The warmer weather is here at full tilt. I just love this time of year. Spring and Fall are my favorite seasons in this part of the world. The summers here can get too hot and humid, so I make the most of these off-summer months when so much can be accomplished without breaking a sweat.
I’m always excited to shed those winter clothes too. Switching from wintry comfort foods to light and airy meals evokes the sounds and smells of summer. The warm weather is here to stay, so what better way to celebrate the end of winter than this classic tagine dish from North Africa? A tagine is essentially a glorified stew. The tagine vessel itself is a shallow and round earthenware pot with a unique conical lid designed to lock in moisture and flavors in a small amount of liquid. Aromatic, syrupy, zesty and spicy come to mind when I think of tagine dishes and this one surely fits the bill.
Fish tagine with preserved lemon and mint
- 2 lb fresh fish such as cod or haddock cut into large chunks
- 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 red onion finely
- 2 carrots finely chopped
- 2 celery ribs finely chopped
- 1 preserved lemon finely chopped
- 1 14oz can of plum tomatoes with their juice
- 2/3 cup fish sauce or water
- 2/3 cup white wine or sherry
- sea salt and freshly ground pepper
- a bunch of fresh mint leaves, finely shredded
For the chermoula
- 2-3 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 red chile, seeded and chopped
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- a small bunch of cilantro
- a pinch of saffron threads
- 1-2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 3-4 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon harissa paste
- freshly squeezed juice of 1 lemon
- First, make the chermoula. Using a mortar and pestle, pound the garlic and chile with the salt to form a paste. Add the cilantro leaves and pound to a coarse paste. Beat in the saffron threads and cumin and bind well with the olive and lemon juice (you can whizz all the ingredients together in an electric blender, if you prefer). Reserve 2 teaspoons of the mixture for cooking. Toss the fish chunks in the remaining chermoula, cover, and marinate in the refrigerator for 2 hours.
- Heat the oil in a tagine or heavy-based casserole dish. Stir in the onion, carrots, and celery and saute until softened. Add the preserved lemon (reserving a little for garnishing) with the reserved 2 teaspoons of chermoula and the tomatoes and stir in well. Cook gently for about 10 minutes to reduce the liquid, then add the stock and the wine. Bring the liquid to a boil, cover the tagine, reduce the heat, and simmer for 10-15 minutes.
- Toss the fish in the tagine, cover and cook gently for 6-8 minutes, until the fish is cooked through. Season to taste with salt and pepper, sprinkle with the reserved preserved lemon and the shredded mint leaves, and serve immediately over couscous.
A symphony of colors, a perfect matrimony of flavors. Adios winter!