To Morocco With Love (Almost): Plus a Chickpea With Vegetable Tagine RecipeSep 06, 2020
All photographs by Christine Moss
Chef Moss won’t let a cancelled trip to Morocco spoil her fun; instead she’s bringing Morocco — it’s influence, culture, and flavors — to her (and us)
“Tangier seems to exist on several dimensions. You are always finding streets, squares, parks you never saw before. Here fact merges into dream, and dreams erupt into the real world.”
~ William Burroughs
In an alternate dimension I would be spending this month preparing for a two week solo adventure to Morocco and southern Spain. But, I am stuck in this dimension and we all know what’s happening here...
So earlier this year, after waiting and seeing for several months, I marked my calendar with a specific date upon which I would decide whether or not I would be foolishly brave and go on my trip anyway — or cancel and postpone my plans. However, before that date could arrive, the Universe decided for me by way of an email from the airline stating that my flights were cancelled.
I don’t know which felt worse, the not going or it not being my choice to decide to not go.
And so instead of getting frustrated at circumstances beyond my control, I’m getting creative. I thought back to elementary school and those special days when we would explore and celebrate everyone's culture and heritage. I can’t go to Morocco, but I can still learn about Moroccan culture here at home.
“If you don’t know why you like a thing, it is usually worth your while to attempt to find out.”
I don’t know exactly when or how the romantic notion of travelling through Morocco planted itself within me, or even why. Though a dream on hold, I envision new sights and sounds; the poetry of foreign languages spoken over cups of tea calls to me. Wandering along sidewalks filled with artists and vendors selling their creations to tourists and seeing styles of clothing unfamiliar and beautiful. Enjoying the feeling of being lost amidst the winding streets. Noticing details such as the changing color of the sky over castles and fortresses. Some of these experiences can actually be enjoyed right here at home.
The evening sky is beautiful everywhere.
I have set up a month-long project that will culminate in a Moroccan-inspired family feast, complete with musical playlist and a few newly learned words and phrases. With historical writers, artists, musicians and chefs as my guides, this is my attempt a la Paul Bowles to find out why I like a thing. Stay tuned for October’s newsletter to see how it actually went.
Here’s the current plan:
- Practice different recipes from cookbooks and Youtube videos
- Learn a few key words and phrases in Moroccan Arabic
- Read travel guides, cultural guides, current news and literature
- Make some arts and crafts
- Listen to music and create a playlist
While I will strive to cook and craft as authentically as possible and with respect and gratitude, I realize whatever I do will be through the lens of my own personal, not Moroccan, life experiences. But it’s the closest I can get right now. I am also limited by what is available, but I think that will spur and motivate the creative part of this project. In the big picture, it is meant to be fun. And hey, if this works like I hope it will — Poland is next!
To begin the adventure, I have already purchased an unglazed clay tagine from Amazon via a third party seller, Moroccan Imports. Make certain to buy a cooking tagine. Keep in mind that the painted ones are pretty, but they are meant for serving only. Cooking in a clay tagine both steams and carmelizes your food, coaxing out the subtlest of flavors. Place your ingredients in layers building upwards. The cone shaped top allows the steam to rise and then drip back down into the dish.
Before using it for the first time, the tagine must be cured. I followed the directions for soaking it for 30 minutes, then rubbing it with a cut clove of garlic and then olive oil. I set it in a cold oven and turned the heat on to 300F in order to let it cure.
When cooking with clay pots, slow and steady is key to keeping your pots from cracking. Don’t place a cold pot directly over a flame, and don’t place a hot pot directly on a cold countertop, place it on a towel or a wooden cutting board. Use a heat diffuser when using it on the stovetop. After cooking, wash it out and let it dry thoroughly.
Clay is porous and can get moldy if left damp or stored with the lid on. Leave the lid ajar to allow airflow. And if you do find a little mold, wash it off with some white vinegar, apply some olive oil and heat it up again to dry it out.
If you don't have a tagine, no worries, you can still prepare this dish in a deep cast iron pan with a tight fitting lid or aluminum foil, or in a slow cooker.
Chickpea and Vegetable Tagine
- 1 TBSP olive oil
- ½ large white onion peeled and sliced
- 2 cloves garlic crushed and minced
- ½ green pepper seeded and sliced into strips
- 1 medium tomato cut into ½ inch chunks
- 1 small delicata squash cut into ½ inch rings and seeded
- 1 russet potato washed and cut into spears
- 2 cups cooked chickpeas
- 2 tsp ras el hanout *
- Grease the bottom of your tagine with the olive oil, place on top of a heat diffuser and set on top of a low flame. Arrange the onion slices around the bottom of the dish. Let it heat up slowly, it will take about 10 minutes. Let the onions sizzle for a little while and then place the minced garlic and green pepper slices on top of the onion layer. Sprinkle with a little salt and ½ of the ras el hanout.
- Spread the chickpeas on top of the vegetable layer and season with salt and the other half of the ras el hanout.
- Arrange the tomato chunks and the delicata squash on top of the chickpeas. Finish by arranging the potato spears all around on top of the other vegetables. Season with a little more salt and cover with the lid.
- Cook for about 1 hour, checking towards the end of the hour for doneness of the potatoes and squash. Resist opening the lid before that, keeping the steam inside.
- If you are using a slow cooker, follow the directions for timing on your pot.
- If you are using a cast iron pan, cover tightly with aluminum foil while it cooks.
Serve in the tagine, on top of a towel or wooden surface for a beautiful presentation. Be careful, the lid will be hot.
*ras el hanout is a Moroccan spice blend that has the ‘top shelf’ combination of a vendor’s best and favorite spices. Commonly used ingredients include cardamom, cumin, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, allspice, dry ginger, chili peppers, coriander seed, peppercorn, sweet and hot paprika, fenugreek, and dry turmeric.
—Christine Moss, Chef, The Garden Café Woodstock