This recipe is an adaptation of my mother’s lamb tagine, something that was extremely popular in our family during my teenage years. It was mainly served on special occasions, and it definitely tasted special: fragrant, a little fruity, and almost chocolatey in its richness. When I remade this more recently I found it worked just as well with vegetables in place of the meat. I tweaked the method and the spices and added flaked almonds too.
I love the pairing with this couscous, which is studded with pomegranate, dates, nuts, and fresh mint. The recipe might seem like a bit of an undertaking, and has a lot of ingredients - but it’s not complicated, and is well worth the small effort. Good extras which also go well with this include flatbreads and tzatziki-style soy yoghurt dips. Followed by a pot of fresh mint tea, this makes for a really delicious Moroccan-style feast.
Aubergine, Almond and Plum Tagine with Bejewelled Couscous
Preparation time: 2 hours
For the tagine…
2 aubergine (around 600g), sliced (I like to cut mine lengthways and on a bias)
2 tbsp ground ginger
1.5 tsp ground black pepper
3 tsp ground cinnamon
5 tsp ground turmeric
2 tbsp unsmoked paprika
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp saffron stamens
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
4.5 tbsp date syrup
500g tomato passata
10 cloves of garlic and 2 brown or white onions, peeled and blitzed in a food processor
2 large celery stalks, de-ribbed and very finely sliced
400g white cabbage, finely sliced
150ml vegetable oil
150g dried plums (AKA prunes)
200g flaked almonds
1.5l vegetable stock
Ground sea salt, to taste
For the couscous…
Seeds of one large pomegranate
7 medjool dates, destoned and finely diced
20g fresh mint, destalked and finely chopped
50g pistachios, roughly chopped
Juice of half a lemon
A good glug of extra-virgin olive oil
Ground sea salt and black pepper, to taste
1./ Add all the spices to a mixing bowl and combine well. To this add the vinegar, date syrup, and tomato passata, and mix well into a paste. Add in the aubergine and mix again, so the aubergine is well-covered with the paste. Cover with cling film and leave for at least half an hour.
2./ Heat up the vegetable oil in a large saucepan or pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic paste with a little salt and fry off for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Then add the celery and fry for a further 5 minutes. Add the spiced aubergine, making sure to scrape the bowl to get all of the spice mixture in. Fry off for another 5 minutes, then add the prunes and 100g of the almonds. Pour in the stock, stir well, and bring to the boil. Add in the cabbage, stir again, turn down the heat to low and leave to simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally. You can also put the pot in a hot oven (around 200 Celsius), true tagine style.
3./ Once the tagine is cooked down and thickened, cook the couscous according to the packet’s instructions. Mix in all the other couscous ingredients and season well.
4./ Serve the tagine with the couscous, topped with a sprinkling of flaked almonds and fresh mint.