when i was 11 or 12 years old, we spent a family holiday in marakesh, morocco, during fall. i remember it very well. we stayed at a lovely hotel, complete with lines of palm trees everywhere, different restaurants and sitting zones, a splendid pool area and a vast golf course. i have fond memories of the souk, where we bought some arabesque silver plates and tea pots for being able to serve food and drink in that dreamy manner of one thousand and one nights. i remember the custom of serving the (very sweet and tasty) fresh hot mint tea by pouring it into the glass cups from high above the guests’ heads, with the aim to provide as many bubbles as possible. the more bubbles, so the belief, the more welcome a guest is. and, oh, i remember the food…
i remember we had lovely tajines and couscous every night, served in large, colorful, beautifully ornamented clay pots. and a vast selection of mezze. pomegranate seeds sprinkeled on just about anything, the colors amazing. and i remember… rice briouats. rice briouats are filo pastries, shaped like little spring rolls, filled with sweet, cinnamony, orange-blossom fragrant rice pudding, baked in the oven. they were dusted in confectioners sugar, and dipped in hot melted honey… it was divine. my dreams are still made up of those.
it’s evident: ever since morocco, i was hooked on middle eastern food. my mom used to cook a great deal of middle eastern dishes when i was a kid, so i sort of got used to it from early on. for me it’s kind of normal to inocorporate a few middle eastern dishes into my cooking repertoire. now, rice briouats (sadly) aren’t something you would end up doing every day (and probably shouldn’t include in your daily diet, either…). but tajine, i guess their quite healthy (as healthy dishes go).
side comment: the last thing i want to do is offend anyone with my cooking. i guess in the real middle eastern kitchen world, or the tajine world, to be specific, this here recipe would probably just be a funny joke. you probably wouldn’t even add butternut squash to it? who knows. but the idea of a tajine is transported quite well: it’s spicey, fragrant, zingy and comforting – all in one. in other words: good food for cold nights.
moroccan butternut squash tajine
1/2 butternut squash, diced
2 red potatoes, diced
2 carrots, cut into diagonal slices
1 small can chickpeas, drained and washed
1 small can chopped pelati tomatoes
1 large white onion, diced
2 cups vegetable broth
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 pinch hot paprika
1 tsp. sweet paprika
1 tbsp. ground cumin (of this, i feel, you can hardly ever add too much)
1 tsp. ras el hanout spice mix
1 pinch urfa chili or other sweet chili flakes
1 pinch ground cinnamon
1 lemon, zest and juice
1 tsp. maldon sea salt
cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
parsley leaves, coarsely chopped
1 cup couscous
2 cups vegetable broth
preheat the oven to 220 degrees celsius. spread the butternut squash, potato and carrots evenly on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. coat with a drizzle of olive oil and season with a pinch of salt. bake for 30 minutes, until the edges of the vegs are slightly browned. the separate roasting process adds more flavor and a nice change of color (which, all tone in tone orange, might otherwise look a bit dull).
in the meantime, heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. sweat the onion for a bit, until translucent. add the spices to sweat: hot and sweet paprika, cumin and the ras el hanout. deglaze with the broth and the canned tomatoes. add the chickpeas and the leftover spices, cinnamon and chili, as well as the lemon zest. when the roasted vegetables are done, add them to the tomato-chickpea mix. heat through for 2 to 3 minutes. at the end of the cooking, season to taste with more salt, and add the lemon juice.
also, prepare the couscous according to directions. in my case, it meant boiling the double amount of water (i used vegetable broth), then adding the couscous, removing the pan from the heat but cover the lid and let steam for 10 minutes. i added a generous drizzle of olive oil – some butter would be fine too – to prevent it from sticking together.
assemble everything: add the couscous to a bowl, on one side. place the tajine on the other side. sprinkle with the herbs. serve hot.
notes: you can prepare the tajine ahead, simply reheat it and add the lemon juice only at the end of the cooking. i sometimes even feel that it’s even better reheated the next day, maybe because the flavors develop more. serve it with a dollop of natural greek yogurt. and if you have some dried apricots around, add them to the tajine, too. they give it a nice, fruity, sweet flavor addition that tastes just that little bit (even more) arab… sweet dreams of 1001 nights! xo