Sunday, February 7, 2016

Sweet Potato and Pomegranate Tagine with Ras el Hanout

Bowl of Sweet Potato Pomegranate Tagine
Mid-Winter Lift

Recipe adapted from Vegetarian Times

I can’t imagine a better pairing than winter and tagines. These highly spiced North African stews perk up both body and spirit. Though traditionally tagines are curried meat dishes, vegetables respond equally well to the combination of spices. Sweet cinnamon and ginger, hot peppers, bitter turmeric, exotic cardamom and saffron, and other spices combine to make the heady blend called ras el hanout—which means “head of the shop” or roughly “top rated” in Arabic. In this recipe you’ll make your own spice blend, creating a supply for other tagine experiments this winter.

Pomegranate cut in Half
Seasonal Pom
Tagine refers not only to the food itself, but also to the traditional pot in which it is cooked. A tagine pot is round and has a characteristic volcano-shaped lid. The idea is that steam rises to the top of the volcano, condenses, and percolates back down into the stew. Since this recipe makes about 3 quarts, a large tagine is most suitable, though not inexpensive. Any 3½-quart casserole with a lid is suitable. I used a 9” x 14” stoneware casserole dish and covered it tightly with foil—shiny side down to shed evaporated water. It came out perfectly—the key is to bake slowly at a low temperature.

Plate of All Spices in this Recipe
The spice blend can be adjusted to suit your taste. For example, I reduced the amount of black and red pepper by half and increased the cinnamon by one third. If, for example, you don’t like cardamom, you can reduce the amount. If whole seeds aren’t available—or if you have a supply of pre-ground spice—you can substitute. Use fresh spices for the most pungent and well-balanced results.

I hope that this tagine brightens up your winter during these last few weeks of pomegranate season. Try experimenting with the spice blend in other stews and perhaps even sweets. If you come up with another delicious combo, please share it with us in a comment below.

Another Bowl of Sweet Potato Pomegranate Tagine
Bright and Warming
Sweet Potato and Pomegranate Tagine
serves 6

3 medium sweet potatoes, ~2½ lbs.
1 large fennel bulb
2 large carrots, about 8 oz. total
2 large stalks celery
1 medium onion
1 large clove garlic
¼ cup olive oil
2 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. ras el hanout (recipe below)
salt to taste, ~½ tsp.
1¼ cup low sodium veggie broth
1 cup fresh pomegranate seeds
½ cup chopped fresh mint

Don’t preheat the oven!

Peel the sweet potatoes and cut into 1-inch cubes. Quarter the fennel bulb, remove the core, and cut into bite-sized slices. Slice the celery and carrots. Mince the onion and garlic. Place veggies in a large bowl with room to toss and set aside.

Make the ras el harout (see instructions and ingredients below).

Toss reserved veggies with olive oil. Sprinkle on salt to taste (unless you substitute salted broth) and toss again. Measure out 1 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. ras el harout (or to taste) and sprinkle over veggies. Toss once more to distribute spices evenly.

Place spiced veggies into tagine or casserole dish. Spread out evenly and press down lightly. Pour in broth at side of casserole to avoid disturbing spices. Cover with lid or foil, shiny side down.

Place casserole in cold oven. Turn up heat to 300 degrees F. Stirring every 45 minutes, bake for 2½ hours, or until all veggies are cooked through to your liking.

Serve sprinkled with pomegranate seeds and chopped fresh mint.

Ras el Hanout
makes ~½ cup, which fills a standard spice bottle

1 tbsp. whole coriander seeds
1 tbsp. whole cumin seeds
1 tbsp. ground ginger
1 tbsp. ground cinnamon
2 tsp. ground cardamom
2 tsp. ground nutmeg
2 tsp. ground turmeric
1 tsp. whole black peppercorns
½ tsp. cayenne pepper
1 large pinch saffron threads

Grind all spices together in coffee or spice grinder. It’s best to use a coffee grinder with two different cups, to avoid cross-contamination of flavors. If you must double up the use, wash cup thoroughly before and after grinding spices.

Transfer spices mix to airtight bottle. For optimum flavor, use within three months.

Spice Added to Raw Veggies
Add Spice to Raw Veggies

Tagine During Baking Process
Bake Slowly at Low Temperature

Third Bowl of Sweet Potato Tagine
Serve the Tagine with Pomegranate and Mint

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