Sunday, March 29, 2009

another tagine of sorts

To initiate a tagine into useful existence it needs to be soaked for 24 hours then left to dry for a further hour or so. Realising this the other morning, it became clear that the dish I’d planned to christen the tagine with was just not going to happen. Undeterred I went ahead and made a harisa of sorts from our home grown chillies, using the spices I liked that loosely fit this Middle Eastern classic. The resulting meal was slow cooked in the trusty iron pot and came out just fine.

Stripped back harisa paste

6 medium hot red chillies
6 plump cloves of garlic
2 tsp coriander seeds
2 tsp fennel seeds
2 tsp cumin seeds

Toast the seeds in a pan, swirling all the time so they don’t burn. After a couple of minutes the aroma will tell you they are cooking nicely. Keep swirling until the coriander seeds begin to brown. Remove immediately from the pan (residual heat = burnt seeds) and grind with a mortar and pestle.

Chop the chillies into quarters (if you really don’t like the heat, deseed or use less chillies) and process with the garlic, a touch of salt and a drizzle of oil. Throw in the pounded roasted seeds and whiz til you have a nice paste. The consistency I aimed for was runny enough to process easily but a paste rather than a slurry. I used raw sesame oil not necessarily out of authenticity, just because we’ve got a surplus of it at the moment.

The raw paste had a kick but a nice rounded flavour from the other herbs as well. Given that I have a heavy hand when it comes to heat, this quantity of paste would be enough for a meal of about 6 people with good tolerance, or two meals of 4 for those who like things a little milder.

Fish and vegetable ‘tagine’
(for 2-3 people)
Other than the harisa, most of the ingredients can be improvised, this is just a stew afterall!

vegetable oil
1-2 tablespoons of harisa
1 onion or 2 leeks, roughly sliced (I used 1 red onion and a baby leek in need of eating)
1 medium, sweet potato, peeled and cubed
1 medium fennel bulb, sliced into wedges
2 Japanese eggplants
6 large peeled tomatoes, roughly chopped (or if you don’t happen to have them in your garden I am sure a cans worth would be fine)

400 gm (200-250 gm per person) of white fish (I used flathead)
salt to taste


Rice, couscous or crusty bread to serve.

This is a slow cooked meal so allow at least 2 hours to cook or prepare. If I was going to do this in a tagine in the oven I’d allow 3 hours of cooking, starting in a cold oven.

Put a heavy based pot on low-medium heat, add a tablespoon of oil then fry off the harisa. Just a minute or two is enough. Add the onion or leeks, stir about for a while, then the rest of the vegetables. Once they are coated in the harisa, add the tomatoes. If they aren’t very juicy add some water or stock to make sure the vegetables are covered. Cover with a lid and once it has come to a gentle simmer put the heat way down low. Give it a stir every once and a while and check there is enough liquid. I’d suggest you aim for 90 minutes minimum. When the vegetables are tender, add the fish and cook for 3-6 minutes depending on the size of your chunks. Check for taste, season with salt if necessary (it will probably need a teaspoon or two of sea salt).

Serve on top of rice (it went well with brown rice) or couscous or just eat it with chunks of a decent, crusty bread. Drizzle a little tahini (sesame seed paste) on top before you dive in. This adds a lovely bit of body to the stew.

Oh boy this was good!

Some obvious variations: celery, carrots, potato, preserved lemons, fresh coriander to serve. Any firm white fish would work well but for the lovers of mussels and other things in shells they would be a winner too. If you want to make sure no shell or grit sullies your dish, cook the mussels etc separately in boiling water, then drain through muslin before adding to the cooked dish.


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Blogger docwitch said...

I. Have. To. Have. It.

This looks splendid! I have a soft spot for tagine - and this would be something else. Thanks AOF!

11:18 am  

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