A tagine is a clay cooking vessel with a conical lid. The shape ensures all the condensation from the cooking food returns to the pot, keeping the ingredients moist. A dish cooked in a tagine, is also called a tagine (or tajine).

It really is a wonderful thing, and with very few ingredients, a delicious slow-cooked meal can be made very easily. A tagine can be a celebratory feast or a homely supper. The simplest one I make consists of only half a dozen ingredients. I chuck all the ingredients in the pot, stick the lid on, bung it in the oven for an hour or so, and voilà, the meal is made. No need to brown meat or any of that fiddling about: a tagine quite simply makes itself.

I was given one as a Christmas gift some years ago and use it regularly. It is one of my favourite pieces of kitchen kit, and it's elegant enough to bring to the table, where I fling off the lid with a flourish, allowing the lovely aromas of the pot to waft around the table. The food is comforting and warming, just the thing for a cold winter evening.

Simple chicken tagine
1 chicken thigh (bone in) per person
1 large onion, finely sliced
About 1 tsp chopped fresh ginger, or bottled ginger. Or failing both, ground ginger
1 tsp cumin seeds or ground cumin
1 tsp chilli flakes or harissa paste
A couple of garlic cloves, chopped
A couple of carrots, cut into batons
A tin of chickpeas
Salt & pepper

Optional extras:
Half a preserved lemon, flesh removed and finely chopped
A handful of dried apricots or dates, chopped
A handful of olives
Chopped, fresh coriander

Put everything in the tagine (or Le Creuset type casserole dish), splash on some olive oil and some water. Season with salt and pepper. Put in a hot oven (200C) and cook for about an hour. About 10 mins before serving, I like to add couscous to the dish (quantity per person according to packet), put the lid back on and leave to steam on the stovepot before serving. Remove the lid and you will find a whole meal in a pot.

I like to serve this with a generous dollop of Bezalu Rose Harissa paste.

Djej Makali
Tagine of Chicken, Preserved Lemons, Saffron and Olives

Serves 4

This tagine is delicious, full of interesting flavours, and dead easy to make. It can be made in advance. Any leftover sauce can be frozen.

1 chicken thigh or leg portion per person (bone in). Or joint a whole chicken into 4 pieces
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground cumin
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 onion, grated
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
pinch of saffron threads
1 preserved lemon prepared (see separate recipe)
110g (4 oz) Moroccan pinky red and green olives, boiled in water for 5 mins and drained
salt and pepper

Trim any excess fat off the chicken pieces and then dust with the dry ingredients and half the garlic and leave to marinade for up to 12 hours (covered and in the fridge).

Grate the onion into the bottom of tagine (or Le Creuset-style casserole dish), add the rest of the garlic, the preserved lemon, the saffron and the chicken pieces. Any spice/garlic mix left in the marinading dish should be scraped into the tagine. Pour over olive oil. Season. Put in the oven and cook for a good hour, or longer, to allow the sauce to make itself. If it looks a little dry, add some water, but not too much. You are after a thickish sauce which coats the meat. Towards the end of cooking, add the olives.

Serve with steamed couscous, or mashed potato, or flatbreads. Or indeed, just a green salad.

I like to serve this with 'Favourite Salad' (see separate entry).

Lamb and Date Tagine with Onion & Pomegranate relish
This is taken from 'Nigella Christmas' (2008), and is easy to make and absolutely gorgeous. The onion relish, flecked with jewel-like pomegranate seeds, makes a fine and festive accompaniment. I often serve this for dinner parties as it is delicious and impressive. And, as Nigella says, "the dates make this tagine rich and sweet". The resulting sauce is dark and aromatic. I will be making this for my pre-Christmas dinner.

Serves 6-8
2 onions, chopped
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground allspice
1 kg diced leg of lamb OR whole shoulder of lamb to same weight, trimmed of fat
250 soft dried pitted dates
250ml pomegranate juice (from a bottle)
250ml water
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp Maldon salt

This method is for making this dish in a tagine. Refer to Nigella's original for the casserole method.

Put all the ingredients in the tagine, pour over the pomegranate juice and water, and put in a hot oven. I like to cook this for about 3 hours, by which time my house smells lovely and my mouth is watering. Serve with steamed couscous and onion relish. And a good Rioja.

Onion and Pomegranate Relish
1 red onion, finely sliced
60 ml lime juice
juice & 40g seeds from 1 large pomegranate, or 60 ml pure pomegranate juice from a bottle
2 tbsps chopped fresh coriander

Steep the sliced onion in the lime juice and pomegranate juice for at least half. Drain and scatter with pomegranate seeds (tip: slice pomegranate in half and bash skin with a wooden spoon to release the seeds). Toss with fresh coriander and season with a little salt.


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