I had only been in Algeciras, Spain for about 5 hours, and already it was…
She placed the huge, oven-hot ceramic dish on the table in front of us, and with just the perfect amount of flare, lifted the heavy dome to reveal the most incredible chicken and vegetable mix, yellow with turmeric and billowing steam, and in that moment I thought, “I must have one of these.” A tagine. A Moroccan ceramic cooking dish with a tall, conical lid. It is placed on hot coals and left for an hour or so to slow cook whatever deliciousness you put inside. I wanted one. We could figure out where in the van it would fit later. I had to have one.
A Moroccan friend told us when looking in the souk for a tagine, we should expect to pay about 60-80dh which is about $8-10 CAD, but we, of course, can barter the price down. I knew as well, that in the souk, there would be both functional tagines for those who want to cook with it, and decorative tagines for those who want to put it on their mantle, so we would have to make sure to buy one we could actually use. It wasn’t hard to find the man selling tagines. There were about 50 of them, all different sizes, displayed out in front of his truck. These were the real ones. Not decorative at all. In fact, the glazing was just downright sloppy! These were no-nonsense tagines. We found the right size, one bigger than the smallest one there, and asked the man how much. He offered 50dh. We didn’t barter. We just bought it.
We continued through the souk and found a man selling spices. Bright yellow turmeric, deep red paprika, and sandy brown cumin, were just a few of the big, full bags sitting on the table. I had no idea what we needed in order to create as beautiful a dish as the first tagine we had. The man started speaking to us in French and I just said, “tagine?” “Tagine!” he exclaimed, and began preparing multiple bags of spices for us. We ended up with the bright yellow turmeric, the deep red paprika, and the sandy brown cumin, and a bag of what the spice man called, “tagine mix”. Perfect!
We took our tagine and our too many bags of spices back to the van. We had onions, tomatoes, potatoes, zucchini, and carrots. For our first tagine we were happy to make a simple vegetarian dish, and, granted we didn’t blow the place up with our first attempt, we could graduate to meat dishes later. While Michael ‘seasoned’ our brand new tagine (boiled water in it for 20 minutes to prep the lid with steam), I took to Google to find recipes we could loosely follow. I was disappointed to discover the top hits on Google for “tagine recipes” were all people cooking in casserole dishes and frying pans, and serving their food in the decorative tagine they bought in Morocco, OR even some on Amazon. Huh?
We would have to figure it out without Google’s help. We rubbed oil all over the bottom part of the dish, and poured a few tablespoons in. We heat the tagine and added onion, and then tomato. While they cooked, I tossed the potato, zucchini, and carrot in all our spices. All of them. When the onion and tomato began sizzling, we turned the heat right down, and stacked our other vegetables on top of each other. And that was that! We set the timer for an hour. We drank wine, played cards, ate a few olives to whet our appetites. The timer went off and our food was done!
I placed the huge, oven-hot ceramic dish on the table in the van, and with just the perfect amount of flare, I lifted the heavy dome to reveal the most incredible vegetable mix, yellow with turmeric and billowing steam. Our very first tagine!