You’re not alone if your latest craving is a tagine. Tagine is the name for both the luscious North African stew and the distinctive earthenware dish with a cone-shaped lid in which it’s slowly cooked. And if it weren’t for celebrity chefs exploring kitchens in Morocco and Tunisia, we might never have been seduced by its exotic aromas and intense flavours.
North African cuisine was shaped by centuries of traders and invaders. African wheat became couscous. Romans brought olives and oils. The Arabs introduced the generous use of aromatic spices like saffron, paprika, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger and cloves. Dishes like sensuous Moroccan tagines or harissa—Tunisian hot sauce—are the antidote to bland, mass-produced food.
It’s fitting that North African cuisine is finally tempting chefs who have explored every other cuisine. Israel-born, London-based Yotam Ottolenghi—who fused the foods of his childhood with Western tastes—has us cooking recipes demanding spices like za’atar and sumac. Giada De Laurentiis created a Moroccan Magic menu for an episode of her show that whisked us away on a culinary fantasy via herbed couscous cakes and vodka-hibiscus tea. When Gordon Ramsay went on the telly at a traditional North African restaurant in London serving up dishes from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, he described the food as “sublime.”
Now these ancient flavours are creeping into the mainstream. Harissa— Moroccan hot sauce — is available at larger supermarkets, and, thanks to our trendy and talent chefs, restaurants across the province are offering up tagines and mint-infusion delicacies. Need a little inspiration to try North African food? Start with these dishes: grilled lamb amped up with mint, smoked paprika and cinnamon, and chicken with the tang of preserved lemons and olives.