybe gum Arabic and some butter or olive oil. In some region caraway seeds might also be added. The sweet version of Ras el hanout can also be added.

Sweet topping made of tomatoes, more like a sort of tomato jam Moroccan style
A nation's favourite, the plum and apricot stew/tagine

2- Tagines 100% savoury, no dried fruits nor fish involved.
The previous mix will be used but without cinnamon. We do add garlic and paprika in some cases especially if the dish has tomatoes in it. Note that we usually do not add cinnamon in this version. I have tried one vegetable tagine with a cinnamon stick (a regional version) in it and it did not taste bad. This choice has to do with the nature of the vegetables cooked in it (potatoes, carrots and green peas, hence sweet vegetables). 

A seasonal vegetable tagine just put over hot charcoal to simmer.
Most of these tagines will have preserved lemon, green or purple olives added to them a few minutes before serving.

3-Tagines involving fish: they are just about like any savoury version but we like to add cumin, tomato concentrate and harissa to the mix. Usually but not always, fish tagines have a chermoula combination where the fish would have marinated beforehand.

A vegetable tagine with prawns

4-Tagines with ground meat (kefta) Salt, pepper (white/black), turmeric, ground ginger, a bouquet of coriander or/and parsley, paprika, garlic. Cinnamon and cumin. Mint leaves may be added while grinding the meat. This is actually the only version of tagine where the two spices meet and make a great combination (which beats any stereotyped recipe about Moroccan cooking where we tend to see the 2 spices constantly used)

In this tagine, although dried fruits have been used, they were cooked in the sauce as opposed to caramelized and added later on. It's a regional dish: this combination can be found in the South of Morocco

Note on spices

Depending on the region and the seasons, some spices such as mace or caraway might be added especially to tagines with sweet toppings. Some herbs are aslo added especially during winter season. Wild thyme, rosemary, sage, marjoram can be found in some tagine (and soups) while Ras el hanout is used in special occasions and not on a daily basis.

What you won't see in a tagine or served with tagine
  • A combination of dried fruits, tomato sauce, cinnamon and cumin
  • A daily use of ras el hanout in a tagine
  • A tagine or any Moroccan stew automatically served with couscous (because couscous is a dish on its own and we usually serve it on its own topped with its own stew). We serve bread with tagines, we are a bread nation.
  • Porc or alcohol are not ingredients we find in Moroccan cooking.

Which oil for which tagine?

We usually start with a combination of vegetable oil and olive oil to sear the meat and cook the onions. We add about a tablespoon of olive oil just a couple of minutes before the cooking process is finished.

Some dishes require the use of a little bit of smen. a cured and aged clarified butter especially in the very beginning of the cooking. I like to take a small teaspoon of smen and massage chicken or meat with it just before placing it in the tagine.

In the South, Argan oil is a big deal and it's easily found. A tagine with argan oil is something to try at least once in your lifetime.

A note about Moroccan olive oil: we love our olive oil to be dense and intense in flavour. You will always meet Moroccans abroad complaining about the quality of olive oil found abroad (including me). The supermarket stuff does not give justice to the Tagine, aim for an unfiltered cold pressed extra virgin olive oil to get as close as it can get to a Moroccan olive oil.

So, not only spices and herb are important to season a tagine, but the quality of fat used to cook it and the moment it' been added.

How to build up a recipe cooked in a tagine

We usually start by heating a tiny bit of oil (ideally a mix of vegetable and olive oil). The choice here is either add the finely chopped onion first or the meat (chicken or red meat) and sear it. I tend to sear the meat then add the chopped onions.

It is usually a good thing to marinate the meat with oil and spices a couple of hours before searing it.

Now the cooking time depends on which meat will be used. Chicken does not need a long time, unlike meat. So we can top the chicken with vegetable at the same time, seal the tagine and cook it.

Some cuts or red meat takes more time than others which means that the meat has to cook first, then the vegetables will be added later. We carry on cooking until everything is tender.

Season the vegetables and set aside

Sear the meat and onions over hot charcoal.

Build up the layers on the top of the meat. We usually start by the vegetables needing more time to cook and we build up the pyramid of veg all the way to the top

Another tagine with vegetables

If the tagine will have a sweet topping, usually this will be cooked separately then added once the meat has become tender. This tagine will not need further cooking and will have to be consumed right there.

Fish tagines or “boulettes” tagines need another treatment. The fish or “boulettes” are placed within the vegetables or at the top because they do not need a long time to cook. Some fish or shellfish can even be added in the last 15 minutes of cooking.

I don’t like red meat, can I use chicken instead?
It’s actually my case, yes you can substitute one with the other although some recipes come out better with lamb or beef rather than chicken and vice versa.
Do all Moroccan cook in a tagine?
Absolutely not! But then if the dish is not cooked in a tagine it shouldn't be called so. 
While the rural areas and women who are not bound by an 8 hours job can still cook their daily meal using a tagine over a kanoun, the working women in urban areas use a pressure cooker and have been using it for at least 40 years.
A seasonal dish cooked in a pressure cooker

Cooking in a tagine means that you have time to cook the food slowly and considering our mothers had to go to work, the pressure cooker was the only option they had to cook the same recipes faster. We lost in flavour but then when the weekend is around, we compensate.

Quail or baby chicken with poached and caramelized pears Moroccan style
Now some family are so hooked to the tagine that they still cook it over a stove using a diffuser (no kanoun or brasero especially if there is no open space). Our working women go 2 ways here:
  • ·    The hybrid tagine: cook the meat in a pressure cooker in the morning, come back at lunch time, transfer the meat and the sauce into a tagine, top it with the seasoned vegetable (s) of the day and finish off the cooking.
  • ·     Cook it all in a tagine from scratch but then you would rather use chicken or fish since this will go faster. 

So please have a look at some recipes in the blog, you will find very authentic recipes to get you started (cooked as a stew or in a tagine). You might as well like my facebook page to see what goes in my kitchen. You'll be able to develop a clear idea about different daily tagines one can easly cook for one person or even a whole family. The bonus is that you will be cooking healthy without even trying hard..

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Butterless and flourless chocolate fondant. I'd say it's the ultimate recipe

I loved everything about this cake: it's rich without butter in it. It tastes chocolate so it's a good fix for chocoholics.  It's easy to make. It's freezable. You could substitute sugar with a healthier option and make it even lighter.

I was thinking maybe this cake shouldn't be called fondant since it seems like a cross between a crustless cheesecake and a hard mousse: There is some indulging creaminess to it, especially if it's served 20 min after getting it out of the fridge. Then I reconsidered it: since it melts in your mouth, then it is a fondant.

Served on a bed of a good vanilla crème anglaise, It's just the perfect dessert.

All credit for this recipe goes to Garence from Talon haut & cacao. The blog is amazing and thismy 3rd recipe from the same source. It's in French.

For 8/9 '' square tin (ideally)/Serves 6 to 8 people
Prep: 20 min - baking : 25 min

  • 250g ricotta, at room temperature
  • 4 eggs at room temperature
  • 80g sugar 
  • 25g cornflour 
  • 10 g of good cocoa powder (100%)
  • 80 g of applesauce with no sugar added (I used St Dalfour orange and ginger marmalade) 
  • 180 g dark chocolate (60%), melted 
  • 40 ml of oil (eg grapeseed) 
  • 1 pinch of sea salt 


Preheat oven to 180 ° c. Cover the tin with baking paper or butter it.

Whisk the eggs with the sugar to combine. Add the applesauce/marmalade and ricotta, whisk again until the mixture is smooth.

Stir in the cornstarch, cocoa and salt. Then fold in the melted chocolate (warm is ok) followed by oil.

Pour into the tin. tap it twice against the work surface to get rid of air bubbles and bake for 20 -25 minutes. Knock off the oven while the foudant is still inside. Leave it for 10 minutes.

How do you know wether this fondant has been baked or not: Once the top is not glossy anymore and look rather "compact", then it's ready.

Transfer the fondant to a work surface. Unmold once completely cool. Leave it in the fridge for at least 6 hours. I used an small entremet-circle to cut individual servings..

Serve at room temperature over a bed of vanilla crème anglaise, with a dollup of whipped cream.

Like Garence mentioned, I also found that this dessert is best served the next day...

Version française de la recette

Je vous prie de vous rendre a la page de Garence, Talent haut & cacao pour la recette en Français...

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Moroccan almond, walnut and raisins Ghrouiba - A gluten-free recipe

Ghrouiba is a sort of round-shaped cookie which is usually compared to macaroons. They come in different varieties and range from soft to shortbread-like in term of texture.

Ghrouiba, ghreybah, ghorayeba, ghriyeba all refer to the concept of that roud-shaped cookie accross the Arab world but the recipes are so different from Morocco all the way to Lebanon.

In Morocco, we have wide array of Ghrouibas, which by the way can be gluten-free. Please check other recipes which I have posted before under "Sweet Moroccan biscuits and co". Although it's a small samplw of what Moroccan baking has to offer but It just happens that these are my favourite.

Today, we'll be talking about a Ghrouiba that could become your new energy bar. Very much indeed. It's mostly prepared with almonds, walnuts and dried seedless raisins/sultanas. Plus, It's not too sweet. It's just a treat that goes well with coffee or tea besides the goodness from its ingredients. This is my auntie Zakia's recipe.

These ghrouibas are best consumed 48 hrs after being prepared because the flavours will have time to mature and complete each other.

This is a very easy recipe where you only need a bowl or two, a food processor and a baking tray.

It's freezer-friendly (you know I like that!). However, you really need to pick good walnut halves, not the rancid or bitter stuff. And like any nut, heat your oven at 170 degrees and give them a new life by roasting them for 8 to 10 minutes without burning them.

Makes  +30 ghrouibas
Prep: 12 min (active time) - Baking: 12- 15 min

  •  500 g ground almond (blanched and skined then slightly dried with a towel), see notes
  • 250 g ground walnuts (slightly coarse and not too fine)
  • 100g powdered suga, see notes
  • 2/3 cup of sultanas/raisins to be soaked in orange blossom water then strained and mixed to form a paste
  • 2 tbsp of melted butter
  • 3 tbsp of apricot jam
  • 3 g baking powder
  • 2 egg yolks or 1 egg
  • Mastic gum, ground with a tsp of sugar (by using to bottom of a glass to crush it or a pestle & mortar)
  • 7 g vanilla sugar
  • A pinch of salt
To decorate
  • 2 egg white
  • 300 g of icing sugar layered in a tray/ plate to form a layer about 5 mm thick


Pre-soak the sultanas/raisins in orange blossom water. Set aside for at least 2hours to 24 hrs. 

Make sure you slightly roast the walnuts as mentioned above. Set it aside to cool. Rub it with your hands to get rid of excess skin.

In a food processor, whizz up the walnut to have a coarse texture (not too fine). Place in a bowl.

Use the same food processor to mix the sultanas/raisins in order to form a paste.

Bring all the ingredients together and give a few pulses to form a sticky paste/dough.

Shaping the Ghrouibas

Form dough balls between 3 and 5 cm depending how you like it (small or medium size). The dough is sticky and it might become disturbing. We usually keep a bowl of orange blossom water on the side to dip in our fingers. You could also use the back of a knife to scrape off the sticky dough.

If orange blossom water is expensive in your area, use oil or water to lubricate/humidify your hands.

Take each ball with your fingers holding it from the edges bit towards the bottom, dip the top in the egg white and then place it in the icing sugar.

Carry on with the rest of the dough.

Before getting these ghrouibas out of the icing sugar plate, make sure you slightly press them for 2 reasons:

1/ to slightly flatten them.
2/ to get more icing sugar sticking at their surface.

I didn't decorate all my ghrouibas with a walnut halve because I found out that this cause a crack. If you are ok with that, go ahead with this option.

Baking and storing

Bake the ghrouibas until you see a bit of crust forming and taking a slightly golden colour due to the egg white glazing and the icing sugar. I also pick one ghrouiba to check the texture: It should have a bit of a crust while the inside is bouncy and chewy but not runny.

Usually, it takes anywhere between 12 to 15 min depending on the size of the balls and the size of your oven.

Once cool, store the Ghrouibas in a cookie box or freeze them. Thaw them before serving.

I like these ghrouibas 2 days after preparing them. Ideally, they'll be fine within 2 weeks if the weather is not too hot.


1 / You can use almons with skin on for half of the almond quantity. 
The almonds are there as a base but not for their taste. So even if they don't taste very almond-y, do not be tempted to add almond extract.

2 / This recipe is using raisins/sultanas and jam to bring sweetness.Therefore, if the sultanas are very sweet, reduce the amont of powdered sugar in the mixed dough to 80 g.

Version Française de la recette

Pour plus de 30 ghrouibas
Prep: 15 min (temps actif)- Cuisson: 12-15 min

  •  500 g d’amandes bien moulues (blanchies, mondées et séchées)
  • 250 g de noix en poudre (corse et pas trop fine)
  • 100g de sucre glace
  • ½  petit bol de raisins trempés dans un peu de fleur d’oranger ensuite égouttés et réduits en pâte
  • 2 c.à.s de beurre fondu
  • 3 c.à.s de confiture d'abricot
  • 3 g de levure chimique
  • 2 jaunes d’œufs ou 1 œuf 
  • Gomme arabique (réduite en poudre en la mélangeant avec une cc de sucre et en l'écrasant avec le fond d'un verre, ou un mortier)
  • 7 g de sucre vanillé
  • Une pincée de sel
Pour décorer
  • 2 blancs d'œufs
  • 300 g de sucre en poudre étalée sur une couche d'environ 5 mm d'épaisseur 


Dans un robot, mélangez tous les ingrédients afin d'avoir une pâte qui sera un peu collante.

Former des boules de 3 à 5 cm de diamètre jusqu'à épuisement de la pâte.

Trempez le haut des ghrouibas dans le blanc d’œuf et ensuite dans du sucre glace. 

Aplatissez légèrement chaque boule:

1/ Afin qu'elle prenne une jolie forme de ghrouiba
2/ Afin qu'il y ait plus de sucre glace qui couvre le haut.

La pâte est collante et à un moment ça devient embêtant. Pour y remédier, gardez un bol d'eau de fleur d'oranger ou d'eau, ou alors un peu d'huile pour humecter vos mains. Vous aurez aussi besoin de les racler avec le dos d'un couteau ou une spatule en métal afin de vous débarrasser de la pâte qui aura collé.

Cuire les ghrouibas jusqu'à ce que vous voyez que ça croûte tout en prenant une couleur légèrement dorée en raison de la présence du blanc d'œuf ainsi que du sucre glace sur la surface.

Généralement, je prends une ghrouibas pour vérifier la texture : Il doit y avoir un peu de croûte. En même temps, il faut que l'intérieur soit moelleux au toucher mais pas liquide.

Habituellement, cela prend environ entre 12 à 15 mn selon la taille des ghrouibas ainsi que la grandeur du four.

Une fois refroidies, transférez les ghrouibas dans une boîte à biscuits ou les congeler.  

Décongelez avant de servir.

J'aime ces ghrouibas 2 jours après leur préparation. Idéalement, elles seront bonnes pendant 2 semaines s'il ne fait pas trop chaud.


1/ vous pouvez utiliser la moitié des amandes avec leur peau. A ce propos, les amandes sont là en tant que base mais pas pour donner un gout. Donc même si elles n'ont pas trop le gout de l'amande, ce n'est pas la peine de le renforcer avec l'essence d'amande.

2/ Cette recette repose en grande partie sur les raisins et la confiture pour renforcer l'attribut sucre. Par conséquent, si les raisins utilises sont de bonne qualité et sucrées, incorporez juste 80 de sucre en poudre au mélange de pâte.


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