A couple of weeks ago, we received a review copy of the book, 150 Best Tagine Recipes, by Pat Crocker. The book provides an interesting introduction to Maghreb cuisine – dishes with origins in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya. Crocker provides a detailed overview of the North African flavor footprint complete with profiles of trade-route spices and other Persian flavor agents. Each profile includes the origin of the flavor agent, a description of its taste, as well as its culinary and medicinal uses. Building upon these flavor agents, Crocker also includes recipes for 21 different flavor combinations – spice combinations that serve as key building blocks for many recipes provided later in the book.
You may be wondering, what exactly is a tagine? A tagine is a special type of two-piece ceramic pot with a conical lid that has a small hole or vent at the top. It is used to cook foods at low to medium heat, creating concentrated sweet, sour, and savory flavors. The word tagine is also used to refer to any dish prepared in a tagine. We did not already own a tagine, so we used an old $50 gift card at Williams - Sonoma to purchase a medium sized tagine. The process of shopping for the right tagine was made easy by reading the chapter on “tagine know-how.” Here Crocker describes the important things to look for in a good tagine and also provides detailed comparisons of some of the more popular models on the market.
We decided to try the recipes for Baked Eggs with Mediterranean Vegetables and Roasted Red Peppers with Goat Cheese. Both of these recipes called for spice blends included in the Flavor Combinations Section of the book. These flavor combination recipes were Baharat Spice Blend and Moroccan Cinnamon Spice Blend. Some of the ingredients that we needed for the Flavor Combinations such as star anise and sumac were not available in a conventional grocery store so we found a specialty spice shop, Colonel De that had everything that we needed.
Both the Baharat Spice Blend and Moroccan Cinnamon Spice Blend required toasting of the component spices – a process that filled our kitchen with the aromatic scents of Morocco. Each spice mix has a shelf life of about 3 months so we will be able to use these spices for other recipes included in the book. After mixing together each of these Flavor Combinations, we prepared the main dishes: Roasted Red Peppers with Goat Cheese and Baked Eggs with Mediterranean Vegetables. The Baked Eggs recipe was quick and easy to prepare. It was a well balanced, healthy meal with all of the great elements of Mediterranean cooking. We also tried the Roasted Red Peppers with Goat Cheese recipe. This was our favorite although it involved a little more prep time. We had to first roast the peppers and then marinate them overnight. The end result was well worth the wait. The roasted peppers had both a sweet and sour flavor along with the rich and creamy taste of melted goat cheese. This is a great appetizer or side dish to serve with any Mediterranean dinner or get together.
Overall we really liked this book and we give it four out of five stars. It provides all of the information needed to prepare a wide range of delicious Moroccan dishes. In addition to providing insight into selecting the right tagine, 150 Best Tagine Recipes also includes recipes for the basic building blocks for North African cooking. It also features a broad collection of recipes for poultry, lamb, beef, seafood, and vegetarian dishes. Most of the recipes include interesting commentary, are easy to understand and follow, and include helpful tips that could be applied to other recipes. Anyone who is interested in learning more about North African cuisine or anyone who wants to make healthier Mediterranean dishes would love this book.