Moroccan quince tagine with semi-caramelized onions

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Today’s recipe uses a wonderful seasonal fruit : quince . It’s a seasonal fruit which usually ends in a tagine or a stew when it’s not preserved. Moroccan quince is particularly fruity and intense in flavour.

 

A simple quince tagine with a lightly caramelized onion topping

 

Quince or Sfarjal has been used for centuries in the Arab cooking and weirdly enough, the dish I’m proposing today has roots in old Royal Baghdadi kitchens when Baghdad was the platform for knowledge (10th century). However, Moroccans (and Algerians to an extend) have tweaked it and kept it dearly while the rest of the Arab kitchens have dropped it.
Moroccan quince stew topped with onion jam
It’s been historically proven that the Arabs led the way in medical researches and studies back in the medieval times. Food was very much related to the person’s health and the first cooking books seemed to have come from the Arab world. Some of the recipes were rather prescriptions.
Some dishes were called by the main fruit or vegetable used in them: Tuffahiya for a dish using tuffah (apples), liftiya for a dish using lift (turnip) and Safarjaliyya for a dish using Safarjal (quince)
The Islamic world has influenced the Mongols as well (Ref: Daily life in the Mongol Empire). Safarjaliyya seems to have landed in their manuals and it looks so close to the recipe we are using nowadays.
A furry quince in a Moroccan market
According to Ibn Razin Al Tujibi – Kitab Al Tabikh -13th century-, Dishes with apples and quince were highly recommended for “strengthening” the stomach.
 

 

A nice wedge of quince in a Moroccan quince tagine

 

Back to the 21st century and our Moroccan quince tagine which comes under 3 main variations:
  • Quince cooked in their stew and topped with stewed or boiled okra. You may omit the okra.
  • Quince cooked in their stew then semi-caramelized in a different pan and then served on top of the stew,
  • Quince cooked in their stew, semi-caramelized in a different pan and then topped with semi-confit onions or a Moroccan onion jam.
Moroccan okra is small. Here, it’s parboiled and ready to be frozen
The last version happens to be my favourite since the sweetness of the jam balances the tartness of the quince.
If you get hold of quince while they’re in season, make sure you keep some for the rest of the year by parboiling quince which you would have cut into 8 wedges and then freezing them. Add them to the stew without thawing.
Moroccan quince stew or tagine is done in the manner of M’qalli and exactly following the same recipe for pears tagine, only quinces take longer to cook through.
You can replace chicken with lamb or beef meat.
Ingredients
Serves 2 to 4 persons
Prep: 15 min – Cooking : 90 min
The M’qalli/stew
  • 1 chicken or 600g of nice cuts of lamb or beef (shoulder, shanks)
  • 1 ½ medium-size yellow onions, chopped
  • 1 tbsp of ginger powder
  • 1 tsp of turmeric powder
  • ½ tsp of white pepper powder (you may use black pepper)
  • A tiny bouquet of coriander/parsley (optional)
  • 1 stick of cinnamon
  • ½ tsp of saffron threads
  • 1 tsp of smen (aged and cured butter, optional)
  • 2 tbsp of vegetable oil
  • Salt to taste

The onion jam/semi-confit

  • 4 medium-size yellow onions, finely sliced
  • Broth from the m’qalli
  • 1 tbsp of caster sugar or honey
  • 1 tbps of olive oil
The quince
  • 1 kg of medium-size quinces (about 3), fresh or frozen
  •  40g of butter
  • 40 g of caster sugar or/and honey
  • 1 cup  to 2 cups of the m’qalli
  • 1 tsp of cinnamon powder

To serve

  • Almonds, fried and crushed roughly or roasted sesame seeds
This quince stew is topped with a good onion jam as you can see by the colour

Preparation

The meat stew

Marinate the chicken/meat with most of the spices except saffron and 1/2 of the ground ginger. Massage with olive oil or smen. Keep in the fridge for a couple of hours or overnight.

Place the cooking pot or tagine over medium heat. Add a bit of water at the bottom, place the meat (ideally not overlapping), the chopped onions, the bouquet of coriander (optional). Season with saffron, ginger and and salt.

If you are dealing with a chicken, you may cut it into 4. Let simmer for about 10 minutes. Add the oil and top with water (a tagine does not need as much water as a pot where you have to cover at least 3/4 of the bird or double for a red meat). Cover and carry on cooking until the bird is cooked through.

While usually we try to reduce the sauce or marka at the same time when the meat has cooked, make sure you leave the broth for later.
Fish out the meat and set aside. Cover with foil or something so the meat does not dry out.  Keep about 1 cup of the liquid on the side as well. Make sure you sift it. Discard the bouquet of herbs ( I never do that but some do).

The onion jam / semi-confit of onions

  • On a low-medium heat, add the finely sliced onions into the pot or tagine and cover. Let them simmer for 20 minutes until they’re transparent and absolutely tender.
  • Add the sugar or honey at this stage, maybe 2 tbsp of olive oil as well. Keep stirring until you get a sort of thick paste which also looks caramelized.  It might take about 30 min.
The colour of the semi-confit of onion depends on 1/ the type of onion used, 2/
the amount of sugar or honey added, 3/the time allocated to caramelization

 

The quince quarters (or wedges)

  • Wash and rub the quince to remove any fur (some varieties have a furry skin).
  • Cut the quince into 4 quarters or 8 wedges, discard the pits and place them in a big bowl of water with juice of 1 lemon. You may need to make a cross on the outer skin so it does not burst during cooking.
  • You can cook the quince two ways:
1/- Sift about 1/2 of the broth where the meat has cooked and cook the quince in it to tenderness. Add water to cover the quince.
On a medium heat, melt butter with sugar, sauté the quince wedges or quarters in it. Sprinkle some cinnamon and flip from all sides from a few minutes. The quinces are good when you see the edges slightly discoloured and looking just about caramelized. The liquid would have literally evaporated by now. DO NOT BURN OR OVER-CARAMELIZE THE FRUIT as it should remain tender but firm enough not to break.
2/ Directly cook the quince quarters or wedges in the stew. Once cooked through, scoop them out. Follow the same directions as in method (1).

Serving

  • Heat the stew. Serve the meat first, then the onion sauce on the top and all around. Place the quince and top with semi-caramelized onions and then finish off with toasted sesame seeds or with crushed blanched and fried almonds.
  • Serve warm.

Note: no quince? use cooking apples.

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Moroccan fresh broad bean (fava bean) and artichokes tagine

Broad beans are one of the most favourite vegetables in Morocco, especially when in season and young.

In Morocco, broad beans get picked from the fields, in a matter of a day or two at max, they would have been distributed and sold, maybe already eaten.

Moroccan fresh broad beans stew with artichokes

By sniffing freshly picked broad beans,  you could smell the green jnan or field they just came from. They go in anything such as salads and starters (here, there), soups, stews, tagines, couscous.

We always give a slit to the fresh broad beans (as seen in the picture) before
cooking it so it cooks through in a short time

I was not particularly lucky in finding good fresh broad beans in the hectic London and the ones I found come either frozen or in the vegetable section of supermarket, but then no taste comes out of that. That is to say that I’m so jealous of you! Yes you who can bite into a freshly picked broad bean wherever you are!.

When the broad beans are freshly picked, we can keep some of their
skin on and cook it as well.

If you can get hold of good broad beans in season, peel the outer skin, give a slit or prick them with a knife and do not forget to remove that little hat or nail each broad bean has on top. Last thing to do is to parboil them in salty and lemony water and freeze your bounty (after draining and cooling) for the rest of the year!

 

I tried to grow them in my balcony, I think I didn’t get the right variety! I know that now because I’ve read a bit about it. However, it still tasted better than what I got from the supermarket.

Fes, where my family comes from, is where you find some of the best broad beans as they come from the fields around the city and even the Jnans (patches of green fields) within it. So they get cooked in “all sauces” and sometimes they are combined with other seasonal vegetables such as cardoons, globe or wild artichokes (the other vegetable that’s ridiculously cheap back in Morocco)..

Moroccan fresh broad bean (or fava beans) stew can also be cooked in a tagine. It follows the M’qalli spicing logic.

This vegetable is better paired with red meat but you can make it vegetarian.

Ingredients
Serves 6 to 8
Prep: 20 min – Cooking: 90 to 120 min

  • 1 kg of lamb shanks or beef cuts (shoulder, neck), bones in
  • 2 kgs of fresh or frozen broad beans (you may keep 1/4 of beans with the outer skin if they’ve been freshly picked)
  • 6  artichokes (optional)
  • 1 medium-size yellow or white onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, grated or crushed
  • 1 small bouquet of coriander
  • 3 tbsps of olive  and vegetable oil mix
  • 1 tbsp of ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp of white and black ground pepper
  • 1 tsp of turmeric
  • A pinch of saffron threads
  • 1 tsp of salt or to taste

Garnishing

  • Purple or green olives
  • Preserved lemon

 

You could reduce the marka (broth, sauce) or keep some to
dip your Moroccan bread in.

Preparation

If you are going to add artichokes to this tagine, peel them and parboil them in boiled salty and lemony water for about 5 minutes. Set aside.

It’s important to scrub the heads of artichoke with lemon and place them in a
lemony water before parboiling them, to avoid darkening effect

Place a deep heavy-bottomed cooking pot on medium heat with about 10 ml of water.

In a separate bowl, add a few spoons of water, mix in all the spices to form a loose paste. Place in the cuts of meats which you should flip so maximum surface is in contact with spices.

Transfer the meat to the pot and add the onion, garlic, and water just to cover the pieces of meat. Let simmer for about 10 minutes.

Add the oil and 3 times the level of meat in water. Cover the pot and let simmer over medium heat. During the cooking process, check the level of water which should cover the meat until it becomes tender.

Add the broad beans with the bouquet of coriander and make sure there is enough sauce to cover them (add just enough water if you have to). Cook for another 20 minutes (frozen beans take less).

Add the artichokes on top and carry on cooking for another 10 min or until the beans are tender from the inside (fish out one and pinch it). The sauce/broth (marka) should also be fairly reduced by now.

Add a few olives to the sauce just 5 minutes before you knock off the heat.

Scoop some marka and pour it in the middle of the serving dish. Place the pieces of meat, top with the coriander bouquet, broad beans and more marka.

Garnish with olives and slices or preserved lemon. Serve hot with a good bread to soak up the sauce.

 


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 been 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.

Update June 2014: With this post, I’ll be participating at Serena and Ariana’s event “La via dei sapori” dedicated to Moroccan food.

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 eggs in the mentioned recipe or make standard tagines without meat.
What goes into a tagine?
Any meat, any vegetable, although we are a nation who do not use pork.
 
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 mastic gum and some butter/smen 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). Now it’s worth mentioning that kefta can be made with chicken meat, turkey meat, fish.

 

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, cumin and paprika..If the dried fruits are omitted than the combination can pass.
  • 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..


Moroccan Slow-cooked tagine or stew: Quails with semi-confit of pears

— Recette en Français un peu plus bas —
Quails or chicken mqalli or mqualli with pears is a festive dish served in happy events but you can also just make it when you can get hold of fruity and sweet firm pears.

Ingredients
Serves 2 to 4 persons
Prep: 15 min – Cooking : 90 min 
The chicken mq’alli
  • 1 baby chicken or 2 quails, cleaned and brined at least 6 hours (in water, vinegar or lemon and sea salt) (can replace with lamb or veal meat)
  • 1 ½ medium-size red or yellow onions, chopped
  • 1 tbsp of ginger powder
  • 1 tsp of turmeric powder
  • ½ tsp of white pepper powder (you may use black pepper)
  • A tiny bouquet of coriander/parsley (optional)
  • 1 stick of cinnamon
  • ½ tsp of saffron threads
  • 1 tsp of smen (aged and cured butter, optional)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 tbsp of caster sugar or honey
The pears
  • 750 g of medium-size pears (about 4 to 5), a bit firm
  •  40g of butter
  • 50 g of caster sugar
  • 1 cup of the chicken sauce (above)
  • 1 tsp of cinnamon powder
  • 2 tbsp of orange blossom water
To serve
  • Almonds, fried and crushed roughly or roasted sesame seeds
Preparation
Follow me on tasteofmaroc.com to learn more about this wonderful dish that won’t fail to impress.
Watch me making it on my YouTube channel:

Look how lovely that sauce is..

Making the caramelized thick onion gravy-paste

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Le Mqualli sucré aux poires
وصفة المقلي المغربي بالفواكه الموسمية: الإجاص أو التفاح  الأخضر الموسمي 

Visualisez la recette Ici sur ma chaine YouTube: