A Tantalizing Tagine
Are you an eggplant lover that cooks for an eggplant hater? A cook that shies away from foreign cuisines because someone at your table doesn’t like “weird” food? With this dish, I’ve got you covered!
Here’s a mysteriously delicious tagine, warm with spices, revealing a palette of flavors that will save you the price of a plane ticket to Marrakesh. This is a dish that you’ll want to make again and again, and it’s exotic and familiar-tasting at the same time, which is a big plus in my book. You can make it over a two day period if you like, and it tastes possibly even better the day after you finish preparing it, making it a busy cook’s delight.
Here’s another great thing about it: it’s your secret weapon against eggplant-shunners. I served this to a group of eleven the other night, and unbeknownst to me, at least five of them turned out to be card carrying eggplant avoiders. I don’t know what there is not to like about eggplant, which is one of the silkiest things you can put in your mouth and soaks up flavors like no other member of the vegetable kingdom, but lots of people claim to detest it. However, this dish might just make converts of them all, as I proved recently, when choruses of “This is eggplant? But I don’t like eggplant!” were quickly followed by spotlessly cleaned plates and a few surreptitious second helpings.
Tagines in America are synonymous with Paula Wolfert, and this recipe is no exception. I used a version printed in Food and Wine magazine back in 1986, adjusting it a bit to account for today’s readily-available labor saving opportunities, as well as today’s tagines. If you don’t have a tagine already you can click here to get the one I use and love. It goes right on the stove top, and when not it use it makes a lovely bit of kitchen decor.
Click here to see the recipe on Food and Wine’s website, and read on for some ways to make this dish simpler and quicker to create.
1) Use boneless, skinless chicken thighs. True, you’ll be missing a bit of additional flavor by not using the bones, but it will still be delicious. Also true, by not using the chicken skin, you can skip the step that involves skimming the fat from the sauce.
2) Instead of mashing the eggplant by hand, give it just 2-3 pulses in the food processor. You want it a bit chunky, not puréed, but you can easily achieve that by using a light finger on the Pulse button.
3) Instead of fresh tomatoes, use a can of good tomatoes, like Muir Glen Organic Fire Roasted diced tomatoes. Unless you’re making this in mid-summer, the canned tomatoes are guaranteed to be riper and tastier than any you can find in the store.
4) This one is entirely optional, but since I almost never have cayenne pepper in my kitchen I used a heaping teaspoon of harissa paste, which I imagine is more authentic anyway, but almost certainly was generally unavailable in 1986 when the recipe was published.
5) Where the recipe specifies cooking the chicken in a flameproof dish, use a tagine. A tagine is a clay pot (as well as the name of the food prepared in it), and so will cook it beautifully, and instead of piling the cooked ingredients into a bowl, you can just layer the eggplant over the chicken right in the tagine and bring the whole pot right to the table, which is almost guaranteed to produce a chorus of oohs and aahs. As to the mechanics of it all, I removed the chicken, let the sauce reduce in the tagine while I shredded the chicken a bit with two forks, then after mixing half the sauce into the eggplant, I mixed the chicken back into the sauce remaining in the tagine.
Go for it, it’s delicious! And by the way, a tagine makes a beautiful holiday gift for a serious cook, so if you’re wondering what to put on your wish list, this might just be it.