Slow-simmering, aromatic stews steam up the kitchen, glaze frosty windows and inspire winter’s hungers on subzero nights. The tagines of North Africa, fragrant with warm spices, seem just right this time of year.
Tagine, the traditional Moroccan stew, is cooked in an earthenware vessel with a conical top (also called a tagine) set over coals. The design of this pot makes sure the moisture doesn’t evaporate so the concentrated sauce bathes the meat to keep it delectable and tender.
On a busy weeknight, I take a few shortcuts to the authentic version, relying on a heavy-bottomed saucepan rather than the proper vessel. I also turn to lamb sausage and canned white beans. This Americanized version makes a terrific one-pot dinner that skips a long ingredient list and hours of cooking. Plus, it’s infinitely variable — swap out the lamb for chicken or turkey sausage, chickpeas for the white beans, add carrots or potatoes. You get the idea.
The sausage releases a little fat and a lot of flavor into the pot so the sauté calls for less oil. The sausage, onions and garlic brown together, leaving nibs of flavor that contribute the richness to this dish. The mix of spices — fresh ginger, coriander, cumin and cinnamon — are exotic but not overpowering. You can add a little more heat by upping the red pepper flakes or tossing in a chopped jalapeño.
Tagines are typically sweetened with the addition of dried fruit and a spoonful of honey. Locally, our dried cranberries and cherries add a little zing. But you can use the more traditional apricots if you’d like; dates, figs or prunes work nicely, as well. This stew simply needs to simmer so that everything comes together (about 10 to 20 minutes) and it’s ready to serve. It’s even more delicious the next day.
Garnish this with chopped parsley or cilantro (or both) and finish with a squeeze of lemon or lime to spark a bright note. It’s great over rice, couscous or mashed sweet potatoes, and especially good over barley (with its nutty chew). To make things super-simple, simply serve it with lots of toasted naan. With a crisp green salad in a tart lemony vinaigrette or a medley of sliced oranges and grapefruit, spiked with chopped rosemary, this is a dinner of bold, sunny flavors on a cold night.
Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.