Meatless Monday: Winter vegetable tagine

We’re in the depths of winter now and nothing is growing in our northern climate at the moment.  If you’re looking to eat in season here, the name of the game is root vegetables.

I’m not sure about you, but root vegetables as theme ingredients fail to excite me; they’re about the most unsexy vegetables around.  To get into the root groove, I needed some cooking inspiration.  And who better to consult than local cook, author and seasonal food advocate Beth Dooley?

Beth Dooley has been cooking locally and seasonally and writing about it for decades now, long before it became the cool thing to do.  The first seasonal cooking book that I ever bought was Savoring the Seasons of the Northern Heartland, a book that Beth co-authored with local chef Lucia Watson, whose restaurant was one of the first in Minnesota to focus on a local, seasonal way of eating.  In addition to her cookbooks, Beth writes regularly for the Star Tribune, Edible Twin Cities, the regional coop newsletter The Mix and other publications.  In short, Beth knows her stuff.

I bought Beth’s newest book, The Northern Heartland Kitchen, on impulse one day earlier this fall at my local food coop.
I was drawn to it because not only is it organized by season, it highlights Minnesota-sourced ingredients and food producers and offers a wealth of tips about eating locally.  I also really liked that each recipe suggested other accompanying dishes to round out the meal – a great help for meal planning.  This cookbook is an ode to eating well in Minnesota and an excellent resource for anyone looking to eat more locally and seasonally in the Upper Midwest.

Perusing the book for a Meatless Monday dinner option, I skipped right to the recipe that dials root vegetables up to 11, a Moroccan-inspired winter vegetable tagine with charmoula.

What’s a tagine (and charmoula, for that matter)?  Tagines (also spelled “tajines”) are slow-simmered stews braised at low temperatures, traditionally cooked in a special earthenware clay pot. Charmoula (or “chermoula”) is a North African marinade or green sauce comprised of fresh herbs, garlic, oil, lemon juice and salt.

You know it’s a serious recipe when you have to bust out your mortar and pestle.

Don’t be intimidated by this dish’s foreignness or the long list of ingredients – it’s really just root vegetables and chickpeas braised in a wonderfully spicy blend of flavors and served atop couscous, a very quick side dish to make.   You don’t need a special tagine pot; you can prepare the recipe in a Dutch oven or a deep skillet with cover.  Don’t have a mortar and pestle? You can use a fork or spoon and bowl to mash up the garlic and herbs.

If you’re looking for something to wake up your taste buds and take them on a brief exotic vacation during a blustery winter night, this is the dish for you.  And it’s much cheaper than a plane ticket to Morocco.

Winter Vegetable Tagine  from The Northern Heartland Kitchen by Beth Dooley

vegetarian recipe from Beth Dooley's cookbook

Winter Vegetable Tagine
Recipe type: Main
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4 to 6
A hearty, exotic meatless main dish that highlights winter vegetables and packs a flavor punch. There are three parts to this meal: the tagine itself; a Moroccan green sauce, also known as charmoula; and couscous. Serve the tagine over couscous with the green sauce drizzled atop the food.
  • Tagine:
  • 2 T. olive oil or vegetable oil
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • ½ tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. ground red chili or hot paprika
  • ½ tsp. coriander
  • 1 T. tomato paste
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • ½ cup vodka or white wine
  • 1 whole jalapeno with seeds, sliced in half
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4-5 small new potatoes, cut into 2-in. pieces
  • 2 cups cubed winter squash, sweet potatoes or both
  • 2 cups cooked chickpeas, rinsed
  • Moroccan Green Sauce (Charmoula):
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ¾ cup chopped cilantro
  • ¾ cup chopped parsley
  • 2 tsp. sweet paprika
  • ½ tsp. cumin
  • ⅛ tsp. cayenne pepper
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Juice of 2 large lemons, or to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Couscous:
  • 2 cups water
  • ½ tsp. salt (optional)
  • 2 tsp. butter (optional)
  • 2 cups uncooked couscous
  1. To make the tagine: In a large Dutch oven, heat the oil; add onions, shallots, garlic, cumin, chili and coriander; and saute briefly until they are fragrant. Stir in the tomato paste and continue cooking until the mixture just begins to brown. Stir in the vegetable broth, vodka/wine and jalapeno and bring the mixture to a boil.
  2. Reduce the heat to a simmer, sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste and add the red potatoes and squash/sweet potatoes. Cover and cook until the vegetables are tender, about 20-30 minutes.
  3. While the vegetables are cooking, prepare the Moroccan green sauce: using a mortar and pestle, pound the garlic with the salt until it forms a smooth paste. Add cilantro and parsley and pound enough to bruise the leaves and release their flavor. Stir in the paprika, cumin, cayenne, oil and lemon juice, then season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
  4. Prepare the couscous: In a medium saucepan, combine the water, salt and butter and bring to a boil. Add couscous, stir quickly, cover and remove from heat. Let stand for 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork before serving.
  5. Once the root vegetables are tender, toss in the chickpeas and cook until they are warmed through.
  6. Serve the tagine over couscous and drizzle with Moroccan green sauce.
This is a dish that's not for the timid eater - it is very spicy and garlicky. Plan to make it on a day when you are not breathing much on others afterward. The original recipe called for "1 whole jalapeno" - I interpreted that to mean that it shouldn't be chopped up or seeds discarded, and so I just cut the pepper in half and discarded it after cooking. I wasn't sure what was meant by "ground red chili" and didn't have hot paprika on hand, so the first time I made the recipe I used 1 tsp. of cayenne and the final dish was super spicy. The 2nd time I made it, I used ½ tsp. cayenne and ½ tsp. sweet paprika, which resulted in a milder dish. [Recipe reprinted with author permission. Published by University of Minnesota Press.]

Do you own either of Beth’s Dooley cookbooks – Savoring the Seasons of the Northern Heartland or The Northern Heartland Kitchen?  Which recipes have you made?

How slow and low can you go?

Each week as I check out at the grocery store, I scan the magazines for that magical issue which promises a more perfect union between me and dinner.  One with recipes that involve very limited prep time; one with colorful and enticing photos that make me want to eat. Heck, maybe one with a pop-up sous chef or dishwasher – that would be pretty cool.

Most of the time nothing jumps out at me, but on one recent trip, I spied a new special issue from America’s Test Kitchen (ATK) – Slow Cooker Revolution.

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Meatless Monday musings

Starting with the new year, Mondays have become meatless in our house.   Sometimes it’s easy for me to come up with meatless meal ideas, like during the summer months when colorful local produce is prolific. But during the wintertime?  The choices don’t excite me so much.

Call me a shallow foodie if you must, but I like my meals to be lookers. Vibrant colors draw me in and make me want to eat healthy foods.  I get entranced by the beauty of raw ingredients but I’m not always charmed by the look of the finished dish.  This is especially true for many winter vegetable or bean-based dishes.

But I’ve found that adding a little bit of color goes a long way to making theses dishes look enticing.

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