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New Year. New tagine.


Oh my. The holiday feasting has been intense.

The bonus of being married to a Russian is that there is never any argument over where we spend Christmas: in Russia, New Year’s Eve is the main event. Orthodox Christmas, much less widely celebrated in any case, comes in early January. In our cross-cultural family this essentially means that the holiday season is XXL - extra long, extra large and extra gourmand. Fun, in many ways, but difficult to avoid ending up XXL ourselves.

This year, having soaked up a week of sunny deliciousness in the south of France with the Page clan for Noel, we zipped over to Kiev to spend NYE with grandpa S. When he meekly informed us a few days before that they ‘didn’t eat much meat anymore’ we delightedly reassured him that we didn’t either, and were secretly relieved that the meat feast might be ending early. Imagine our surprise when dinner on the 31st included duck pate, goose mousse, slices of pork LARD, salami, chicken escalopes AND turkey. With some pickles and a few raw spring onions to freshen things up. The flexitarianism is going well, I see.

After all that gastronomic debauchery it’s good to be home and in my own kitchen, rustling up vegetarian delights to my heart’s content. As well as cutting out meat for a while, we’ve decided on a DRY January in aid of our own personal liver foundations (The vodka was freely flowing in Kiev. And the cognac. And the champagne).

This weekend we had friend DL and his new lover over for dinner. A vegetarian, dry dinner? FUN date. DL doesn’t drink and is mostly vegetarian anyway, but we did feel a bit sorry for the poor girl. She luckily came well prepared with her own beer, which provoked frequent longing, sidelong glances from DS.

It’s been a while since I’ve made a tagine, and I don’t know WHY. So easy. So fragrant. So wholesome. The carrots and parsnips in the market this week looked good, so that’s what I went for. The beauty of a tagine is that you can throw in all sorts of vegetables: pumpkin and squashes work particularly well; courgettes, aubergines and beans in season; potatoes and chickpeas for extra filler; greens like kale, spinach or cabbage towards the end of cooking to add some colour. Use whatever you can get your hands on.

Spelt couscous is a recent and marvellous discovery: ready as quickly as regular couscous but nuttier tasting, slower burning and more nutritious. I added pomegranate seeds for a lil’ juicy sweetness (and as a qualifier for the word BEJEWELLED) with fresh coriander for fragrant colour. For extra sauce mopping, I customised a Moroccan loaf with a glaze of olive and a heavy sprinkling of zatar before popping it in the oven for a few minutes (inspired my travels in Jerusalem). I had thought about making a garlic bread instead, but decided that might not be the optimal choice for our new lovers. Aren't I considerate.

I served roasted, spiced chickpeas as a finger food starter, with cocoa and banana frozen mousse as a delectable dessert to round off what ended up being quite the feast.

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Vegetable tagine with bejewelled spelt couscous

Serves 4 generously, takes 1.5 hours

main / vegetarian / vegan / winter / spring / easy peasy / quietly smug / on a budget / baby / date night / dairy free

This is a cosy, warming and lightly spiced tagine. It's pretty to serve for a dinner party and is thoroughly satisfying, despite being vegetarian. Spelt couscous is my new love - as easy and quick to make as regular couscous, but nuttier tasting and more nutritious. Win win.

If you're in a rush, you could get away with making this in 40 minutes. I leave the stock to simmer for 45 minutes before adding the vegetables as this gives the spices more time to infuse, but you could skip this step. Or make the quick version of the dish in advance, which would do the infusing for you. Magic.

* Onion - 1, peeled and roughly diced

* Olive oil - a generous glug

* Ras el Hanout - 2 heaped tsp

* Cumin seeds - 1 tsp

* Ground coriander - 1 tsp

* Cardamom pods - 2

* Garlic - 2 cloves, peeled and sliced

* Vegetable stock - 1 L (unsalted if cooking for a babe)

* Carrots - 8 large, roughly chopped

* Parsnips - 4 large, roughly chopped

* Chickpeas - 1 small tin

* Honey - 1 tsp (to be added after babe's portion is removed. Replace with agave syrup for vegan)

* Salt - 2 tsp (ditto, and only if using unsalted stock)

* Spelt couscous - 2 cups (use regular if you can't find spelt)

* Coriander - a handful, chopped

* Pomegranate - 1/2, seeds removed

Fry the onion and all the spices in a glug of olive oil on a medium heat until the onion softens.

Add the garlic and cook for a couple of minutes.

Add the vegetable stock plus an extra 500ml of water and simmer for about 45 minutes (skip this step if you're in a rush OR if you're making the tagine in advance).

Add the vegetables and simmer for about 30 minutes, until the vegetables are completely tender.

If you are cooking with a babe in mind, remove their portion now.

Add the salt (if you've used unsalted stock) and honey and stir to combine.

Now make the couscous. Place the couscous in a bowl and add 2 cups boiling water (you should add the same volume of liquid as couscous). Cover with a clean tea towel and leave to steam for five minutes.

Meanwhile chop the coriander and remove the seeds from the pomegranate.

Add a knob of butter or a glug of olive oil to the couscous and break up the grains with a fork.

Serve the tagine in a bowl over the couscous, with the coriander and pomegranate seeds as garnish.


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