By Amelia Casey-Rerhaye, Managing Editor, BA Arabic.
I don’t know the name of this dish, I never have. When we refer to it at home we just call it ‘carrots, peas and potatoes’, and if that isn’t enough to jog the memory of sweet peas, thick sauce and tangy preserved lemon, we stick ‘tagine’ on the end for good measure.
All the recipes that stay with me have been told to me by my family. For some reason, the memory must be stored in a different part of my brain. Maybe because I recall the exact taste of the dish, I know the smells that are supposed to fill the kitchen when it’s being cooked. Maybe it’s purely because of the sentimental value, but I have never forgotten a recipe that has been described to me by a family member. Getting exact instructions from anyone, be that my English mum, my Moroccan dad, his mother, or even my Italian uncle, is nearly impossible. Often I leave with a mental list of ingredients rambled at me, scrabbling to remember if they said coriander or parsley? Red or white onions? Occasionally I’ll be lucky enough to get some vague cooking instructions, but God forbid I know any timings or measurements.
There is, though, something magical about the recipes gathered in passing comments at the table, or cleaning the kitchen, or, in mine and my mother’s case, while trying to scratch the yummy crispy bits of the potatoes from the bottom of an oven dish. With these vague descriptions, I’m allowed to make it my own. When it’s successful, that success came from me. Often it’s never quite what I want, and I probably won’t make a tagine that tastes like my grandmother’s for years yet. My father only just managed it last Christmas, and he’s 56. But I try.
The absolute keys to this tagine, and pretty much every other tagine too, are preserved lemon, harissa paste and coriander. On top of those, need I even mention the holy trinity? Cumin, paprika and turmeric. Often these are abbreviated to ‘the spices’ when I ask “Which spices?” I receive a stern look. Silly question.
The fresher the veg the better. Unfortunately, preserved lemons are a bit of an investment piece, but they last a long time and really can’t be skipped. Harissa I have yet to find in this cold country, the closest I’ve come to is ‘Tagine Paste’ (the name kills me every time) from Waitrose (you can make it if necessary, just look up a simple recipe online). If anyone knows a good Moroccan grocery shop, hunt me down and tell me, pretty please.
This recipe makes a lot. Like, a lot. Why make things in small quantities? ‘Cook once, eat twice’ is my mother’s mantra.
It is best to make this in a big pan with a lid.
- 1 white onion
- 4-5 swirls of olive oil (about 3 tablespoons) + extra to drizzle
- Some garlic (a lot? No idea how much I use, maybe 4 cloves)
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp paprika (not smoked!)
- ⅓ tsp of turmeric
- 3 large carrots, peeled and diced
- 4 medium-sized potatoes, peeled and diced
- A mug full of frozen peas (the more peas the sweeter it will be)
- 1 small preserved lemon
- 1 tbsp of harissa
- A small bunch of coriander
- Put the olive oil, onions and spices into a pan. Let them come to a sizzle, and once you can smell the spices, turn the heat down, add a splash of water and put the lid on. Cook for around ten minutes, check to make sure the onions aren’t sticking and add water if they do.
- (Optional but yummy) Once the onions are very soft, grab a fork or potato masher or something of the sort and smush them into a paste.
- Once the onions are soft add the potatoes. The smaller you cut them the quicker they will cook. But don’t go too small, you still want to be able to distinguish them as potatoes.
- While the potatoes cook, prepare the carrots. After about ten minutes of the potatoes cooking with the lid on, add the carrots.
- Throw in a cup full of water, chopped-up preserved lemon, and the harissa. Put the lid on and cook until the carrots and potatoes are almost ready. If it looks too dry, keep adding water.
- Throw in the peas about fifteen minutes into the carrots being in there. Stir and taste. Add salt, pepper and more harissa as you see fit. Chilli as well if it is to your taste.
- Once the potatoes and carrots are soft, and the peas have melted into sweet deliciousness, sprinkle on the chopped coriander and drizzle a bit more olive oil on top.
- Serve authentically with bread, or brown rice if you’re looking for more nutrition.
(Photo Credit: Amelia Casey-Rerhaye)