In 2005, I spent a few weeks in Morocco as part of a French and Spanish college language program. At that point in time, I had never traveled outside of North America and Europe. For me, Morocco was the spark. It was the spark that prompted me to want to see more of the world, to venture outside of my comfort zone and seek out countries and cultures that are not on the typical tourist path. Although Morocco has since become a more common tourist destination, back in 2005, there were very few tourists in Morocco.
When we were planning our travels this past year, my husband suggested Morocco. I said “yes!” without hesitation.
Over the course of ten days, we traveled throughout the country, making a giant loop that started and ended in Casablanca. With stops in Rabat, Fes, Erfoud, Ouarzatte, and Ouirka, we had a chance to take in the major historical and cultural sites. However, I found that our most meaningful experiences were those moments when we were able to interact with the locals, learn about the nuances of Moroccan culture, and of course enjoy some delicious Moroccan food.
As I mentioned in an earlier post about our travels in Morocco, we found that our best go-to vegan meals consisted of some form of the traditional Moroccan tagine. Tagines are available throughout Morocco and can easily be made meat-free without sacrificing flavor. We ate many a tagine during our ten days in Morocco, and each one was unique. My favorite version was made with an array of delicious vegetables and chickpeas and then topped with with tfaya, a warm chutney-like sauce made from sautéed red onions, raisins, ginger, turmeric, and cinnamon. It worked perfectly with the sautéed vegetables.
“Tagine” refers to the 2-piece earthenware cooking vessel with a cone shape lid that is used to cook a Moroccan stew of beef, lamb, chicken, or vegetables. Alternatively, some families will use a couscous pot, which allows you to cook the meat and/or vegetables while simultaneously cooking the couscous. As the steam from cooking meat and vegetables in the lower level begins to rise, it will simultaneously cook the couscous in the upper level.
As you’ll see in the list of traditional meat-based tagines below, each animal protein is often paired with complementary vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds. Here are a few of the more traditional combinations of ingredients that we came across during our travels in Morocco:
- Lamb with green peas and fennel
- Lamb with figs and walnuts
- Beef with orange and saffron
- Chicken with preserved lemons
- Chicken with apricots and argan oil
- Chicken with caramelized tomatoes
I have yet to experiment in my own kitchen, but with some simple modifications, you can easily substitute the above animal proteins with tempeh, tofu, beans, or other vegetables and still enjoy the rich flavors that come from the accompanying ingredients like apricots, figs, almonds, walnuts, and chickpeas. With a little creativity and willingness to branch out from the typical Moroccan recipes, the tagine possibilities are endless for vegans and vegetarians. And don’t worry if you don’t have an actual tagine or special couscous pot for cooking. You can easily achieve the same results by cooking the vegetables in an large casserole or heavy pot.
Most tagines are served with steamed couscous, a wheat-based grain that can be prepared in five minutes. On a few occasions, we found that hotels and restaurants were willing to use quinoa instead of couscous. While quinoa might veer away from the more traditional Moroccan tagine, it’s an excellent protein-rich and gluten-free grain alternative. I’m a big fan of the quinoa option!
Tagines provide a communal, family-style way for a family or group of friends to share a meal. All restaurants will provide flatware, but keep in mind that if you’re invited to a local’s house for lunch or dinner, it’s going to be a hands-on experience, literally. We joined our guide and his family to celebrate the Muslim holiday EID. Not only did everyone eat with their hands (their right hands) directly from the communal tagine, but they used their hands to serve everyone else at the table. While it might make some people a little uncomfortable, just remember that it’s a sign of hospitality. If you’d prefer to eat with a fork, just ask your host, and I’m sure they’ll be more than willing to offer you flatware.