There are several food scenes from movies that are incredibly romantic. In the remake of the classic film, Sabrina, there is a scene where Julia Ormond takes Harrison Ford to a Moroccan or North African restaurant in New York City and they eat couscous and probably a tagine of some sort with their hands. Turns out that scene was shot across the street from my sisterâ€™s apartment in New York; talk about small world coincidences. Ever since I saw that movie, I have wanted to make a tagine at home. Well, Santa was wise and for Christmas dropped off a stunning, bright red tagine with ceramic conical top and a cast iron base for Marketman. A â€œtagineâ€ literally translated means a â€œstew,â€ and it is a key method of cooking in Morocco. Low heat slowly transforms meats, seafood and vegetables into a flavorful and delicious dish. But tagine also refers to the cooking utensil, most recognized for its conical shape that allows the steam and juices that evaporate to condense on the cooler walls of the ceramic cone then dribble back down into the stew. The top of the ceramic cover is supposed to remain cool enough to hold (haha, nice try, I couldnâ€™t handle the heat and had to use a glove).
So with this new toy to play with, I rushed around the day after Christmas trying to figure out what ingredients I would need for my first ever home-cooked tagine of lamb and vegetables. The key spice mix that I needed was something called Ras el Hanout. I know, you are probably thinking â€œgood luck, buddy, finding that within a 5 kilometer radius of where you liveâ€¦â€ Ras-el-hanout translates into â€œhead of the shopâ€ and it refers to the special spice mixture of a particular spice merchant or shop (mixtures differ slightly from shop to shop), according to The New Guide to Spices, by Sallie Morris. This mix can contain many spices including cinnamon, cardamom, chilli, cumin, coriander seeds, cloves, salt, pepper, turmeric, etc. I was pretty sure I wouldnâ€™t find the mixture in Manila so I decided I would get all the ingredients and possibly make it myself. But a quick trip to Spices â€˜n Flavours over at Market!Market! in Fort Bonifacio yielded, you got it, Ras el Hanout in a small jar for PHP 260, if I recall correctly. Yahoo! Apparently hand-carried back from a recent trip to Morocco by the proprietors of this spice shop, it was like finding a little nugget of gold in the back yard. I have purchased many things from this spice shop before, including whole nutmeg, cinnamon sticks, vanilla, fennel seeds, etc. and am thrilled they are around (they also have a branch at the Salcedo Saturday Market). They also have a great selection of special salts and I am told a recently arrived selection of superb olive oils.
At any rate, back at the beach, I chopped up some lamb, potatoes, carrots, onions, zucchini, tomatoes and browned the meat in the tagine base, added the other vegetables and a stick of cinnamon and lots of paprika and Ras el Hanout and left it for about an hour on low heat simmering awayâ€¦ In the meantime, I made some couscous and when the tagine was done, plated up individual servings of couscous topped with a generaous portion of the lamb tagine. It was terrific! Tender with a very flavorful sauce. The Ras el Hanout gave it that really authentic spice touch and I can tell this is one unusual cooking utensil that will be used again and again. Hmmm, I am even thinking of trying a slow cooked paksiw na lechon in the tagineâ€¦but I worry that the vinegar in the recipe will react badly with the cast iron base of the pan. One of the guests for dinner that evening was NOT a lamb eater so we also made a quick shrimp and tomato concoction that was also placed on top of couscousâ€¦both dishes were delicious but the slow-cooked lamb tagine possessed far more intense and complex flavors… Now if only I had remembered to get some harissa to have with the tagine!
Spices ‘n Flavours
RR-7 Phase I Street Market!Market!
T 831.0449 F 833.0905