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Try a traditional North African tagine

A tagine is North African comfort food that suits all seasons. When the weather is bleak, a slow-cooked lamb tagine with spices is perfect. In summer, light and fragrant fish or vegetable tagines are ideal for al fresco lunches or sunset dinner parties.

A tagine is essentially a stew, but enlivened with dried fruits and spices rather than a few chunks of root vegetable, Usually served with couscous or rice, the secret of a good tagine is a fragrant sauce that soaks into the grains.

In North Africa a tradional two-part cooking vessel is used for tagines. This consists of a round casserole dish topped with a conical lid that allows the steam to rise and disperse. The dish retains heat very well so is ideal for keeping a tagine warm when waiting for guests.

Meat or veg

Lamb tagines are popular across North Africa. Cheaper cuts of lamb, like shoulder or neck, are perfectly suitable for the slow-cooking process. Cubed and browned meat is simmered slowly in stock for around two hours. The tagine is flavoured with saffron, cinnamon, ginger, orange or lemon zest, a little honey for sweetness and a little harissa sauce or chilli for heat. Stoned dates and dried apricot are added for the last twenty minutes. For added body, canned chickpeas can also be included. Dress with a little coriander and chopped almonds or walnuts.

A vegetarian option combines aubergine, courgette, carrot, pumpkin or squash with the mixed spices. A little preserved lemon and a hint of mint will add authenticity to the tagine. Use a little tomato puree to thicken vegetable stock and simmer for half an hour until the vegetables are tender, leaving the beans until five minutes before the end. Serve with steamed couscous that can also include a little chopped dried apricot, preserved lemon or sultanas. Harissa will add a kick.

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