Two years ago, on my birthday, Big Papa and I spent three heavenly days in a yurt by the ocean. On “my” day we had dinner, on the deck at Treebones, overlooking the Pacific. And what a dinner it was! Moroccan tajine served our own individual clay tajine clay pots. Sweet fruit and nuts melded with North African spices mixed in couscous to create a dish to remember—in every sense of the word.
So, when I stumbled onto a tajine pot, ironically at the Alhambra Warehouse, an outlet store where I typically shop for travel clothing not kitchen ware, I just had to buy it. It’s been sitting patiently in my cupboard waiting for just the right moment and that moment arrived this week, when our favorite market sausage seller, Vashon Island’s Sea Breeze Farm, happened to have Merguez sausage on hand. Merguez is the perfect sausage for tajine as it is lamb-based and features many North African spices.
Our dinner was, in a word, WOW! The aromas that filled our kitchen, as I cooked, hinted at the flavors that would soon grace our mouths: apricots, pistachios, fennel, olives, market-fresh chick peas, artichoke hearts, Mustapha’s (from Seattle) Harissa spice and preserved lemon, plus a few fava beans that needed a place to hide. And, of course, the Merguez. I didn’t cook our meal in the tajine as is traditionally done; the tajine pot I’d purchased was too small for the amount of food I made. But I did use it for a serving dish.
As I closed my eyes and enjoyed my first bite, the taste of tajine took me back to the lovely weekend we spent together touring Big Sur, just as I’d hoped it might. The only thing missing–the smell of ocean breezes and a view of the Pacific.
Big Papa and I paired our tajine with a Zinfandel (2007 Lockshaw Vineyard) from our absolutely favorite winery, Foxen. The fruit and spice in the wine was dreamy with the fruit and spice in the Merguez tajine. We both had seconds and wanted thirds. It was one of those dinners: so good you don’t want to stop eating, even though the fullness in your belly tells you otherwise.
Tajine with Merguez Sausage
Note: Tajine (and this recipe) can easily be made vegetarian (vegan, in fact) by omitting the sausage and using vegetable stock to prepare the couscous. If going veggie, add more vegetables to the tajine. Eggplant would be particularly good with the flavors in this dish.
- ½ cup olive oil
- 1 minced onion (I used two small shallots)
- 1 T. paprika
- 1 cinnamon stick (or ground cinnamon)
- 1 T. crushed cumin seeds
- 3 minced garlic cloves
- 2 c. chicken (or vegetable) stock
- Couscous (I used the larger, rounder Israeli couscous – 1 c. dry)
- ¼ c. preserved lemon (can be found at Whole Foods or other specialty grocers)
- 1 tsp. Harissa, and more for serving (again, can be found at Whole Foods or other specialty grocers). You can substitute hot red pepper/cayenne, if you can’t find Harissa.
- ½ c. toasted pistachios
- ½ c. sliced dried apricots (preferably Turkish)
- (optional – and, if so, use 1 cup apricots) ½ cup raisins (I used white raisins)
- 1 lb. Merguez sausage (I remove the casing before cooking so that it’s easier to chop and into ground-style for cooking). Note: you can opt out of meat or, as some recipes call for, use 6 boneless chicken thighs.
- (optional) 1 fennel bulb, diced
- 1 c. orange juice
- 1 cup dry chick peas – or one 12 oz. can (the dry chick peas are much better but they do take about 1-1/2 hours to cook ahead of time)
- One 12 oz can fresh artichoke hearts (you can also get fresh marinated hearts at Whole Foods)
- * (optional) ½ c. prepared fava beans
- ½ c. minced parsley
1. If using dried chick peas, pre-cook (about 1-1/2 hours)
2. Remove casings from sausage, dice and then brown (or cook chicken) in olive oil in a large Dutch casserole. If using fennel bulb, add to sausage and cook until slightly tender. Reserve.
3. Saute onion, spices (cinnamon stick, paprika, cumin seeds), garlic and add couscous to toast. Add a cup of stock, and the orange juice. Bring to a boil. Continue adding stock, as needed, until the couscous is soft (if using traditional North African couscous, cooking time will be shorter than if using the larger Israeli couscous).
4. Add preserved lemon, fennel, pistachios, raisins, apricots and Harissa spice to sausage and cook for another 10-15 minutes. Stir in parsley, and serve on top of couscous with more Harissa to spice as desired.
5. If using a tajine pot, the final cooking can be done with the pot in the oven. Here is a link to advice on using, and buying, a tajine.
Want to dish on more deliciousness? Check out Wanderfood Wednesday!