I have an old friend coming over for dinner tonight and he told me that prefers to eat vegetarian meals. So I racked my head for a bit and decided to make a vegetable tagine. In any case, I had bought a couple of ceramic/terracotta Tagines from William Sonoma a few weeks ago and after much procrastination and foot-dragging, last week I seasoned/cured them (before initial use, these Tagines have to be soaked in water overnight and then completely dried off, then rubbed with some olive oil and placed in the oven at 250F for 2 hours) and so now was clearly the time to use them. Cooking in tagines is an old Moroccan tradition and any dish made this way comes out juicy, flavorful and delicious. Basically these are slow cooked stews that retain flavors of the ingredients and are best served with couscous or good bread (to sop up the juices).
I made my dish today with what are called Indian Eggplants (they look like baby eggplants and are sometimes called baby eggplants but actually they are fully grown and you can find them at any South-Asian grocery store or any Middle-eastern store or any East Asian store). If you can’t find these eggplants, you can use the smaller Italian eggplants or the variety that is called Fairy-tale eggplants (small and striated in color). I combined the eggplants with some good quality olives, a zucchini and a couple of banana peppers and one cherry bomb pepper (but you can use whichever vegetables or peppers you like). After almost two hours in the oven the juices from all the vegetables got combined to make a magnificent stew – this is so good, you won’t miss the meat! I am having a hard time resisting the urge to dig into it right now – the only thing stopping me is the fact that I have to serve it to my friend tonight !
1. 7-8 Indian or baby eggplants (with their stems on)
2. 1 zucchini
3. 1/3 cup olives – I used pitted Kalamata and large green olives cured in oil and pepper flakes
4. 2 Banana peppers
5. 1 cherry bomb pepper
6. 2 medium sized onions
7. 3 cloves of garlic
8. 1 tablespoon of dry whole coriander seeds
9. ½ tablespoon of whole cumin seeds
10. ½ cup of jarred spaghetti sauce (or canned tomatoes would do well too)
11. 1 tablespoon of honey
12. 1 cup of white wine or vegetable stock
13. A few sprigs of fresh cilantro
14. A few sprigs of fresh mint
15. 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
16. Salt and pepper to taste
1. Peel and slice the onions as thinly as you possibly can.
2. Heat a heavy bottomed pan and pour 1.5 tablespoons of olive oil in it and add the onion slices and stir. Cook these on medium heat for 3-4 minutes and continue stirring.
4. Cook the garlic and onions for a minute or two more and when it looks like they are starting to stick to the bottom of the pan, add the wine (or vegetable stock) and scrap up everything that has stuck to the bottom of the pan.
6. In another pan, add the cumin seeds and coriander seeds and roast them over medium heat for 2-3 minutes (they get burnt easily, so continue stirring them frequently) and as soon as you can smell the spices roasting take them out and give them a coarse grind in a spice grinder.
14. Half way through the cooking process take the tagine out (be careful to use oven mitts or you’ll get burnt) and remove the lid and check on the vegetables. Stir everything and with a knife, you can make thin slits into the eggplants (so the sauce starts to seep inside them once they have softened a bit). If the stew looks too dry, you can add a tiny bit more wine or vegetable stock. Cover the pot and place back in the oven.
15. Wash and coarsely chop the cilantro and mint leaves.
16. When the tagine looks like it is done (takes 9o minutes to 100 minutes, depending on the size of the eggplants), take it out of the oven and stir everything once more.
17. Add a little bit more extra virgin olive oil on top and sprinkle the chopped cilantro and mint and serve with a bowl of fluffy couscous or a crusty bread.