Allow me to introduce this highly-anticipated and newly-inducted member of my household: an Emile Henry olive green ceramic 3.5 liter tajine. This baby can hold enough food for 10-12 servings, is microwave and dishwasher-safe, and no amount of heat will make it lose its beautiful glossy color.
I’ve wanted a tajine ever since I took a cooking class at a riad in Marrakech, where we made a lamb and okra tajine (preparing okra was not the most painless choice, as anyone who’s ever shaved tough hairs off of a few dozen little okra will know, but the results were delicious). The colorful painted tajines found rather cheaply and ubiquitously in Arabic markets are exclusively decorative, however, as the painted surfaces are not treated. Traditional tajine cookware, somewhat disappointingly, is generally plain brown ceramic–so imagine my excitement at finding such an elegant, beautifully finished tajine that’s capable of feeding an entire table of people.
The tajine’s conical shape captures condensation and recirculates moisture, making it an ideal vessel in which to slow-cook meats, fish, and vegetables. Moist, tender results are ensured, so you don’t have to worry about checking every 20 minutes to see if the stew is too dry. If you want to make this dish but don’t own a tajine, cooking in a dutch oven will produce comparable results (though less fun and a lot less aesthetically pleasing).
This dish is really perfect for a dinner party–it can easily serve a modest group, is extremely low-maintenance (essentially, you throw all the ingredients inside with spices and some water and it prepares itself), and as far as presentation goes, well that’s self-evident. No one can help being impressed when a giant covered platter is placed in front of them and dramatically unveiled amidst billows of fragrant steam.
A tajine is, in all honesty, best suited to meats like beef, mutton, or poultry, where slow stewing in low heat over a long period of time will break down the toughness in the flesh. Most vegetables cannot hold up to such stewing and will simply collapse into unappetizing mush. Chickpeas, on the other hand, are perfect for a tajine, and the addition of tender eggplant stewed with spices is filling and delicious. Olives are used often in classic tajines to add a salty-briny balance and colorful garnish.
One large sliced eggplant is enough to feed many people, but even better would be baby eggplants, if those are available to you. Also, the addition to the tajine of a couple of tomatoes, quartered, would do no harm.
I finish my tajine with a squeeze of lemon, but this dish would benefit from Moroccan preserved lemons, which contribute a bright and powerful distinctively pickled flavor. You can find a recipe for preserved lemons in the NYT Diner’s Journal.
A last note: tajines are generally considered whole meals in and of themselves, served in the dish they are cooked in. Although you may be tempted, there’s no need for couscous here (which is an entirely different dish). Instead, make the Moroccan bread khobz to go along with the tajine (which is exceedingly simple to make; see here), or buy some crusty rolls.
Tajine with Eggplant, Chickpeas, and Olives
- 2 onions, sliced
- 4 cloves garlic, crushed
- 4 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 large eggplant, sliced longways into quarters, sixths, or eighths, depending on size (OR: 10-12 baby eggplants)
- 1 cup dried chickpeas, soaked overnight
- 1/2 cup olives (green, purple or an assortment as preferred)
- sea salt
- 1/2 tsp ginger, powdered
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- pinch saffron
- pinch paprika
- 1 small bunch cilantro, chopped
- 1 small bunch parsley, chopped
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- 1 cup water
- Place the eggplant slices on a plate lined with paper towels and salt generously. After 30 minutes, dab away exuded water.
- Place the sliced onions and crushed garlic in the bottom of a tajine (or dutch oven) at least 32 cm in diameter. Drizzle oil over onions and garlic and cook over medium heat until softened.
- Arrange the eggplant slices evenly in the tajine and drizzle generously with oil. Cook 5-6 minutes or until browned on one side.
- Add salt, ginger, turmeric, paprika, saffron, and black pepper, then 1 cup hot water and chickpeas. Heat to a simmer, then lower heat if necessary to maintain simmer and cover. Cook 35-40 minutes or until eggplant is soft and chickpeas tender.
- Add the olives and half of the chopped cilantro and parsley. Reduce if there is too much liquid.
- Before serving, drizzle the juice of half a lemon over the top and add the rest of the fresh cilantro and parsley. Serve with Moroccan bread.