You may have noticed that for the past month at least I’ve been pretty much in a “winter” theme. Something about going cross-country skiing and shovelling snow that screams comfort food — and there are fewer better examples of comfort food than any stew.
One of my very favourite stews is tagine, a North African dish so splendid for it’s ability to combine sweet and savoury that it will make a convert out of almost anyone. The name comes from the traditional earthenware dish used in the cooking process (you can see my red one below). While there is no need to have this cooking pot to make the meal — indeed, for 15 years I made it in my stainless steel pot you’ve seen figured in many of my dishes — it does add a little je ne sais quoi … if not for the steam captured in the tall, conical lid which traps the steam for a moist and almost braised cooking process, then because serving out of it feels like you’ve been transported Morocco.
While I’ve made a few exquisite vegetarian tagines as well, there are few better ways to eat lamb in this world than combined in a tagine. The inspiration for this particular dish came when I prodded Anne for some notion, some cuisine or ingredient, to inspire my Sunday night exploration this past weekend. In this case, she offered up an ingredient: Merguez sausage and the package she had already purchased. Given these particular lamb sausages are also native to North Africa, the idea was intuitively born. I highly doubt that I’m the first to use the lamb sausage instead of lamb itself, but I have to say, this rocked the dish. The little extra spice and heat from the sausage added an other dimension to this perfect winter time stew. I hope it becomes a favourite of your as well.
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 70 minutes
Total time: 90 minutes
Tagine with Merguez Sausage and Winter Vegetables
10 ounces (280 grams) white pearl onions
3/4 lb (375 grams) Merguez sausage
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon extra-virgen olive oil
1 cinnamon stick
1.5lbs (650 grams) sweet potato
→ (approx. 2 sweet medium potatoes)
2 large carrots
1 Japanese eggplant
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2.5 cups (650mL) chicken stock
4 tablespoons honey
1 cup pitted dried prunes
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sesame seeds (garnish)
1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
2. Blanche the white pearl onions in boiling water and cook for 60 seconds. Drain and rinse in cool water. “Peel” them by sliding the ‘tough’ outer skin off the onion. You may want to “tail” them while you do this, but do not “top” them as they will otherwise fall apart during the cooking and defeat the purpose of using bite sized little onions. Set aside.
3. Heat tagine or stainless-steel pan to medium-high heat.
4. Meanwhile, cut the Merguez sausage into 1-inch lengths ….
5. Add butter and olive oil to the pan together. The oil will prevent the butter from burning. Add the onions, sausage and the cinnamon stick and cook until onions have begun to brown and the sausage is also browned (8 minutes).
6. While the onions are browning peel and dice into uniform ¾-1″ pieces the sweet potato and carrots.
→ Don’t cube the veggies too small or they will turn to mush in the cooking before their essence has flavoured the sauce.
7. Add sweet potato and carrots to the pan and continue to lightly brown them (another 5 minutes). Similarly, cube the Japanese eggplant and add it. Brown another 3 minutes.
→ Note: I don’t find that Japanese eggplant needs to be salted which makes it easy to add to this stew.
8. Sprinkle the mixture with the ground cinnamon, ginger, and pepper ….
9. Once the veggies and meat are all ‘browned,’ deglaze the pan by gradually adding the stock to the pan and ‘scraping’ the bottom, lifting all that brown goodness (and flavour) into the stock. You’ll know you’ve done a great job when you watch how it turns the liquid brown.
10. Add the dried prunes and honey and sprinkle with salt — taste and adjust for sweetness, salt … and even spice. Make it your own, but don’t over do it because all the flavours are going to concentrate during the ‘stewing.’
11. Cover tightly and place in oven for about 40-50 minutes, checking to stir halfway and to ensure nothing burns and everything gets its turn in the sauce. The dish will be done when the carrots and sweet potato are fork tender.
12. Remove from oven after the 40-50 minutes, sprinkle with sesame seeds and then broil until sesame seeds are golden brown.
Let cool slightly and serve with your favourite couscous, warm bread, or, in my case, a quinoa pilaff.