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Tagine Treasure of the Desert

The nomadic tribes of North Africa have been traveling across deserts and mountainous terrain for centuries, setting up camp and using tagine (or tajine) pots as portable cauldrons for cooking stews over an open-fire pit. The method might have been slow, but the meal was an all-in-one feast, much like a modern-day crockpot -- for these desert peoples, it was a matter of survival.

Tagine derives its culinary name from countries such as Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria. These North African countries have a rich culture steeped in Arab, Berber, European and other African influences -- specifically the tagine pots, which are as significant to their cookery as a wok is to Asian cuisine.

The traditional tagine is an unglazed, undecorated clay pot with a round shallow base and a large conical-shape cover that rests inside the base during cooking. The cover is strategically designed to allow the condensation to circulate from top to bottom. This gradual concentration magically turns the vapor into a sauce that is blended with the natural flavors of the spices and main ingredients. A few tablespoons of water added at the beginning of the preparation will produce a sufficient amount of liquid to serve a number of people when the tagine dish is cooked.

In Morocco, the most common tagine meals are made with inexpensive cuts of lamb, poultry, beef or fish mixed with vegetables and served over rice or couscous. But the great taste comes from adding little extras such as olives, dried fruits, lemon and honey. And please dont forget to add the spices -- ginger, chili, saffron, cinnamon and cumin are what make an ordinary tagine meal into an extraordinary one.

On special occasions or celebrations try a sweet tagine, which is usually comprised of a variety of dried and fresh fruits, such as prunes, dates, raisins, apricots, currant, quince, fresh pears or any seasonal fruit. Add the usual spices and lots of coarsely ground black pepper or crushed peppercorns to counteract the sweetness and you will have an excellent tagine dessert.

You don't have to own a traditional tagine pot in order to have a traditional North African meal. But, if you want to have fun and impress some of your friends with your culinary skills, there are many tagine style pots available for purchase. The glazed earthenware tagines made for ovens and stove-tops can take heat up to 400°F. If you plan on purchasing a tagine, make sure to buy one that is intended for high heat. Be sure not to cook with a decorative tagine over the stove because the base may crack, and that would be a kitchen disaster. Simply use either a proper casserole dish or a deep frying pan with a cover. Cook on low heat for about two hours to release the rich, flavors of the spices, and the natural juices of the main ingredients. Whether cooking in a tagine pot, deep-frying pan or casserole dish, the taste is what matters.

We hope you will enjoy our favorite tagine-style recipes as listed below. Perhaps you, too, will love this treasure of the desert as much as we do!

Lamb Shanks Tagine - click link for recipe

Moroccan Fish Tagine - click link for recipe