What is a Tagine?: The Art and Science of a Tagine Cooking Pot
A tagine (also spelled “tajine”) is a clay or ceramic pot with a unique cone-shaped lid design. The lid design specifically helps steam accumulate at the top and naturally condense back into the food. This results in the food turning out more moist, tender, and flavorful! Because of this natural steam condensation, this cooking vessel works perfectly for stews and other water-based recipes. On top of the better taste, the steam condensation has its own health benefits, too. The generated steam consists of water soluble nutrients that the body needs on a regular basis. With most other cookware, this steam escapes the pot/pan during cooking, meaning these nutrients are lost. With a tagine, however, these nutrients cycle back into the food as the steam is condensed, enriching the food’s nutritional quality – this is why the food tastes better, too!
If you are a health-conscious cook and you are considering getting a tagine pot for your kitchen, here is all you need to know about tagines, their health value, and some great tagine recipes.
Fun Fact: The Word “Tagine” Means Two Things!
If you have been doing research on tagines, you may have noticed that the word “tagine” can refer to two different things. On top of its classification as a cookware piece, a tagine also refers to a traditional Moroccan dish that would be cooked in this kind of pot. This dish usually contains chicken, dried lemon and/or apricot, nuts, and an assortment of vegetables and spices (you can learn how to make this dish later in the article!). This dish uniquely turns out like a stew after being cooked in a tagine pot, because the natural steam creates a healthy broth.
Tagine History & Culture
The tagine’s exact origin is debated upon by many (especially because our ancestors used to cook all their meals in unglazed clay), but the generally accepted origin of the tagine pot dates back to the 8th century – first appearing as a portable cooking vessel used over a flame to cook a variety steam-cooked recipes. It was most widely used in Northern Africa and Arabic regions. Some of its most well-known recipes originate from Morocco, specifically a Moroccan chicken stew. Because of the natural pressure generated by its unique design, the tagine pot could be considered to be the predecessor to a steam pressure cooker! As the rest of the world switched over to cooking in metals and treated ceramics, some cultures held on to the traditional style of cooking meat & vegetables to perfection in this cooking vessel.
Tagines Available in the Market Today
Tagines have been increasing in popularity as a cookware vessel that can prepare tasty & savory meat recipes in both restaurants & the household kitchen. To meet this demand, major cookware companies began producing tagines for the market.
Want a tagine pan styled after the traditional for yourself? You can buy one here.
Tagines Modeled After the Conventional
Modern tagine pots have elements that have been taken from the conventional. Many of them have modern glaze solutions or enamels to give them a beautifully painted color and/or non-stick properties. Some are even made of cast iron or enameled cast iron, like some Le creuset tagines. Some mix-and-match materials, too: with a cast iron base and ceramic top!
Unfortunately, these material changes have caused a new issue – the leaching of dangerous toxins. Ceramic material is composed of a combination of hundreds of different oxides, chemicals, and metals. When heated, these chemicals and oxides combine with nutrients in food and become toxins in the body. Cast iron and other metals are no exception, either. Metal tagines have a higher price range because they are perceived to be more durable (plus, it is more expensive to mine and process metal), but what use is durability when it is toxic? These inorganic elements accumulate in the body over time, which can eventually cause a plethora of health issues. You can read more about the dangers of conventional cookware materials here: Choosing the Safest Cookware
With traditional tagines, it was the material (pure, all-natural clay) and the cone shaped design that allowed steam to be condensed inside. With the newer versions, natural condensation was not possible (metals and ceramics do not allow for steam to naturally condense — read the unique qualities of natural clay that makes this feature possible). In an attempt to overcome this, the design kept getting taller and higher – but to no avail. Because there was a compromise on the material, steam would still escape without condensing no matter how tall the lid got!
Once manufacturers realized that a ton of steam was building up regardless of the height of the lid (without the ability to utilize it through natural condensation) — they started making tagines with steam vents. This completely defeated its original purpose and main virtue – cooking food with steam!
Also, the taller design poses other issues: storage is more difficult, carrying the tagine around can be awkward, and the pot can no longer fit in the oven with its lid on. How inconvenient is that?
Clearly, there is a need to return back to the traditional material & craftsmanship that tagine pots were originally made from: hand-formed pure natural clay, without any additives. But is there an easily accessible tagine pot you can buy that still uses such a material?
In fact, there is!
The Healthiest Tagine Cookware
Miriam’s Earthen Cookware (MEC) uses pure, primary clay to craft its cookware without any additives, glazes, enamels, or metals. MEC’s pans are styled after a Moroccan tagine, and they use a similarly styled conical lid design to naturally condense steam back into food, but their lids are not awkwardly tall — there is no need for it as their raw material is pure.
You can cook the traditional Moroccan food that you normally would in this cookware; but on top of that, you can cook a wide variety of recipes that you would not normally be able to in a tagine!
Why is this the case? A MEC pan works as a multi-functional pan as well as a tagine. Traditionally, a tagine has a shallow design. There is less surface area to work with, meaning it can only serve the purpose of making a smaller slow-cooked meal. On the other hand, MEC has a wider and deeper base, with thicker walls. This allows for the ability to prepare a variety of recipes, rice dishes, sautéed foods, curries, and even bread & eggs!
In addition, this healthy cookware features an inner ring that helps direct steam that is naturally condensing, right back into your food retaining the bulk of the water soluble nutrients.
Cooking More Than Just the Traditional in Healthy Tagines: How to Cook Tagine Recipes
A traditional tagine with its steam condensation primarily excels in creating delicious braised-meat & vegetable stews. As mentioned before, MEC (styled after a tagine) can prepare so much more! You can use these healthy pans to make stir-fries, bake bread, steam vegetables, prepare eggs, and braise meats. While many traditional and modern tagines may not be oven safe – MEC’s tagines can safely be used on both the stovetop and the oven to cook your delicious food. Additionally, less heat is needed; you can use a low heat setting on the stove to thoroughly cook your food in about the same time (or less) as conventional cookware.
Below are a few examples of recipes you can make in this non-toxic, unglazed tagine. In addition, read on to learn how to make a savory Moroccan tagine dish:
- Thai Chicken & Basil Stir Fry – The chicken in this delicious Asian cuisine is so tender, it soaks up all the different flavors from the spices, basil, vegetables, and soy sauce. This meal serves perfectly over a bed of rice, and will become an instant favorite!
- Freshly Baked Boule Bread – This French bread turns out crisp on the outside and soft and delightful on the inside. Your own homemade bread could not turn out more flavorfully and healthy with this recipe.
- Chicken (or Vegetable) and Rice Biryani – You can create an amazing chicken and rice dish, all in the same pan! Substitute chicken for vegetables for an equally flavorful vegetarian dish.
How to Make Moroccan Tagine:
Serves 5-8 People | Cook Time: 30-40 Minutes
- 1 tsp. paprika
- 1 tsp. ground cumin
- 1 tsp. turmeric powder
- 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
- 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
- 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1 lemon
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp. ginger, minced
- 8 bone-in chicken thighs (about 4 pounds). –You can get chicken with skin; skin will get cooked down.
- Salt, to taste
- Ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion, halved and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
- 2 Tbsp. unbleached all-purpose flour or arrowroot flour.
- 2 Tbsp. honey
- 2 large or 3 medium carrots, peeled and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick coins
- 1/2 cup Greek cracked green olives (preferred, but any green olives will do), pitted and halved
- 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro leaves
- Combine the spices (paprika, cumin, turmeric, cayenne, coriander, cinnamon) in a small bowl and set aside. Zest the lemon. Combine 1 teaspoon of the lemon zest with 1 minced garlic clove in another bowl; set this aside as well.
- Add the oil in a large MEC tagine pan. Add onions, ginger, and garlic. Stir, cover, and cook for 5 minutes. Add the set aside spices & flour. Stir, then add chicken. Stir, cover, and cook for 10 minutes on medium-low heat.
- Then add honey, lemon zest, and salt. Cover and cook for 5 more minutes on low heat.
- Add the carrots, cover, and simmer until the chicken is cooked through and the carrots are tender-crisp (about 10 minutes more on low heat).
- Turn stove off once chicken and carrots are cooked. *Note: If you are serving this stew later, this is the perfect time to store it. For more info, see the “Make-Ahead” note at the end of this recipe. If you are serving this meal now, proceed to step 6.
- Stir in the olives, then add the reserved lemon zest-garlic mixture, cilantro, and 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice. Taste the mixture and adjust seasoning with salt, pepper, and more lemon juice, if desired.
- Cover and let the pan settle, letting the food “come together”. Serve with steamed couscous, steamed rice, or unleavened bread.
Make-Ahead: After you have completed the step of cooking the carrots, the dish can be refrigerated for up to 2 days. To serve, gently warm on the stove until the chicken is heated through, then proceed to the step where the olives and remaining ingredients are added (Step 6).
You can make these recipes and so much more in this healthy cookware – all without any extra additives like excessive oil, chicken stock/broth, or large quantities of salt. For more recipes, check out our recipes on the recipe page of our website.
Want to Buy a Tagine For Sale That can Accomplish More than the Conventional?
MEC prides itself as being one of the best tagines for cooking a wide range of recipes in a healthy way. MEC tagines are strong and durable, and you can safely serve food on your table with them while still being beautiful in design. If you want all the benefits of clay tagines and more, then head over to the MEC online store and buy a tagine pan today!