I can’t believe that given the North African origins that Vera and I have, and after almost 4 years and more than 400 recipes, we hadn’t published a single tajine recipe on 196 flavors!
This post is dedicated to the memory of our friend and colleague Margaret Chocron Aflalo, author of the famous food blog Piroulie who unfortunately left our world yesterday. Rest in peace, Margaret.
But what is a tagine anyway?
First of all, a tagine refers to a hollow earthenware baking dish covered by a conical lid. But it is also the name of the dish that is cooked in this cookware itself.
The distinctive shape of the tagine is not only decorative but has an important function. Indeed, in an arid region like the Maghreb, it meets a local need to cook food without a lot of water. It also allows to cook without much fat, which keeps most of the natural flavor of food. The steam from meat and vegetables condenses inside the conical walls of the lid before dripping on the entire dish to moisten it. The result is a tasty dish in which food is tender and fragrant, but also slightly caramelized. Some earthenware tagine pots are used for cooking, where others that are painted are only used for decoration.
There is not one but dozens of recipes for tagines. In Morocco and Algeria, tajines actually refer to several dishes made of meat, fish and/or vegetables that are stewed in this conical cookware. It is interesting to note that this dish is really of Berber origin even if the etymology of the word is uncertain and could be attributed to the Greeks (teganon, frying pan) or the Persians. Indeed, tahchin (چين تة) is a delicious saffron rice dish baked in an oven that I haven’t shared on the blog yet but that I already tried to make once.
Using the word “tajine” to describe the dish has now become customary, but other names such as marqa (mar3a) or dwaz are also used to describe stews and casseroles in North Africa.
The tajine that I am sharing today is tajine jelbana, also called jelban marqa which is as popular in Algeria as in Morocco or Tunisia. Indeed, my mother, who was born in Tunisia, often made a version of this dish.
This tagine is a peas tagine, and is typically prepared with potatoes, carrots and artichoke bottoms.
The meat used for tajine jalbana can vary, but it is generally lamb or veal, although it can also include beef or chicken. It may also be finished with a white sauce prepared with egg and lemon, a similar preparation to Greek avgolemono or chorba beida that Vera was talking about last week.
Since there isn’t anything particular story about the creation of tajine jelbana, I was intrigued by the origin of its key ingredients, starting with peas.
I discovered that peas were one of the oldest vegetables grown in Europe and Asia, dating at least 10 000 years. What is less known is that until quite recently, it was eaten in a dry form. Yes, that is what’s called split pea! It is obtained by removing the seed coat from dried peas, that is relatively indigestible.
When it comes to artichoke, it is often mentioned that it originated in North Africa, Egypt or Ethiopia. The word for this vegetable in many European languages today actually comes from medieval Arab (الخرشوف) al khurshuuf via Spanish where it is also called alcachofa. You can find artichoke in many North African and Mediterranean dishes such as the dolma qarnoun or couscous au beurre, two Algerian recipes that we published at the beginning of our adventure.
I also made an amazing discovery about Maghnia (or Marnia), a small city in Algeria that I only knew because my father was born there! This city, not far from the Moroccan border, is apparently famous for its spices, and in particular ras el hanout (Arabic: رأس الحانوت). Ras el hanout is the quintessential spice blend in North African cuisine. It literally means “head of the shop” because this mixture is often found at the entrance of the markets. There are hundreds of variations for this spice blend that can contain up to 40 different spices, the most common spices include cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, cumin, cloves, mace and coriander seeds. This spice mixture is used in couscous, tagines, and other dishes from the Maghreb.
When Ramadan is around the corner, the city of Maghnia becomes a destination for all Western and the Southwestern Algeria families, who come to buy spices, most of which come from Morocco, a guarantee of quality for most Algerians.
I prepared this tajine jelbana for our Friday night dinner two weeks ago. The meat was succulent and the vegetables were the most tender. Needless to say that there were no leftovers!
- 1½ lb veal stew , cut large chunks
- 1 lb shelled peas , fresh or frozen
- 2 carrots , peeled and cut in 1-inch slices
- 2 potatoes , peeled and cut into chunks
- 4 artichoke bottoms , halved
- ½ teaspoon ras el hanout
- ⅓ teaspoon turmeric
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- ½ teaspoon cumin
- 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
- 3 cloves garlic , crushed
- 1 onion , thinly sliced
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
In a casserole or a tajine pot, add the oil and cook the veal at medium heat for a few minutes. Add onion, garlic, salt and pepper, and continue to sauté for 5 minutes, stirring regularly.
Add carrots, peas, spices and tomato paste. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes covered, stirring occasionally.
Cover with water and simmer for 15 minutes.
Add the potatoes and artichoke bottoms, bay leaves, cilantro and parsley. Cook for at least 30 minutes until everything is fully cooked.