Tajine is a Moroccan dish that is named after the special pot in which it is cooked. It's a melting pot of savory and sweet flavors and it's a staple in Mediterranean cuisine. I love all its interesting ingredients like saffron, cinnamon, cumin, ginger, apricots and sun-dried tomatoes.
A lot of my cooking is my own improvisation. I went into the garden and found only 5 apricots that were fully ripe. We've had a lot of problems lately with animals like deer, squirrels and rabbits eating the fruits of Lulu's labor. Of course, this would have never been enough for a tart or preserve. I had a few potatoes, some sun-dried tomatoes and tofu. Eating them as is would have been an option but I thought I would use them to make a vegetarian tajine.
There was a lot of the leftover sauce, so I saved it to make a real lamb tajine stew the next day. All I have to do is run to the store and buy some lamb shanks.
Yields: 64 tablespoons olive oil, as needed
1 package firm tofu
6 cloves garlic
2 yellow onions, sliced into thin wedges + 2 dozen pearl onions
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1 stick cinnamon, broken in half
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 whole star anise
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
4 green cardamom pods
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly ground
1 teaspoons smoked paprika powder
1/3 teaspoon cayenne powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon ginger powder
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
2 tablespoons full-fat Greek yogurt
2 teaspoons lemon zest, finely chopped
1 (1-inch) chunk fresh ginger, thinly sliced
1-1/2 tablespoons salt ( I used Himalayan pink salt)
1/2 teaspoon white peppercorns, freshly ground
1/3 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup honey
4 pinches saffron threads
2 dried red chiles
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes with the juice
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes
1/2 cup baby peeled carrots
2 bay leaves
5 apricots, halved and pitted
1 dozen dates, halved and pitted
1 dozen cremini mushrooms, cut into thick slices
1 (14 oz) can artichoke hearts, drained, rinsed and halved
3 Yukon potatoes, diced in large cubes
1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke (optional)
3-1/4 cups low sodium vegetable broth, up to 4 cups depending on how thin you like the sauce
1 (15 oz) cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
3 tablespoons curly parlsey
For the Baharat spice mix:
In a wok, over high heat, dry roast for about 2 minutes and constantly stir cumin seeds, fennel seeds, the whole star anise, cloves, coriander seeds and cardamom. Remove the wok from the stove and add nutmeg, paprika, cayenne, garlic turmeric, ginger and turmeric powders. Pound the spices in a mortar and pestle, remove and discard the husk (shell) of the cardamom.
Put the spice mix in a grinder (I use a coffee grinder that I keep exclusively for spices); it should be finely ground. Sift the powder through a strainer. Set aside until cool.
For the Baharat sauce:
In a medium-sized pan, heat about 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the shallot and cook for 1-2 minutes, then add the onions until nicely golden over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, (it may take 5-10 minutes). Add about 3 tablespoons of diced tomato and the Baharat spice mix. Cook for another 1-2 minutes, then add the yogurt. Transfer the mixture to a mini-blender, blend until the sauce is smooth but still thick.
In the same pan, heat about 2 teaspoons of oil. Add the garlic. Cook until it's slightly golden. Add the fresh ginger, lemon zest, sun-dried tomatoes, bay leaves, cinnamon stick and dried red chiles. Stir and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the thick Baharat mixture, the honey, dates, the rest of the diced tomatoes, the diced potatoes, pearl onions and the vegetable broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce to medium-low.Cook for about 15 minutes. Prepare the tofu.
For the tofu:
Cut the piece of tofu into even, 2-inch cubes.
Pour the rest of the oil in a small pan. You should have about a 1-inch deep layer of oil; add more if necessary. Heat the oil for about 2 minutes. The key to a good fried tofu is to get little bubbles when the tofu is in contact with the oil. Don't overheat the oil, otherwise the tofu will get too golden and chewy. Just stick to the slightly jumping bubbles. Place the tofu in the oil, one piece at a time and don't overcrowd the pan; you want to make sure the tofu pieces don't touch each other. Lower the heat to medium. Cook for 2 minutes; the tofu will start to pop and increase in volume. Flip each piece and cook about a minute longer. Pick up each tofu piece with wooden chopsticks with as little oil as possible and immediately dip the tofu into the Baharat sauce. The tofu will deflate instantly. Repeat until all the tofu pieces are in the sauce.
Preheat the oven at 325°F
In a mortar and pestle, grind about 3 pinches of the saffron threads. Add about 3 tablespoons of water. Drizzle the saffron liquid into the Baharat sauce. Add another 1/4 cup of water into the mortar to ensure all the saffron is used. Saffron is quite expensive!
Add halved artichoke hearts, mushrooms, apricots, raisins and liquid smoke (if you like) to the Baharat sauce. Cook for another 5 minutes. The sauce should have thickened. Transfer to the tajine pot. Add the cannellini beans and the remaining pinch of saffron. Add more vegetable broth (about 1/2 cup) if you think the sauce is too thick. Cover with the tajine lid.
Bake for 10 minutes at 325°F, then lower the heat to 300°F for another 20-25 minutes.
Remove from the oven. Remove the lid. Drizzle some lemon juice and 2 tablespoons of curly parsley. Cover until you're ready to serve.
Before serving, decorate the dish with the remaining curly parsley leaves on top. Accompany this dish with some couscous (hard durum semolina wheat, see tips). Oh, and don't forget to remove and discard the 2 chiles, cinnamon stick and bay leaves before eating.
I usually make the dish in a cast iron pot and as soon as the "broth" is made, I transfer it to a silicone tajine for easier clean-up. You can use the more traditional terra cotta dish with its cone-shaped lid but I find it very heavy.
The Baharat spice mix is very inexpensive if you buy all the spices at an Indian store. It can cost a lot more if you buy it at Safeway or Whole Foods.
I grate the nutmeg with a fine mesh microplane.
I got Himalayan pink salt from my last trip to Paris. I just found that it is now available in Whole Foods. It's quite different from regular salt and somehow has a less salty and much more flavorful taste. I love it!
I use a fresh bay leaf from my garden, but you can use the dry version if you can't get your hands on fresh leaves.
Baharat and garam masala spice mix are quite similar. Barahat, literally meaning spice in Arabic, is a North African spice mix with a tangier taste and garam masala, meaning hot in Urdu, has a spicier taste.
I absolutely love the Thanh Son tofu brand. If you live in the Bay Area, you have to try it. They sell in almost all the Asian markets in downtown San Jose and their main shop is on 2857 Senter Road, San Jose. It's a very little shop but everything is very good. Their factory makes the best tofu texture. They make fresh tofu daily. This is the perfect place for vegetarians. I always get 2 to 3 pieces of fresh tofu every week. I also recommend trying their fried mushroom tofu cubes as well. They also serve other foods and it's very authentic.
The preparation of the sunken fried tofu is pretty simple to execute. You just need to be very careful on the temperature of the canola oil when you fry the tofu so that it really triples in volume and deflates when it is dipped in the Baharat sauce mixture and absorbs all its flavor. To guarantee good absorption of the Baharat sauce by the fried tofu, make sure you don't add too much oil to the mixture.
I usually use plain yogurt from the Indian store or Greek-style yogurt; it has a denser consistency than the regular kind.
If you want to save some time, you can use frozen pearl onions that you previously thawed. I find the texture to be slightly different. The frozen ones release their water and shrink in size, whereas fresh pearl onions have a better consistency.
An easy way to peel pearl onions is by blanching them. Place the whole onions in a saucepan filled with boiling water and cook for about 3 minutes. Drain the onions and transfer to a bowl filled with ice cubes and cold water. Let them sit for a few minutes until the onions are cool. Drain the onions and you'll see it's much easier to peel them.
I used the long dried red chiles that Lulu planted last summer. They are very spicy so I placed only 2 dried red chiles. You can add more depending on your tolerance to spicy food. You can get red dried chiles in any Indian stores.
I watched an episode of Good Eats with Alton Brown where he was explaining how to make liquid smoke. I haven't tried yet but I bought some from the store. Since no meat is used and browned in this process, I added some extra smoky aroma with a little liquid smoke. It's totally optional.
The oil used for frying the tofu is reusable. Just filter it in a cheesecloth and place in an oil can for your next use.
How to cook perfect couscous: I use instant semolina. Count about 2-1/2 cups of uncooked semolina for 6 people. Boil about 3-3/4 cups of water (1 cup uncooked semolina to 1-1/2 cup water ratio). Pour the liquid into the semolina. Add 1 tablespoon of butter. Cover immediately with a plate. Place in the microwave for about 30 seconds to a minute. Fluff the couscous with a fork. Season with salt and pepper and serve.
For the meat version, just brown each side of the meat, then braise it in the tajine pot and simmer in the oven for at least an hour. The lamb should be very tender. Extend the cooking time for another 30 minutes if the meat is not easily falling of the bone. I usually count 1 pound of meat per person, it comes to about 8 lamb shanks.
Published By: on July 7, 2009.