Culture Point: Tajine and Couscous

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Tajines do not go over couscous!  I haven’t been able to pinpoint why this irks me but I am constantly seeing American and other Western chefs guilty of pairing couscous with tajine.  Now you all know I am one for innovation, adding something new and so if that’s what the dish is all about, rock on.  But, at least from what I’ve seen they are trying to pass this off as the authentic way to do things.  This might be the case in other Maghreb countries but I’ve never seen this in Morocco.  I’ve lived there, I’ve vacationed there many many times, heck I’ve been living with a Moroccan for nearly 7 years now.  Tajine over couscous is not traditional.  It’s unheard of!

So let’s discuss.

Tajine (or tagine): This word has multiple meanings.  First it’s the conical shaped cooking vessel that a meal is prepared it.  The food cooked inside is also called a tajine.  It can be any number of things but usually is some kind of meat and vegetables, slow cooked and seasoned.  Savory and sweet flavors are often combined and you’ll see beef and prunes, chicken and olives, beef and tomatoes and many other combinations depending on where in the country you are.

Couscous: Most people recognize couscous immediately as a Moroccan food.  You haven’t seen it too often here because MarocBaba doesn’t like it.  This traditional dish is made from semolina (the same flour used to make pasta) and is rolled into very small balls.  To prepare this dish a couscousiere is used.  A couscousiere has two parts, the top has small holes to allow for steam to vent, and the bottom acts like a regular pot.  The couscous is cooked in the top and the meat and/or vegetables and broth are cooked in the bottom.  The couscous is steamed three times and the vegetables and meat cooked until very tender.  To serve the couscous is heaped onto a large serving plate and then the contents of the pot arranged around the top of the couscous.  Some of the sauce is poured on top as well.  Generally small bowls with extra broth are present on the table for individuals to add as desired.

couscousierreThis is a couscousiere – notice that the seal between the lid and the steaming compartment has an additional barrier.  This keeps steam from escaping and helps cook the couscous faster.

This is the end of my rant!  There’s no reason you can’t put a tajine on top of couscous or serve it with couscous, it’s just not traditional.  Bsshouraha!

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Amanda MouttakiCulture Point: Tajine and Couscous

Comments

  1. Vivien

    Yeah – at last! We sell tagines in Melbourne, Australia and keep telling people that tagines are not for cooking couscous.

    The other thing that really gets me are tagine recipes that say they use tagines and they add heaps of water or stock. There’s no way you can add the amounts indicated without the tagine overflowing.

    And while we’re on tagines, I recently saw an ‘electric tagine’ in a cookware store here in Melbourne. Made in China. I had a good chuckle.

    1. Author
      marocmama

      Oh boy loads of water or stock is going to ruin a good tajine! The meat and vegetables give off enough that only a little liquid is needed. Interesting an electric tajine huh? I just got an electric pressure cooker and am curious how that would work out…

  2. Amanda

    I agree 100%…its just not right! I also feel the same way when people try to add all kinds of flavors to hummos or make it using other beans. That’s fine, but then don’t call it hummos!

    BTW – do you like the Mina Harissa? I know I could make some if I really wanted to, but I am looking for a good jar that I can keep in the pantry. The only canned kind I canned kind I can find is just so-so.

    1. Author
      marocmama

      Yes I think you would like Mina – did you see my review of it? It’s a little different texture than what I get in Morocco – thinner but good!

  3. Dan

    Laughing out loud.

    Reminds me of a time back in the early 1990s, when the bagel shop trend started. Not your traditional Jewish bakery, but a place that specializes in fancy-pants bagels.

    Anyway, I thought “wow, this is an interesting approach.” They were selling bagel chips, and making interesting sandwiches with bean sprouts and fresh vegetables. Pushing the envelope.

    Me, I’m a bagel purist. Plain, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, onion, and the occasional cheese. Adding fancy seeds, whole grains and herbs was pushing it, but hey, university town full of hippies, I’d let it pass.

    But then I saw what sent me over the edge. Bagels with chocolate chips and blueberries. I was so unimpressed at the unauthenticity that I tried to explain to the owner why it was so wrong.

    The bottom line was “if you like blueberries and chocolate chips so much, get a muffin!”

    1. Author
      marocmama

      Dan I’m so glad you agree. Here I thought I might just being overly sensitive but somethings are just how they are and don’t seem right otherwise!

  4. Frank

    I completely agree! Tagine on couscous feels wrong. But it can still be absolutely delicious!

    Having lived in Morocco, my views on couscous have completely changed. The biggest discovery was REAL couscous. Delicious, perfectly-textured, triple-steamed couscous. After so many years of par-cooked instant couscous, it was like an oasis in a desert.

    After my experiences, I am not very comfortable with tagine on couscous. It just doesn’t happen in Morocco. To be fair, the boundary between a tagine and the stew portion of couscous can be vague. Usually, the couscous stew is lighter and brothier (with plenty of extra ‘cous juice to go with the steamed couscous), but I suppose a tagine could be construed as a variation on this theme.

    That being said, one of the most wonderful meals of my life was an amazing lamb tagine over couscous seasoned with preserved lemon and roasted dried apricots (another difference–in all of my time in Morocco, I had sweet couscous with raisins and cinnamon but never saw savoury couscous seasoned with anything more than olive oil or butter; does this happen in Morocco?).

    1. Author
      marocmama

      The only other seasoning I can think of that is used on couscous is smen. I think that couscous and tajine can be a great mix it’s just not traditional. I had to post this little rant after seeing recipes time and time again listing “Moroccan tajine over couscous” Doesn’t even sound right to me! You’re very right couscous broth is much thinner than tajine sauce…this whole response is making me very hungry.

    2. @SihamAl

      Hey !
      Sweet couscous definitely happens in Morrocco ! As you said, we season it with some icing sugar, cinnamon, caramelized raisins and some ground grilled almonds. It’s often served as a dessert dish right after a lamb tagine or something similar. We actually make that dish if there’s some couscous left. The original sweet recipe is made with noodles and we call it “Seffa”. But as it’s easier to cook couscous (three steaming) than Seffa noodles (6 to 7 steamings and seasoning with water and milk), people would make couscous instead.

      1. Author
        marocmama

        Yup I agree – I think the other poster was commenting that in a savory couscous he had never seen it seasoned with things other than butter or oil (vs say another type of oil or spice) but for sure sweet couscous is there and I love it!!! (seffa too)

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