When In Morocco: Food and How to Make Authentic Moroccan Tajine!
If you ever make it to Morocco there is literally no way you will leave the country without having tajine. It is the national dish and, though after having it for 8 weeks multiple times a week (sometimes more than once in a day!), it was still a welcome staple of our diet. The reason? You can make a tajine out of any ingredient in any way so long as you have a few necessary components.
So what even is tajine? Tajine is the name of both the dish and the pot you cook it in. It looks like this and every household in Morocco has at least one…usually more. When we get our forever home, we will be proud owners of multiple tajine pots!
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As I said before, there are countless ways to make tajine (we’ve never seen two different people make it the same way) and it is virtually impossible to fuck up, though every Moroccan will tell you otherwise. “Onions don’t go with fish.” Had it, delicious. “Tomatoes don’t go with meat.” Also, delicious. “A real tajine needs to be made over coals.” True, it is better…but not necessary. So here are the things that are necessary:
- You need a tajine pot. Doing it in a regular cast iron pan might work too, but the conical shaped lid is pretty imperative for getting the right level of steam to cook the ingredients and the way the lid sits on the base of the pot ensures that you are not letting out much of that steam.
- You need an open flame. The pot itself is usually made out of clay and will break if placed on a direct heat source. There are metal tajine pots and I reckon these would work on an electric burner, but it will probably be difficult to get the proper heat distribution, which is crucial so the ingredients at the bottom don’t burn before the ones on the side and top have time to steam. Using a grill or charcoal or just putting it on a fire in the back yard are all acceptable remedies for not having a gas burning stove.
So that’s basically it. Everything else in terms of ingredients are up to you. When I say you can put anything in a tajine, I’m not kidding. Think of it as a rudimentary crock pot. If you think it will taste good together, it can go in a tajine together.
The recipe I’ll walk you through is made with chicken, although we usually just made veggie tajine because vegetables are cheaper than meat in Morocco and just easier to work with. I’ll introduce house to make Kefta, my personal favorite tajine, and give you some tips on some other ideas and other uses for your new tajine pot!
There is a saying in Morocco about meals: if there’s enough for 1, there’s enough for 2. If there’s enough for 2, there’s enough for 3…you get the picture. So when deciding how much of each ingredient to get, it is kind of up to the size of your pot and how many people you are feeding. My measurements are not exact, because I generally do not measure things when I cook. If you love onions, put more in. If you hate coriander…don’t use it at all! To be a good cook you have to know what you like to eat. If you think it tastes good, it probably does so have fun and fiddle with the recipe until you find what works for you.
This recipe is based on the amount of food we buy for one big meal for 2 people (or 3 or however many people show up to eat).
- Chicken (do you prefer white meat? Use white meat! Prefer wings, legs, and thighs? Use those!) Get as much as you feel like eating (usually around 4-6oz per person is a good measure).
- 1 large onion juillened
- 1-2 potatoes, sliced flat or thin like fries
- Garlic diced (we love garlic and choose to leave some cloves whole)
- 1 large carrot sliced on a bias a few centimeters thick
- A large handful of uncooked peas
- 1 small zucchini or eggplant sliced thin or wedged
- 1 large sweet pepper sliced or whole
- 1 or 2 hot peppers
- 1 medium tomato cut in half and sliced (whole cherry tomatoes are pretty expensive here but are a nice luxury for tagine so if you got ’em, use ’em!)
- Lemon or lime
- Handful of coriander (cilantro, for my fellow Americans)
- Harissa (an added bonus but by no means necessary)
- Olive oil
- Water or stock
Start by seasoning the chicken to your liking. I usually use salt, pepper and cumin in Morocco; however, if I was in my own kitchen I would definitely throw on some Greek or Cajun seasoning. You’re going to want to brown the chicken to lock in the flavor so put some oil in your tajine pot, turn the heat on nice and high, wait for the oil to heat up and brown your chicken on all sides. Once you have a nice brown coat on it, turn the heat down a bit so as not to burn the meat.
Tajine in Morocco is all about presentation. To achieve this, there is a specific order in which to place the rest of the ingredients. This is not only for presentation but also to ensure optimal cook time for everything else.
Add the onions and have them cook a bit with the chicken. As they soften, arrange the potatoes, carrots, zucchini/eggplant, and sweet peppers (if you choose to slice them. If you choose to leave them whole, wait until Step Three to put them in) around the tajine pot in a circular fashion, building up a cone shape circle around the meat and onions. Add a sprinkle of salt to the pile of veggies. As things cook, they will absorb the flavor of the chicken so be careful not to over salt on this stage. You really just want enough for the potatoes to soak up more flavor.
Place the shelled peas, the hot and sweet (if you chose to keep them whole) peppers on top of the veggie pile. If you used cherry tomatoes, place them whole on top as well. If you used regular tomatoes, place the slices around the pile of veggies. Slice a bit of lemon/lime and place on top of peppers (I like citrus so I also squeeze a bit over everything as well). Sprinkle the cut garlic (and cloves if you kept some whole) over all of the veggies. If you are using Harissa, place a dollop on top of the mound.
Now is the time to add the chopped up coriander and a bit more salt, pepper, cumin and other spices. Drizzle a fair amount of olive oil over everything in the tajine pot and pour in your water or stock. About a 1/3-1/2 cup should be plenty and you want to evenly distribute it around the tajine pot, pouring it bit by bit into the bottom of the pot, not just thrown on top of everything. You can always add more liquid if necessary.
I like to start my tajine briefly on high heat so generate a good amount of steam so turn up the heat to high for around 5-8 minutes or until you hear the liquid start to boil inside. Even though steam assists in the cooking process, tajine is not like rice and you don’t have to be afraid to pick up the lid and see how things are going in there. Once you have a good heat level (the liquid is bubbling and the carrots and potatoes are beginning to soften), you can cut the heat down and let the contents simmer. Usually, this can take around 30 minutes or more but I am an impatient cook so I check my tajine after about 20 minutes and poke around with a fork, checking the bottom to make sure nothing is sticking to the point that it’s burning (the meat and the onions are most likely going to stick a bit so don’t worry if they do).
If you notice that there is no more liquid bubbling, add more! A little at a time is better because it is nice to have a bit of sauce in your pot from the liquid but you’re not making a soup so don’t get carried away!
Once the potatoes and carrots are softened, it is a pretty good indication that you tajine is ready. Some people choose to cut the heat and let the flavors marinate a bit more and this gives you a chance to sneak in with your meat thermometer and make sure your chicken is cooked thoroughly.
The next item on the list is simply whipping out some fresh bread and flaunting your master chef skills by opening up the lid dramatically to impress all of you friends! Silverware is hardly used in Morocco so the bread acts as the fork, but if your adamantly pro-silverware, or anti-bread, by all means use whatever is necessary to enjoy your scrumptious creation!
Other Tajine Ideas:
Kefta is basically Moroccan a meatball and it is amazing in tajine. They don’t eat pork here so most people use ground turkey; however, if I were making this back home, I would definitely be throwing in some pork or beef or lamb (in the States, stores often sell a “meatloaf mix” of all three, which would be amazing for this). The ingredients are simplified and the process is easier that with chicken because you don’t use hearty veggies like potatoes, carrots, or eggplant.
Unfortunately all of our pictures ended up looking like shit due to poor lighting when we made it but a quick google search (where the picture below came from) will have you salivating for this dish!
Again, this is based off of what I would get for a hefty meal for two, anticipating that more people would ultimately join in to eat.
- Ground meat of your choice (1lb/16oz should do)
- 1 large onion, diced
- 1 large tomato
- Spicy spice (crushed red pepper, harissa, diced hot pepper)
- 3 eggs
Once you have your onions and coriander diced up, mix in your ground meat with a little salt, pepper, cumin, a squeeze of lemon/lime, diced garlic, and whatever spicy thing you decided to you (if you decided to use any at all). Drizzle in a bit of oil and mix it up as these are going to become meatballs.
In Morocco, I never saw anyone use egg or breadcrumbs as you would for Italian style meatballs, but it doesn’t seem like a bad idea so try it out of a fluffier meatball and tell me how it goes 🙂
Grate the tomato into the tajine pot with a little oil and salt. This is the base for what we will cook the meatballs in. While the tomato juice is simmering, start rolling up the meat mixture into large, handful size meatballs. Place them into the simmering juice and then sprinkle any remnants of the onion and meat mixture over the meatballs. If you want to add any hot spice, you can add it on top of the meatballs now. This mixture will cook fairly fast so you can leave it on high heat for just a few minutes and cut it down to low.
The next step involves the eggs. I have seen people boil eggs and chop them into quarters but the best way I have had it is when people crack the eggs directly into the tajine and let them cook that way.
When the meatballs are basically cooked through, crack your eggs into the pot. Keep the flame on and put the lid back on so that the eggs cook faster and become fluffier in the process. It should take around 5 minutes for the eggs to cook. If you like runnier eggs, turn the flame off earlier. Remember that the eggs will continue to cook in the pot even after it is off of the flame!
Remove the tajine from the heat. Let stand to allow the flavors to meld. Garnish with herbs and serve with fresh bread!
One of our favorite uses of the tajine was for making breakfast. Before beginning a big hitchhiking day, nothing is better than a hefty protein-filled meal and the omelettes we made in the tajine pot were always on point! Again, you can be creative with the ingredients. In Morocco, olives are fresh and cheap, therefore, they were a staple ingredient in our breakfast. However, I was already thinking of other breakfast tajine options like Southwest Tajine with refried beans, salsa and guac! Or Greek tajine with feta cheese, banana peppers, and shrimp!
Our Moroccan breakfast tajine was simple. It usually went like this:
- Saute diced onions in hot oil in the tajine. Sprinkle with salt and cumin.
- When the onions are translucent, add chopped olives, garlic, and hot peppers (if you want it spicy).
- Cook for a few minutes and add diced tomatoes and more seasonings of your choosing.
- Scramble the eggs in a bowl. If you want them fluffy, whip the eggs with milk or creme freche if you’ve got it. When the tomatoes have softened, add the eggs to the tajine. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add diced herbs (we used corriander/cilantro and parsley) on top.
- Turn the heat down to medium and cover with the tajine lid.
- Cook for about 5 minutes and check the eggs. They will continue to cook in the pot and generally the middle will cook faster than the sides. If you notice this is happening, cut the heat and let the tajine sit for a few minutes.
- When the eggs are cooked to your liking, serve with fresh bread.