Walk In from the Cold

It's winter. Despite the unseasonable warmth in London, there is no denying the facts that Old Man Winter is lurking about. Those of you in Canada and northern US probably don't need to be reminded that he's hanging right outside your front doors, ready to blast you with arctic gales. No, indeed, Spring cannot come too soon.

However, spring is still a few weeks -if not months- away yet, and some of us desperately need to be reminded that the sun will warm our faces again; that the days are getting longer, no matter how imperceptibly; and, that we must not despair. Short of booking a tropical holiday, those of us on the verge of losing it can always cook up a plateful of sun and spices. I've been steadily scratching away at my repertoire of North African and Mediterranean fares just to keep me in a sunshiny mood: the spices alone conjure up summer heat, so one can easily turn a fridgeful of winter vegetables into a plateful of desert breeze.


If you've put up a batch of preserved lemons back in September and have yet tried them in your cooking, the following recipe is a great way to inaugurate your handiwork. Tagines are the most representative dish of Morocco: the name not only refers the stew itself, but also to the earthenware vessel that it is cooked in. But you don't actually need the clay pan to cook this stew, just a large pot, a few vegetables, and a few spices.

The following recipe is a little vague, as I am merely outlining the recipe: you can use any vegetable you happen to have on hand. The day I took these pictures, I made the tagine with a rutabaga, carrots, leeks, a parsnip, and some Brussels sprouts; but beetroots, turnips, squashes and zucchinis could have easily gone into the pot instead. If you prefer a meat-based dish, substitute half the vegetable with some stewing meat, such as chicken thighs or legs, lamb or beef.

If your fridge is bare, and you're trying to write up a shopping list, here are a few suggestions:
* Sweet potatoes, carrots, and kale/savoy cabbage: add the chopped greens at the very end of the cooking process.
* Winter squash and dried apricots.
* Rutabaga (swede) or turnips, carrots and prunes.
* Swiss chard (or any other green) with shredded beetroot: proceed with the recipe, and add the greens and beets at the very end.

Vegetable Tagine
Serves 4

1 medium onion
450g/1lb vegetables 
400g/14oz tinned, chopped tomatoes
400g/14oz cooked chickpeas (canned is fine)
3 cloves garlic
2cm/1" piece of ginger
1 tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp fennel seeds
3 cardamom pods
1 bay leaf
2 cloves
½ tsp ground coriander
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp turmeric
1 tsp paprika
½ tsp ground chile
½ preserved lemon
2 spring onions
6 sprigs cilantro (fresh coriander)
2 Tbs olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Peel and thinly slice the onion. 
Heat the olive oil over a medium heat, and sweat out the onions along with a few pinches of salt.
Peel and crush the garlic cloves.
Peel and grate the ginger.
Peel and chop the vegetables into 2 cm/1" cubes, set aside.
When the onion is translucent, add the garlic, ginger, and whole spices. Stir to toast the seeds for about one minute before adding the ground spices.
Add the chopped vegetables, and mix thoroughly to coat with the spices. 
Mix in the chopped tomatoes, and pour enough water to cover he vegetables. Bring to the boil.
Lower the heat, and leave to simmer for at least 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are fork tender.
Remove the flesh of the preserved lemon, and slice into thin slivers. Add to the stew when the vegetables are nearly cooked, along with the cooked chickpeas. 
Meanwhile, finely chop the spring onion and cilantro, and set aside.
Adjust the seasoning. 
Sprinkle with the chopped spring onion and cilantro just before serving.

If you are adding meat to the tagine, brown the meat over a high heat before proceeding with the recipe. A meat tagine will require at least 45 minutes of stewing before it is ready to serve. If you find the list of spices a little too daunting, you can substitute the entire list of spices with 2 heaping tablespoons of Ras El Hanout. Serve the tagine over hot buttered couscous, bulgur wheat, quinoa or with some flat breads.

Bon app'!


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