This is an easy, warming vegan stew that is easy to double or halve, gets better as leftovers and freezes well. And as if that weren’t enough, this tagine lends itself to using seasonal vegetable so is economical and environmentally friendly, too. In the summer, use more Mediterranean type veg and serve at room temperature. At any time of the year you can speed up the prep by using frozen vegetables. Serve for dinner or lunch with green salad plus couscous, quinoa, baked potato, steamed pitta bread or in wraps. Extra harissa and a few slices of griddled halloumi are great add-ins.
Vegetarian and vegan food can sometimes get a bad rap for being boring and bland. Bean-filled this, wholemeal encrusted that, a few dried mixed herbs and hey presto, a filling meal. Are most vegetarians really eating like this? I don’t think so. At least I hope not.
Admittedly, if I peruse some of the vegetarian cookery books from the 70s and 80s even I, an ardent exponent of plant-based cuisine, will go ‘bleuch.’ Maybe our tastes have changed, but nut cutlets, lentil loaf and black-eyed pea rissoles don’t really do it for me. Then or now. A lot of the recipes for last century vegetarians and vegans were what I would term as penitential: a punishment for not eating like everyone else. Well, some of us did eat as everyone else did, but removed the meat from our plate (and all hope of protein); others of us made a big song and dance about the goodness of beans and shoved them in everything that tofu didn’t feature (and sometimes even if it did). Still others survived on chips, beans and macaroni cheese. I saw a lot of that in mid-80s Britain: “Oh, I’m a vegetarian, I don’t eat meat,” they would sanctimoniously declare as they stuffed their faces with a stodge fest of gooey, cheese laden carbs. Not a great advert for their lifestyle choice.
But it is so different now. Partly I think it is to do with travel. Many of us have experienced at first hand the culture and food of other countries, and brought back new ideas to integrate into our own daily eating – new spices, new foods, new cooking methods. But also, I think in huge part, change is due to the Internet. Even those of us who never travel from our own country can, with relative ease, gawp at another culture’s cuisine with the click of a mouse, or swipe of a virtual page. And from gawping and hmming comes experimenting.
My own adventures certainly stem from a combination of the two. I have traveled fairly broadly around the Mediterranean, and the traditional diet of loads of seasonal veg and fruit, olive oil, fish, grains and little meat and cheese has heavily influenced the way I cook at home, and for work.
But, as with Georgia – from two posts back – I have never been to North Africa. This hiccup in my travel diary has not stopped me loving their food, especially that of Tunisia and Morocco. I love the intense but not hot spicing – the ochre and fire colours, the soft braising of meat, dried fruits and vegetables, the slowness of method. It is kind of time-standing-still cooking. Not perhaps suited to a quick midweek meal, but a productive and fragrant way to spend a few hours at the weekend. The beauty of much North African cooking is that once you’ve made it – hopefully a big batch – it tastes even better the next day, and the next. Although North Africans do indeed eat meat, they are very clever and creative with vegetables, pulses and grains. Something we can learn from.
Life is too precious to spend it eating boring food. Spice up your food. Spice up your life.