If you ask anyone about Moroccan cooking — whether they live in Morocco or somewhere around the world — the person is bound to mention tagine. A tagine is a cooking vessel with a sort of upside-down-funnel-shaped top that fits tightly on a deep saucer. It holds an assortment of meats and vegetables, allowing the steam generated from the cooking to rise and caress those meats and veggies in a blending way. But the word tagine is also used alone to indicate what’s for dinner — as in, “We’re having tagine tonight.” We found tagine dishes in almost every restaurant and riad we visited. So, it’s no wonder that Chef Joanne Weir and Chef Bahija of Jnane Tamsna chose tagine cooking for our first adventure in preparing Moroccan cuisine.
In a charming outdoor “room” with twig lattice walls and covered top, 15 participants in Joane Weir’s Culinary Journey in Morocco 2018 took their seats, picked up their knives and went to work. And I was proud to be among them!
The ever-vigilant Jnane Tamsna staff had started the fires of individual cookers on outdoor tables, so we were ready to begin.
There are some basics with cooking Chicken Tagine, our menu item for Day 1. Although there are no required ingredients, we were told that most tagine dishes include a meat like chicken or lamb, spices (mostly salt, pepper, turmeric and saffron), diced red onion, and extra virgin olive oil. For our chicken tagines, we first chopped red onion and laid it on the bottom of the tagine. Step two involved seasoning the chicken pieces with spices and herbs in various amounts.
Joanne and Bahija explained the types of spices used in Morocco, adding suggestions on how much or how little to use. But even with their suggestions, we had the leeway to choose our own spices in the amounts we found most satisfying. (I found that to be true for most of what we cooked during our Culinary Journey: we had the freedom to make the dishes our own.) For my chicken tagine, I went a bit heavy with salt and pepper, lighter on turmeric. And then I slathered my chicken with cilantro and garlic. Others ventured out with a blend of spices called ras el hanout.
Next, we added vegetables or fruits to our liking. For a chicken tagine heavy on vegetables, Chef Bahija and Chef Joanne laid out quite the variety: tomatoes, carrots, zucchini, peppers, fava beans, and olives. But if you wanted a sweeter tagine, there was something for you as well: apricots, apples, almonds, prunes, dates, raisins and pear. As I said, your tagine was yours — from the choices you made to how to finely you chopped ingredients and even how you arranged it all into a pile.
And what fun it was! Some even became a bit giddy at this “doable dish.” After all, the mystique of cooking tagine was over. This was one dish we could make at home!
After layering the chosen veggies or sweets atop our chicken, we carried our tagines to the cooking table where Chefs Bahija and Joanne added water to each unit. And the waiting began.
It wasn’t long before the steam inside the pottery tagines had done its magic, converting raw ingredients into a savory or sweet treat. When all was done, we gathered at an outdoor table to eat what we cooked, thanks to the patience and guidance of our two chefs, Bahija and Joanne.
Cooking tagine was definitely fun, but so was another custom we learned from our guides. Every time someone took our picture, we heard this: “Say Tagine“! (And we smiled, loving this alternative to the “Say Cheese” we’d always heard.) “Say Tagine” became our go-to command whenever we took pictures of our group. And there was much to smile about in our Culinary Journey in Morocco! Say Tagine, ladies!
For more information:
Many recipes are included on Chef Joanne Weir’s website. And be sure to check out Chef Joanne’s schedule of classes at https://www.joanneweir.com/international-culinary-journeys/ In addition, her TV series Plates and Places can be accessed on Create TV and on Vimeo.
Jnane Tamsna, a boutique hotel near Marrakech, was the site of Culinary Journey in Morocco 2018.