The Popular North African Food Called Tagines

Published: 23rd February 2010
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Tagines is one of the popular North African dishes consumed mostly in Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia. Also known as Tajine or mispronounced Tangines, this North African specialty has traveled all the way across the Atlantic to the kitchens in the US. Moroccan tagines are being served increasingly in specialty food or fast food restaurants all across the United States and has become quite popular.

Tagines are not just the name of the food but also the pot in which they are cooked. Tagine pots are made purely from terra cotta and have a shallow rimmed base. The lid of the tagines is usually conical in shape. The bottom of the pot is always glazed from the inside and this is where it comes in direct contact with the stew or food. The top part of the Moroccan tagines is glazed from the outside, so that it can assist in evaporation of the steam. As a result, the stew or food gets absorbed into the clay and the juice or gravy becomes more concentrated in nature.

There are always potters who try and make newer version of tagines especially the ones having glazed lids from the inside as well as outside. Each of the Moroccan tagines has a small steam outlet, and chefs preparing the dish more often than not poke a thyme sprig or a mint sprig. There are two types of tagines - one that is made from terra cotta and one that has been made using enameled cast iron. The latter is not as effective as the terra cotta one.

A visit to the Moroccan or Tunisian countryside will provide you glimpses of tagines simmering on small charcoal burners in street cafes or restaurants. In North Africa, tagines are never kept in the oven; it is always kept on the stove. I one of the coastal Moroccan cities especially in Meknes, you can find one of the most diverse tagine menu with as many as 20 dishes comprising of variety of vegetables, combined with meat, eggs, sausages, etc.

The most popular and commonly eaten tagines is made using a whole chicken, with preserved lemons and olives. Sometimes the chicken is replaced by lamb, and it is combined with eggs and prunes. This preparation is quite similar to one of the tagine dishes served at the Andalous Moroccan Restaurant in Chicago. The restaurant is quite famous for its diverse offering of tagines and has around 11 varieties on the menu. They use mostly lamb, chicken, seafood and beef. Onions, preserved lemon, dry fruits, sesame seeds, nuts, eggs, peppers, tomatoes, and olives are added to the tagines apart from the usual seasonings that include cinnamon, paprika, cumin, saffron and cilantro among others. One major difference between North African or Moroccan tagines and American tagines is that the former use clarified butter called "smen" while in America; only olive oil is used for preparation.

Some of the other restaurants that offer variety of tagines on their menu include L'Olive in Chicago, The Lite Touch in New York, and Oasis in Los Angeles and Mogador in New York. Perry's in Washington offers a unique tagine dish that comprises of lamb with medjool dates and pine nut couscous. Cafe Le Coq in Chicago is famous for their roasted vegetable tagines. Many restaurants offer a variety of lamb tagines including Shallots, Chicago, which is a kosher restaurant offering lamb tagine couscous with dry Mediterranean fruits.

American chefs have in a way mastered the art of mixing tagines with couscous. If you visit, Morocco or Tunisia then you will find tagine being served as a separate dish and couscous is served as a separate steamed dish. Moroccan tagines as well as couscous are often served harissa, which is a chili-based condiment, and it is exclusive to Algerian and Tunisian tagines.

Tagines have gone through different types of experimentation processes and restaurants like Zibibo in California offer an olive-marinated guinea hen with tomato tagine, mint, chickpea, and harissa. At the Marseille restaurant in New York, you will find duck tagine on the menu that comes with almonds, honey, and currants. Enrico's in San Francisco has completely changed the very essence of tagines by serving a sauce moistened with pan-roasted seafood, seasonal vegetables and saffron couscous. Having traveled across the Atlantic, Moroccan tagines look great on the menu but there are only a few who can serve authentic tagine. The best place to taste the spicy flavors of tagines is in Morocco or Tunisia but you can even visit some of the authentic Moroccan cuisine restaurants in Chicago or New York to get a feel of the real taste.

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