Tagine part 2

“smen (aged butter)
This pungent butter, used as the primary cooking fat in some tagines, is left to mature in earthenware pots for months, sometimes years! You can substitute it with ghee (clarified butter).

  • 500 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • Makes about 500 g

Soften the butter in a bowl. Boil 150 ml water in a saucepan with the salt and oregano to reduce it a little, then strain it directly onto the butter. Stir the butter with a wooden spoon to make sure it is well blended, then let cool.
Knead the butter with your hands to bind it, squeezing out any excess water. Drain well and spoon the butter into a hot, sterilized jar (see note on page 4). Seal the jar and store it in a cool, dry place for at least 6 weeks.

Preserved lemons

Added to dishes as a refreshing, tangy ingredient or garnish, preserved lemons are essential to the cooking of tagines. You can buy jars of ready-preserved lemons in specialist shops and some supermarkets, but it is worth making your own.

  • 10 organic, unwaxed lemons, preferably the small, thin-skinned Meyer variety
  • 10 tablespoons sea salt
  • freshly squeezed juice of 3–4 lemons
  • Makes 1 large jar

Wash and dry the lemons and slice the ends off each one. Stand each lemon on one end and make two vertical cuts three-quarters of the way through them, as if cutting them into quarters but keeping the base intact. Stuff 1 tablespoon salt into each lemon and pack them into a large sterilized jar (see note on page 4). Seal the jar and store the lemons in a cool place for 3–4 days to soften the skins.
Press the lemons down into the jar, so they are even more tightly packed. Pour the lemon juice over the salted lemons, until they are completely covered. Seal the jar again and store it in a cool place for at least 1 month. Rinse the salt off the preserved lemons before using.


A distinctive Moroccan marinade, chermoula is often employed in fish dishes as the flavours of chilli, ground cumin and fresh coriander marry so well and complement the fish perfectly.

  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
  • 1–2 teaspoons cumin seeds, crushed or ground
  • 1 fresh red chilli, deseeded and chopped
  • freshly squeezed juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • a small bunch of coriander, roughly chopped and/or a small bunch of flat leaf parsley, chopped”

“To make the chermoula, use a mortar and pestle to pound the garlic and chilli with the salt to form a paste. Add the coriander and parsley leaves and pound to a coarse paste. Beat in the cumin and paprika and bind well with the olive oil and lemon juice (you can whizz all the ingredients together in an electric blender if you prefer.

Harissa paste

This fiery paste is popular throughout North Africa. It can be served as a condiment, or as a dip for warm crusty bread, and it can be stirred into tagines and couscous to impart its distinctive chilli taste. This recipe is for the basic paste, to which other ingredients such as fennel seeds, fresh coriander and mint can be added. Jars of ready-prepared harissa are available in some supermarkets and specialist delicatessens but it’s easy to make your own.

  • 8 dried red chillies (Horn or New Mexico), deseeded
  • 2–3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin”
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil

Makes about 4 tablespoons

Put the chillies in a bowl and pour over enough warm water to cover them. Leave them to soak for 1 hour. Drain and squeeze out any excess water. Using a mortar and pestle, pound them to a paste with the garlic and salt (or whizz them in an electric mixer). Beat in the cumin and coriander and bind with the olive oil.
Store the harissa in a sealed jar in the refrigerator with a thin layer of olive oil poured on top. It will keep well for about 1 month.”


There is no one recipe for ras-el-hanout, a lovely pungent spice mix, packed with strong Indian aromas of cinnamon, cloves and ginger combined with local African roots and the delicate, perfumed notes of rosebuds. Every family has its own favourite blend. Some of the spices are available only in the Maghreb, so if your tagine recipe calls for this flavouring your easiest solution is to select one of the ready-prepared spice mixes available in Middle Eastern and African stores.

  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon cloves
  • 1 teaspoon aniseeds
  • 1 teaspoon nigella seeds
  • 1 teaspoon allspice berries
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom seeds
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons ground turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
  • 2 pieces mace
  • 2 pieces cinnamon bark
  • 2 teaspoons dried mint
  • 1 dried red chilli
  • 1 teaspoon dried lavender
  • 6 dried rosebuds, broken up

Makes about 4–5 tablespoons”

“Using a mortar and pestle, or an electric blender, grind together all the spices to form a coarse powder.
Stir in the lavender and rose petals and tip the mixture into an airtight container.
You can store this spice mix for up to 6 months if you keep it in a cool cupboard and well away from direct sunlight.”

Check Part 3