Eating Moroccan food in Morocco was an eye-opening experience. Tagine is NOT served with couscous. Couscous is a different dish. Tagine served in the Western world is actually couscous. Tagine is NOT served with couscous.
They are not the same dish. Nor are they served together. They even cook in different types of cooking pots. And one has heavy broth, while the other has hardly any.
We’ve had the pleasure of eating beef, chicken, fish and veggie tagines in Morocco. We’ve also had several variations of couscous. And talked to several Moroccan cooks about the difference between the two. We thought we would pass along the differences and a recipe for making tagine at home.
Traditionally, Tagine cooks in a conical-shaped two-piece terra-cotta pot, called a tagine, over low heat with meat, veggies, olive oil and spices. Couscous cooks in a couscoussier, a taller metal pot with a slightly bulbous base, a steamer and a lid. The meat and liquids below, steam the couscous, during the cooking process.
While these dishes do taste slightly better when cooked in the correct cooking ware, it isn’t necessary. Tagine is easily cooked in a large heavy dutch oven, a stock pot with a lid or a pressure cooker. And you can make couscous using a large deep pot, fit with a steamer or a steamer basket or a rice steamer. The biggest trick is to keep the steam in the pot and rising up through the couscous to cook it properly. The Moroccan answer for this problem is to use lots of foil, to make sure the steam stays in the pot.
The spices are the biggest key to making tagine. Both dishes are spicy. Not chili-hot spicy but just spicy from the amount of spices used in Moroccan cooking. Cumin, paprika, saffron, black pepper, cinnamon, turmeric, ground ginger and chili powder are common. The amount or variety depends on the personal recipe of the chef.
How They are Served
Serve tagine in the bottom of the tagine pot, with khobz (round flat Moroccan bread). NO couscous included! A very traditional Moroccan tagine uses chicken, preserved lemons and olives.
Serve Couscous by placing the pasta pearls on the bottom of a large dish and topping with the meat and veggies. Serve additional broth on the side for pouring over the couscous.
Meat, Fish or Vegetarian
Both dishes are served vegetarian or with meat or fish. Moroccans use a variety of meats, including beef, chicken, goat, sheep, lamb and turkey. Staple veggies are zucchini, carrots, potatoes, winter squash, tomatoes and onions. Parsley and coriander complete the dishes.
Tagine also ranges from the very simple with just meat, veggies and spices to those with nuts, raisins, dates, dried olives, prunes and caramelized onions. It’s all in the recipe of the chef.
If using meat, always use the cheap cuts. Nothing fancy here. Tagine is a very simple dish, that tastes much more complex than it is. The slow braising/steaming breaks down the fibers in the meats, making them so tender, you don’t need a knife or fork to eat them.
Making Moroccan tagine is easy. It’s all about layering of the meat and veggies into the pot. You basically start with the meat on the bottom and build a pyramid over the top with the veggies. Pour in your spices, put the lid on and walk away from it. It really is that simple.
I’m going to share a good, but basic beef tagine recipe with you. Don’t be afraid to add in your favorite ingredients to fancy it up. Just remember any veggies you add, will need to hold up to the long cooking process or be added in later on through the cooking process.
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground paprika
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground turmeric
1/2 to 1 tsp. ground chili powder, to taste
Salt to taste
1 1/2 lbs. stew beef or a chuck roast, cut into 2 to 3 inch pieces
1 medium-sized onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large tomato, diced
1 large red potato, sliced lengthwise into 8 pieces
1 medium-size zucchini, sliced lengthwise into 4 or 6 pieces
1 large carrot, quartered
Large handful fresh parsley, roughly chopped
Mix spices together in a small glass or cup. Add a little water to make a slurry. Set aside until needed.
Set your tagine pot or dutch oven on the stove over medium-low heat.
Add a nice drizzle of olive oil, about 1 to 2 tablespoons. Place the cut up beef in the pot.
Beef will start cooking and sizzling while you are cutting up the rest of your ingredients.
Spread the onion, garlic and tomato around the middle area of the beef, allowing to slightly spill over the edges.
Now start layering in the rest of your veggies based on hardness of cooking. Place the long spears in a pyramid form over the meat. Starting with potatoes and carrots, followed by zucchini.
Pour your spice slurry over the pile of meat and veggies and drizzle again with a small drizzle of olive oil.
Finally, top the pyramid with the chopped parsley and place the lid on the pot. Check that your heat is turned down to just keep the meat simmering.
Depending on the size of your meat and the quality of the cut, the tagine will take between 1 1/2 to 2 hours or more to cook. Do remember to use a very cheap cut of meat for this.
Once everything is nice and tender, serve up with flatbread on the side for scooping out your meal.
As Naima, our Airbnb host in Essaouira would say, Bon Appetit!
More Lovely Tagine or Couscous Recipes: