summer-to-winter and learning about tagines

October 26, 2012 § 12 Comments

Can you believe that these pictures were taken just one day apart? Los Angeles is still enjoying mild summer-like days. I took picture #1 Wednesday morning in my folks’ back yard; can you see the fat praying mantis hiding in the shade of the pulmeria blooms? Flew back home to Colorado and awoke on Thursday to picture #2, this snowy scene in our back yard; first real snow of the season! Unfortunately the early heavy wet snow can be hard on trees that haven’t shed their autumn leaves yet and can result in broken branches.

Lamb Tagine with Potatoes and Chickpeas

This was the back drop to making a chicken tagine for FFwD. Tagine refers to both the North African cooking vessel and the dish itself, usually an aromatic braise of vegetables and meat cooked stovetop. A contemporary example above is from Williams Sonoma. Even if you don’t own a tagine (which I don’t) you can make a perfectly good tagine with a pot that has a tight-fitting lid and that distributes heat evenly. My heavy Le Creuset pot made of enameled cast iron made a fine substitute. Although pricey, it is multi-purpose and I’m lucky enough to have an outlet store nearby in Lakewood, one of Denver’s suburbs.

Moroccan tagines traditionally use a spice mixture called ras el hanout which means “top of the shop” in Arabic, indicating the best quality spices in the blend. Dorie used a simpler approach of just a few spices along with a pinch of saffron in her Around my French Table recipe. Unfortunately I learned that there can be too much of a good thing when it comes to saffron. I used a big pinch of some lovely Spanish saffron for a half recipe which completely overwhelmed all the other spices with a somewhat medicinal flavor. Sigh…

Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world and comes from a fall-blooming purple crocus which I have tried to grow but with limited success. So what I use in cooking is a 1/2 ounce container of Spanish saffron. I just checked and saffron is around $100 for just 1/4 ounce now. Ouch! Since I didn’t have sweet potatoes handy for this recipe I substituted delicata winter squash from my winter CSA (community-supported agriculture) share.

Here’s the not-a-tagine pot I used for cooking. The chicken and onions are under the squash slices and prunes; the brown color is from cinnamon-sugar I sprinkled on the squash (it wasn’t very sweet yet).

We had cracked farro “polenta” along with the chicken tagine. My only make-up recipe this week were the  St.-Germain-des-Prés onion biscuits (March 2012) which were delightfully flakey, rich and savory.

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§ 12 Responses to summer-to-winter and learning about tagines

  • I had no idea ras el hanout was meant to be used for tagines! I have some in my spice drawer and didn’t even think to pull it out for this dish. Oops. And sorry to hear that you overdid the saffron. I made that mistake once and agree that the results were not so tasty. Oh well, live and learn.

  • Cher says:

    Wow – on the snow. We are waiting to see if we are going to get a Halloween snowstorm again this year. (PLease no). Saffron is a tricky little guy – sorry you had an issue :-(
    Love the color on your chicken – it looks very happy sitting on your “polenta”.

    (We have a Le C outlet a couple hours south of us – it’s my happy place…)

  • My saffron was probably not very good, since I had a hard time feeling the flavor with all the star anise. I loved it anyway. Talk about a change of season, I like the pic of you back yard! And I need to make those biscuits, they sound really decadent. Have a great weekend Marilyn!

  • teaandscones says:

    I like that you used the delicata winter squash. I bet it had great flavor.

  • Marilyn, your tagine still looks awesome and I’m sure the farro polenta was the perfect side dish for it. Gorgeous pictures!

  • Elaine says:

    I have only ever used a few threads of saffron and usually can hardly detect it in a dish, so had no idea that too much ruins the taste. Love your photos. What a drastic change for you weather-wise! I was ready for cooler weather, but not snow.

  • Beth says:

    I love tagines, but I’ve never tried making one. Sorry about the saffron mistake.

  • Alice says:

    seriously a Le Creuset OUTLET??? Can I send you a check to go shopping for me?? LOL!

    We just took our daughters to a Halloween party the other night and it was supposed to take place partly outside but they nixed it because it was just so DARN COLD!! then it snowed the next morning. Figures. Halloween is going to be really, really cold this year!

  • betsy says:

    Wow, snow already, Marilyn! I hope that when it’s this early, it melts before you get it again. Your tagine looks amazing. Squash is great substitute. I think those biscuits would be a nice complement to the tagine. I tried growing the autumn crocus too, also unsuccessfully. Too bad we can’t grow our own. I’d say this a a lovely autumn meal, but in your case, I think it also goes well with the snow.

  • Marilyn, what a delicious choice to use winter squash in lieu of sweet potatoes – it looks and sounds quite delicious! And I love the biscuits that you served alongside. Just lovely! And the snow, it is pretty cold around here too with lots of snow in some parts of this country which is very unusual for this time of year – hopefully, the weather will be “better” soon for all of us!

  • Mary Hirsch says:

    Ras el hanout, another lesson-to-be-learned from you, Marilyn. I do have a tagine, it’s red like the tagine pictured in your photograph but it’s in Nevada. Unfortunately I don’t think the tagine would have been large enough to make this recipe for 4 people. Every Christmas my family has always made Saffron Bread and Biscuits. It’s a tradition and an acquired taste. And, yes, each batch is precious. Your squash substitution is a good one. And, I didn’t KNOW that Lakewood has an Le Creuset outlet store. A lovely tagine, Marilyn. And, I’ll take Mother Nature’s snow before I’ll take her wrath in the form of Hurricane Sandy. Agreed?

    • Piebird says:

      absolutely! we’re lucky that about the worse that happens here is a massive snowfall that makes us all stay at home for a few days. I do miss SoCal at times, but not the surprise occasional earthquake.

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