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A taste for tagine



Photo: Shannon Cornman

In this conical-lidded cookware, the meat or fish is placed first on the cooking dish and is topped with vegetables and spices, causing everything to be braised and steamed. This dizzyingly fragrant stew is commonly served with rice, bread or couscous.

Cooking tagine vessels are usually (but not always) reddish-orange glazed terra-cotta, whereas serving tagines are often elaborately painted. Regional tagine recipes abound, and besides classic lamb and chicken tagines, vegetarian and fish tagine stews are popular, as well. Historically a Berber dish from North Africa, tagine stews are found predominantly in Morocco.

Where can you find these wonderful stews?

After being seated at Argana Café, 2908 NW 23rd St., you’re immediately brought a glass of Moroccan tea, which is green tea and mint mixed with honey. Served in small glasses, it most often accompanies tagine. Sweet tea, move over; this is serious competition. Sit in the low, comfy couch arrangement in the restaurant’s rear for the full leisurely experience.

Argana features different types of tagine depending on the day: lamb on Mondays and Thursdays; chicken on Wednesdays and Saturdays; and fish on Fridays, Sundays and Tuesdays.

I had the “fall-off-the-bone” lamb tagine while listening to animated conversations in Arabic at tables close by.

“The lamb tagine is my mother’s recipe,” said owner Adnane Elkias, a native of Casablanca. “We also make our own bread here. It’s quite good.”

Ideal for dipping into the stew, it is quite good; I left none of it behind.

Couscous Café, 6165 N. May Ave., offers lamb, chicken and vegetarian tagines served with rice or couscous. I ordered the most popular dish: lamb shank with raisins and onions in a tagine broth with saffron-colored rice. “Families cook a tagine at least once a week, served most often on Fridays,” said owner Abdennour Elkhaidari. “The lamb tagine here is the most popular. We make it the same here as in Morocco.”

If you have room for dessert, order the delectable coconut or almond cookies, or “sellou” cookies made with sesame seeds and almonds. They go great with Moroccan tea.

If you’re adventurous, make a tagine at home. Hunting down the ceramic tagines takes some detective work, but at least three shops in Oklahoma City sell them: Le Creuset Outlet Store, 7630 W. Reno Ave.; Williams-Sonoma at Penn Square Mall, 1901 Northwest Expressway; or shop local at Couscous.

Your one-stop shopping for essential tagine ingredients — harissa, a spicy condiment; preserved lemons; olives; and ras el hanout, a spice blend — is Mediterranean Imports and Deli, 5620 N. May Ave. Here, you are immediately under the spell of intoxicating aromas from olives, spices, cheese, bread and coffee.

Owner Atif Asal will greet you warmly and direct you to all things tagine, plus anything else you might need for your Moroccan feast. Order a shawarma sandwich in a pita to-go, one of its heavenly specialties; it will tide you over until dinnertime.

Back at home, get into the cooking mood and rock the casbah. Put on some North African/Middle Eastern music — I recommend the compilation album Putumayo Presents: Arabic Groove — and start cooking.

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