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Several years ago I took a tagine cooking class at Tara Kitchen, a Moroccan restaurant in nearby Schenectady, New York. Much to my surprise, I learned that tagine cooking is easy: There is no browning of meat or fish prior to entering the tagine, no staggering the entry of ingredients, no deglazing at the end—everything enters at once and simmers together until done.
In nearly every tagine she makes, Tara Kitchen’s chef and owner Aneesa Waheed includes a few staples: onions, garlic, ras el hanout (a spice blend often made with turmeric, cumin, cardamom, and other spices), olive oil, golden raisins, green olives, and parsley. From this foundation, Aneesa then builds and changes the flavor of each tagine with various beans, legumes, fish, and meat, as well as an arsenal of homemade sauces and pastes including harissa, chermoula, and preserved lemons.
This chickpea tagine is inspired by a favorite at Tara Kitchen, made with eggplant, prunes, and a homemade tomato jam. To mimic the sweet-and-sour flavor of the jam, I’ve veered from Aneesa’s all-in-at-once technique, opting instead to sauté the onions first, which allows them to soften and draws out their sweetness. Within 15 minutes, ras el hanout, cilantro, and tomatoes enter the pan, followed by the chickpeas, golden raisins, and a generous amount of vinegar. After 30 minutes of simmering, the liquids reduce and the tomatoes break down, creating a sweet, spiced sauce with a hint of sharpness.
This time of year, in addition to or in place of eggplant, I love using delicata squash, which requires no peeling and cooks quickly. I prefer cooking chickpeas from scratch, but here, given the many layers of flavors—the sautéed onions and garlic, the warm spices, the herbs—canned chickpeas work just fine. As fall and winter move along, I envision replacing the squash with roasted cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, or thinly sliced Swiss chard or kale.
A Few Tips
Ras el Hanout: It’s not uncommon for this blend to include as many as 30 different spices. For this reason, I find it easier to purchase it from a spice shop or from Aneesa herself. You certainly can make it from scratch, however, which gives you the freedom to tailor the blend to your tastes and preferences. Here’s a simple recipe for homemade ras el hanout to guide you.
Chickpeas are sponges: Depending on the vessel you use to make the dish and the rate at which the liquid is simmering, you may need to add more water. You want enough liquid in the pan to keep the sauce and chickpeas from sticking. Stir often and as water as needed.
Additions: To make this dish spicy, you could stir in a teaspoon (or more) of prepared harissa. For more depth of flavor, you could add a teaspoon of minced preserved lemon. Green olives would be a nice addition here as well.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil plus more for the squash, if using
- 1 onion, thinly sliced to yield about 1 1/2 cups
- kosher salt to taste
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon ras el hanout, see notes above
- 1/2 cup finely diced cilantro, plus a few tablespoons for sprinkling at the end
- 4 to 6 Roma (plum) or other tomatoes, finely diced to yield 2 heaping cups
- 3 cups cooked chickpeas, see notes above
- 1/4 cup golden raisins
- 1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
- 1 delicata squash, optional, halved lengthwise, seeded, and sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
- bread for serving, optional