This week’s winter wallop, with its thick blanket of snow and subzero temperatures, brought serious cravings for a body-and-soul warming dish. Tagines are deeply spiced North African stews, traditionally slow-cooked in a clay vessel also called a tagine (the stew is named for the vessel in which it is cooked, but a Dutch oven works well as a replacement). Lamb, fish, chicken, and beef often take center stage in tagines, but the dish is endlessly adaptable. My nourishing vegetarian version is anchored by hearty chickpeas and butternut squash, and layered with warming ginger, earthy-sweet saffron, and the Moroccan spice blend ras el hanout.
Tagines can include dried fruits, and this one is studded with tiny, sweet currants that plump in the broth as it cooks. The lime is an important inclusion as it provides tart contrast to the sweet squash and currants.
Saffron—made up of fragrant, fragile crocus stigmas known for flavoring paella—plays a starring role here. I know two pinches sounds hefty, as saffron (a) comes with a wince-inducing price tag and (b) can sometimes overwhelm. But the amount is necessary to stand up to the spices in this dish—and I promise it’s worth it.
I suggest serving this over Israeli couscous—also called pearl couscous—which has much larger “grains” than traditional couscous. Israeli couscous has a toothiness that provides wonderful textural distinction against the soft, creamy chickpeas and tender squash.
Like most stews, this tagine tastes even better the next day. Gently warm in a pot, stirring in additional vegetable broth or water until desired consistency is reached (it thickens substantially as it stands).
CHICKPEA AND BUTTERNUT SQUASH TAGINE WITH SAFFRON AND LIME
- dutch oven or tagine
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 medium yellow onions, diced
- 1 plump, 3-inch long knob of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons ras el hanout spice blend *
- 2 medium pinches saffron (about 40 threads)
- 1 15-ounce can crushed fire-roasted tomatoes
- 2 cups vegetable stock
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 2-pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 3/4-inch dice
- 2 15-ounce cans chickpeas and their liquid, or 4 cups home-cooked chickpeas with ¼ cup of their cooking liquid reserved
- 1/2 cup dried currants
- 2 large limes, 1 zested and juiced (about 2 tablespoons juice), one cut into wedges for serving
- 1 bunch cilantro, 1/2 cup of leaves roughly chopped, plus a handful of whole leaves reserved for garnish
- Couscous (regular or Israeli) or cauliflower rice, for serving
- Flatbreads, for serving on the side to soak up sauce—optional
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Heat olive oil in a large dutch oven over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5-7 minutes. Stir in ginger and garlic, and cook for 1 minute. Add 2 teaspoons salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and ras el hanout, then crumble the saffron threads in with your fingers. Stir to combine and cook for one minute more.
- Add tomatoes, vegetable stock, bay leaf, squash, chickpeas and chickpea liquid, stirring to combine.
- Bring to a boil, cover, and place in oven for 30 minutes. Stir in currants, leave uncovered and return to oven for 10-15 minutes more, until squash is tender and liquids have reduced to a stew-like consistency.
- Remove and discard bay leaf. Stir in lime zest, lime juice, and chopped cilantro leaves. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if needed.
- Serve warm, ladling into bowls over prepared couscous. Drizzle with olive oil and garnish with remaining cilantro leaves.