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Place of origin
Place of origin
A tajine or tagine (Arabic: طاجين tajin from the Arabic: طاج)  is a historically Berber dish from North Africa that is named after the type of earthenware pot in which it is cooked. A similar dish, known as tavvas, is found in the cuisine of Cyprus. The traditional method of cooking with a tajine is to place the tajine over coals.
The traditional tajine pot is formed entirely of a natural clay, which is sometimes painted or glazed. It consists of two parts: a base unit that is flat and circular with low sides and a large cone- or dome-shaped cover that sits on the base during cooking. The cover is designed to promote the return of all condensation to the bottom. Tajines can also be cooked in a conventional oven or on a stove top.
Tajine is traditionally cooked over hot charcoal leaving an adequate space between the coals and the tajine pot to avoid having the temperature rise too fast. Large bricks of charcoal are purchased specifically for their ability to stay hot for hours. Smaller pieces of charcoal are reserved for cooking brochettes (barbecue) and other grilled meats.
Other methods are to use a tajine in a slow oven or on a gas or electric stove top, on lowest heat necessary to keep the stew simmering gently. A diffuser – a circular piece of aluminum placed between the tajine and burner – is used to evenly distribute the stove's heat. European manufacturers have created tajines with heavy cast-iron bottoms that can be heated on a cooking stove to a high temperature. This permits the browning of meat and vegetables before cooking.
Tajine cooking may be replicated by using a slow cooker or similar item; but the result will be slightly different. Many ceramic tajines are exquisite examples of show pieces as well as functional cooking vessels. Some tajines, however, are intended only to be used as decorative serving dishes.
Moroccan tajine dishes are slow-cooked savory stews, typically made with sliced meat, poultry, or fish together with vegetables or fruit. Spices, nuts, and dried fruits are also used. Common spices include ginger, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, and saffron. Paprika and chili are used in vegetable tajine. The sweet and sour combination is common in tajine dishes like lamb with dates and spices. Tajines are served with couscous or bread. Because the domed or cone-shaped lid of the tajine pot traps steam and returns the condensed liquid to the pot, a minimal amount of water is needed to cook meats and vegetables. This method of cooking is very practical in areas where water supplies are limited or where public water is not yet available.
What Tunisians refer to as a "tajine" is very different from the Moroccan dish. Tunisian tajine is more like an Italian frittata. First, a simple ragout is prepared, of meat cut into very small pieces, cooked with onions and spices, such as a blend of dried rosebuds and ground cinnamon known as baharat or a robust combination of ground coriander and caraway seeds; this is called tabil. Then something starchy is added to thicken the juices. Common thickeners include cannellini beans, chickpeas, breadcrumbs or cubed potatoes. When the meat is tender, it is combined with whatever ingredient has been chosen to be the dominant flavoring. Examples include but are not limited to fresh parsley, dried mint, saffron, sun-dried tomatoes, cooked vegetables, or even stewed calves' brains. Next, the stew is enriched with cheese and eggs. Finally, this egg and stew is baked in a deep pie dish, either on the stove or in the oven until top and bottom are crisply cooked and the eggs are just set. When the tajine is ready, it is turned out onto a plate and sliced into squares, accompanied by wedges of lemon. Tunisian tajines can be made with seafood or as a completely vegetarian dish.
In rural parts of Tunisia, home cooks place a shallow earthenware dish over glowing olive wood, fill it, cover it with a flat earthen pan, and then pile hot coals on top. The resulting tajine is crusty on top and bottom, moist within, and is infused with a subtle smoky fragrance.
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