We’ve had a bit of a tough month; work pressures are building up again, we’ve been battling sickness and just generally feeling like there’s not enough time to do anything properly. I think one of the hardest things to do when I’m starting to feel a bit flat is look after myself properly. All those little things I do to keep myself ‘healthy’, like exercise and eating well, suddenly become ‘too hard’ and I find myself holding my belly while eating a cheese and tomato toastie at 10pm on a Tuesday thinking ‘I really need a holiday’.
This tagine came about as a result of one of those moments. I’d had a busy day and we were both feeling a little cruddy – ‘I can’t believe it’s only Monday’, I recall saying to Paul, ‘I’m so tired’. We rummaged through the fridge and found some ingredients to throw together in our usual Monday night fashion and it was at that point that Paul decided he wanted to cook a tagine, something we hadn’t really done since I’d made the switch to a vegetarian diet.
I don’t know about you guys but to me tagines are one of those kitchen items that I’ve always felt one can probably do without. At the time we absolutely had to have one and in fairness we don’t really use it enough, and I think that’s part of the problem. Every time we cook with it I’m reminded why they are so great, their distinctive conical shape results in a wonderfully flavourful and evenly cooked meal and the possibilities are really quite endless once you’ve got the basics down. This dish certainly went a long way to helping us both feel a little more ‘human’ and once we’d done the initial prep work it really took care of itself. The tempeh was wonderfully soft and juicy and the sauce was deliciously fragrant. We had enough leftover for lunch for the next couple of days and it reheated beautifully.
If you don’t have a tagine then don’t feel like you need to rush out and buy one, you could easily make this in the slow cooker (you’ll need to adjust the time accordingly, say 2-3 hours on high?) or in your dutch oven. You could also use chicken instead of tempeh if you’d prefer, although the tempeh does soak up all the wonderful juices in a way that chicken simply cannot so maybe try a mixture of both to get the full effect. One last request, please don’t skimp on the prunes. I know it sounds weird but they add such a wonderful richness to the sauce that is difficult to replicate. Your dish won’t taste like prunes, I promise, and just like bay leaves you can simply pull them out as you’re serving.
Monday Night Tempeh Tagine
Serves 4-5 main meals - Vegan - Gluten-Free
2 tbspns dried thyme
2 tbspns sesame seeds
1 tbspn olive oil
1 block (300g) of Tempeh, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tspn of minced ginger
1/2 white onion (optional)
3-4 cups vegetable broth
pinch of cinnamon
2 medium-sized potatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
2-3 tomatoes, chopped
1 large zucchini, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 cup pre-cooked chickpeas (or 1 can, drained and rinsed well)
2 tbspns almond meal
3-4 pitted prunes (don’t skip the prunes, they add a world of flavour)
a generous handful of green olives (spanish olives would also work but not kalamatas, they just don’t quite work)
a generous handful of cashews
chopped parsley and coriander (another good handful)
juice of 1 lemon
salt & pepper to taste
In a mortar and pestle, grind the thyme and sesame seeds to create a paste.
Heat the oil in the tagine and lightly fry the tempeh until crispy and golden. Remove and drain on paper towel, keep warm.
Add the garlic and ginger and cook until lightly fragrant. Add the onion at this point, if using.
As the garlic/ginger start to brown up, slowly add the stock. Not too fast or you may crack the tagine.
Bring stock to a boil, reduce the heat to low and then gradually add the remaining ingredients one at a time:
Add the thyme/sesame paste and cinnamon. Stir well.
Add the potatoes, cook for a few minutes.
Then add tomatoes, stir well to combine. Lightly crush the tomatoes with the back of your wooden spoon to release some of their juice.
Add the zucchini and chickpeas.
Add the prunes and almond meal. Stir well (gently!). The sauce will now start to thicken.
Pop the lid on and cook until the potato starts to tenderise – about 20 minutes or so.
Add the tempeh back to the pan with the olives and allow to cook for another 10 minutes until everything is cooked through and the tempeh has absorbed some of the sauce.
Add the cashews, chopped herbs and lemon juice. Taste and adjust seasoning to your preference. I added about a teaspoon of salt and same again of black pepper.
Serve with some herby cous cous cooked in vegetable broth.