When the Zendog and I lived in Germany long ago, we’d often hop on the train to somewhere for a quick get-away: Paris, Amsterdam, Annecy-sur-lac, Avignon, Geneva … You name it! Back then, I had a fabulous job with great hours. I worked eleven 24-hour shifts per month and the rest of the days were mine. We, the employees, were able to arrange our schedules so that we’d maybe work every other day for a week and then be off for a week at a time or longer. That was in addition to the six weeks of annual paid vacation time we all had.
During one of those long stretches off of work, we visited Paris. It was my first time there and I was thrilled. We stayed at a very small hotel from where we could walk to most of the sights we wanted to explore. The Eiffel Tower, the Champs-Élysées, Montmartre and the famous Père Lachaise Cemetery were on our list. After taking a look around the cemetery and checking out Jim Morrison’s grave, we headed back towards the hotel. Or so we thought! 😉 Before too long we had gotten turned around and were hopelessly lost. The storefronts were all lettered in Arabic, a language neither one of us speaks. By early afternoon we got really, really hungry because of all the walking we’d done. As we were coming around yet another street corner we spotted a restaurant from which an incredible fragrance of exotic spices wafted. We walked right in the door and ordered a vegetarian tagine with couscous. The restaurant was tiny and very dark. It didn’t look much like anything … but the food!! The food was out-of-this-world! The owners of the restaurant were super nice and even drew a map showing us how to get back to where we needed to go. Small hole-in-the-wall kind of restaurants rarely disappoint!
This tagine was every bit as delicious as the one I remember from 40 years ago in Paris!
So when I was trying to come up with a dinner idea last night, I decided to make a tagine since I had some cooked garbanzo beans that needed to be used. I’ve made my own harissa many times, but discovered a very respectable brand that my grocery store carries. It comes in a tube (like toothpaste) and keeps a long time. This paste is made with chili peppers, cumin, caraway seeds, lemon, garlic, coriander and olive oil. Some variations can be quite hot. So be careful if you’re sensitive to heat. Start with a little and taste the dish. You can always add more later! As for saffron, I get mine either at Trader Joe’s or Costco. Both stores sell it for a reasonable price. The preserved lemons I always make myself since I haven’t found any jarred once that I like. Here’s a link to my recipe in case you want to give it a try. Also, I didn’t add any additional salt since the harissa, preserved lemons and bouillon have plenty in them already.
Spicy Vegetable Tagine
- 1 sweet onion, sliced
- a handful of fresh shiitake mushrooms, de-stemmed and sliced
- 1 to 3 tablespoons of harissa, homemade or purchased
- a few tomatoes, chopped if they are big
- a generous pinch of saffron threads
- 2 cups of cooked garbanzo beans
- 1 heaping tablespoon of vegetable bouillon base or a bouillon cube
- 1 preserved lemon, finely minced lemon peel only
- lots of fresh baby spinach
- freshly cooked couscous, quinoa or rice to eat alongside this
Heat a little olive oil in a heavy deep pan over medium high heat.
Add the sliced onions and when they start to brown add the mushrooms.
Stir and sauté until the mushrooms are tender.
Now add the harissa and continue to cook a few more minutes.
Add the tomatoes to the pan and continue to sauté.
Put the garbanzo beans into the pot along with the saffron threads.
Stir again and let the flavors mingle for a few moments.
Add enough water to cover everything and also add the bouillon base.
Let this simmer at lively pace.
Add the minced preserved lemon peel and stir to blend everything together.
Simmer the tagine without a lid for about 15 minutes.
Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.
Right before serving this dish add the baby spinach to the pot.
Turn off the heat and mix the greens into the sauce until they’re wilted.
This is really delicious with couscous.