Friday, November 27, 2015

Tagine or not Tagine (Cooking): Vegan Moroccan Stew

Michel has often spoken about the influence of Indonesian and Moroccan immigrants (government-invited “guest workers”) on the Dutch culture and its food.  The Netherlands has a long and sometimes not-so-pretty history of colonization/immigration. Of course the U.S. has some karma coming its way for similar actions at home and abroad; we have no room to finger-point at the Dutch—don’t get me wrong. Given the numerous worldwide crises blaring at us from cable news day and night, it’s a highly sensitive time to have conversations about immigration but it’s certainly not a new issue. 

My previous post about the cabbage (kool) recipe made reference to Michel’s early interest in Indonesian food. This post will take a Moroccan turn.  Because I am a hopeless nerd and a compulsive reader, I always look for information about the ingredients or historical context of the dish Michel is making before I post his recipes.  He tells me I tend to include way too much information but I guess that’s my teacher brain at work. (Must cover all relevant content and provide context so students will understand the big picture.) #sorrynotsorry

This time around, Google magic led me to a master’s thesis by a student at Leiden University—the oldest university in the Netherlands, founded in 1575, alma mater of numerous Dutch royals and other VIPs.  Sounds dull? Not entirely. The research topic: Postwar Indonesian/Moroccan influences “at the Dutch table.”  To be clear, I didn’t read all 107 pages covering the period from 1950-2000 but I did learn some interesting socio-cultural tidbits about a popular women’s magazine, Margriet, and the food writer Wina Born—known as “the mother of Dutch gastronomy”—and her strong influence on home cooking and the growing restaurant scene in mid-century Holland. 

So while housewives in the U.S. were replicating colorful JELL-O dishes they found in Ladies Home Journal and discovering the wonders of frozen TV dinners, Dutch housewives were following Wina Born's advice columns as they experimented with non-traditional ingredients and occasionally tried restaurant dining instead of home cooked meals.  

Moroccan dishes are among Michel’s favorites to prepare.  He’s already shared his ideas about using preserved lemon in an earlier post (the one with the babouches).  This new recipe was created on the occasion of his acquisition of a tagine—the name that applies to the cooking vessel as well as the stew itself.  The tagine design allows the steam to rise into the conical lid and lets the liquid drip back down the sides into the dish. Some people prefer tagine cooking to a Crock Pot because they claim it produces more tender meat dishes—not an issue in Michel’s kitchen. 

We didn’t go for an ornamental model like the merchants sell in the exotic souks of Marrakech or a pricey Williams-Sonoma find.  We just went to the local World Market chain store and bought the basic twenty dollar glazed clay version. Turns out it works quite well.

One bit of advice from our “we learned it the hard way” file:  
You might want to place a sheet pan or some foil on the lowest oven rack below the tagine. Why? The first time Michel used the tagine the liquid bubbled out around the rim and baked onto the oven floor. (For the record, if you are a person who enjoys cleaning a dirty oven, you have my undying respect.) 

Ready?  Here goes. 
Moroccan Stew (Vegan)

You will need:

2-3 cups butternut squash cut into cubes.
(Peel/cut the squash yourself or buy a package of cubed squash from your favorite grocer. No need to tell you which option we prefer.)

10-12 Moroccan olives, pitted and chopped (or other seasoned olives will do if you can’t find Moroccan)

1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped

2 habanero peppers (or scotch bonnet/other mean little peppers) chopped together with ½ an onion*

½ an onion*

6 cloves garlic, chopped

½ bunch fresh cilantro, chopped

1 16 oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1 16 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained

6-7 dried figs, with stems removed and sliced into small pieces

1-2 tablespoons Craisins (cran-raisins)

1 cup vegetable broth

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 sticks cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

1½ teaspoons sumac
1 tablespoon coriander seeds

1 tablespoon cumin

1 teaspoon nigella seeds (also known as black cumin)

In a dry skillet: Toast coriander seeds, cumin, and nigella seeds. Grind spices together after toasting and set aside.  For this task Michel uses an old-school electric coffee grinder that we found at a yard sale.  Nothing fancy. Works perfectly.

In a large deep skillet:

Heat olive oil then add chopped onion/habanero peppers, red bell pepper, and garlic. 

Cook over medium heat 5-8 minutes “so the onion will fry but don’t let it brown—if it starts to brown, lower the heat.”

Add salt, ground spices, sumac, chopped olives and cilantro, figs, craisins. Stir to make sure spices are evenly mixed. 

Add vegetable broth and cubed squash. Bring to a boil.

Lower heat and let simmer until squash has softened.

Add chickpeas and diced tomatoes to the mixture. 

At this point you have a choice: 
Option 1: You can finish cooking the dish in the large skillet for another half an hour.

Option 2: If you have a tagine, you can transfer the squash mixture to the tagine bowl and cover/cook in the oven for 30 minutes at 375 degrees. 

This dish can be served on its own or, if you like, on a bed of couscous or quinoa.