Cooking without recipes – the Moroccon-style Tajine

Stews are a great way to get the best out of cheap cuts of meat, be that beef, lamb, or even chicken. I sometimes get sick of the classic boeuf bourguignon, though, and crave something a bit more exotic, with stronger flavours and spices from India or Northern Africa. That’s usually when I make a tajine-type stew.

I’m careful about calling it an actual tajine, since I tend not to stick to the rules and wouldn’t want to offend anyone who exclaims “THAT’S NOT HOW YOU MAKE TAJINE!” in shock, like some people did when my mother put garlic in Irish Stew. I like the taste of the spices. I love preserved lemons. I am a fan of chickpeas and couscous wheat. So I respect other people’s culinary traditions, but apart from that, I do what I want.

On the whole, I make two different types of tajine – with sour/salty ingredients, like the olives and preserved lemons, or sweeter, using peeled tomatoes with honey, cinnamon, and a pinch of saffron. The rest of the “non-recipe” is the same. The flavours are different, the color is different, and the tomato version has a creamier sauce, but both taste lovely.

What you need:

  • meat (I am being vague on purpose. I do this with all kinds of meat that need/require stewing: chicken, rabbit, beef, lamb…)
  • vegetables (Again, whatever you have in the house and what goes together: I always have onions/garlic/carrots, sometimes I use aubergine or squash or peppers or broad beans, and often I throw in a handful or two of chickpeas from the tin.)
  • preserved lemons, green olives, coriander (for the flavor) OR chopped, peeled tomatoes and honey
  • spices: ras-el-hanout, couscous spice mix, cardamon, cumin, paprika, cinnamon, saffron… (Have fun with it)
  • salt and pepper
  • white wine/black tea/stock (Something to wet it with for cooking.)
  • dried fruit: raisins, dates, figs, apricots, prunes… (Choose one.)
  • seeds or nuts: pine nuts, blanched almonds, cashew… (Dry roast and sprinkle on top for a bit of crunch.)


What to do:

  • Pre-fry the meat in a little olive oil and set aside on a plate.
  • Fry the onions and garlic until they are translucent.
  • Add the spices you want and stir over the heat for a minute or two to let the flavours develop.
  • Add the chopped vegetables and mix.
  • Put in the meat and stir.
  • Wet with whatever liquid you have chosen (about 1 1/2 cups – you can adjust throughout the stewing time), and let simmer on low heat.
  • After about 30 minutes, add the olives, dried fruit, preserved lemons (or whatever you are using)
  • Let simmer for another 15-45 minutes (This depends on what kind of meat you used.)
  • In a dry frying pan, toast your pine nuts (if you want).

Serve with couscous wheat, bulgur, rice, or quinoa. (To make it look pretty on the plate, I spoon the couscous into an empty yoghurt pot and tip it on the plate before adding the stew – that way I make equal portions for the adults. I do the same for the kids, but only half-fill the yoghurt pot.)

Sprinkle nuts on top and decorate with a few coriander leaves (or basil, for that matter).

This reheats like a charm.

Bon appétit!

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