This dish is very nostalgic for me. It's a veganised version of Julie Le Clerc's chicken tagine. My mum would regularly make big batches of it for weeknight dinners when I was old enough to appreciate good food. The flavour is so nostalgic to me that when I finally cracked the vegan version last week (after a few attempts...), I was worried I was enjoying it far more than anyone else. Thankfully my recipe testers reassured me they were indeed enjoying it too.
I used jackfruit in the first test as a substitute for the chicken. Unfortunately, it appears that the trendiest vegan ingredient in town does have its limits. I used the canned kind which, even after a rinse, is still slightly brine-y, and it took the sweet-and-sour flavour beyond pleasant to a point which my mum remarked "it tastes like pickled onions". Not exactly what I was going for. I also tried imitation chicken pieces, but they were too mushy and just not right. Clearly, trying to imitate the chicken wasn't going to work. Fortunately, the third test – canned butter beans – worked well. You may call these lima beans where you live, although I mean the large, white ones not the green, immature ones. Added just for the last ten minutes, the beans soak up the flavour without turning into a mush.
There are pleasing textures throughout this dish. Squidgy, falling-apart prunes and the soft crunch of whole almonds all sit on silky, sauce-soaked couscous. It's also a textbook example of a sweet-and-sour dish from the prunes' concentrated sweetness and sharpness of the brined olives. Almonds, olives and prunes are generally associated with 'snacky' foods but I love how Moroccan cuisine combines them into a full main meal.
Le Clerc’s original recipe slow-cooks a large quantity (1.4kg) of chicken. In order to recreate the depth of flavour this produces, I made a rich vegetable stock. Dried porcini mushrooms are perfect here as they're basically savoury umami bombs. Combine that with the burnt, caramelised flavour of charred fresh mushrooms, and the rounded earthiness of onions, bay leaves, carrots and thyme, and you end up with a seriously intense, savoury stock. I do realise making both the stock and tagine can 'eat' into a fair bit of your time, but you could make the stock in advance, or use a shop-bought one – just make sure it’s fairly high quality.
Tagine of butter beans, almonds and prunes
Stock (optional): 80 mins Tagine: 55 mins
(see optional substitutions below, too)
|for the stock (you could replace this with premade vegetable stock, but make sure it is a high quality one)|
|4 tbsp||neutral oil e.g. sunflower|
|250g/9oz||chesnut or button mushrooms, halved|
|1 large||onion, roughly chopped|
|2 medium||carrots, roughly chopped|
|2 sticks||celery, roughly chopped|
|8||whole black peppercorns|
|4 cloves||garlic, peeled and sliced|
|3||fresh or dried bay leaves|
|5 sprigs||fresh thyme|
|5g||dried porcini mushrooms (I use these ones*)|
|for the tagine|
|2 medium||onions, thickly sliced|
|2 cloves||garlic, crushed|
|1 tsp||ground cinnamon|
|1 tsp||ground ginger|
|1 cup/160g/6oz||dried pitted prunes|
|1 cup/115g/4oz||pitted green olives (preferably in brine)|
|½ cup/75g/3oz||blanched almonds|
|4 x 400g/14oz cans||butter beans (aka large white lima beans), drained|
|1 tsp||fine salt|
|½ tsp||ground black pepper|
|¼ cup||chopped fresh parsley|
|for the couscous:|
|300g/1¾ cup||quick-cook couscous|
- For the stock, in a large saucepan or stockpot, heat 2 tbsp of the oil over a high heat. Fry the mushrooms for 10 minutes so they get a good amount of colour.
- Add the remaining 2 tbsp oil to the pot along with the onion, carrots, celery and peppercorns. Fry for 5 minutes.
- Add the garlic to the pot and fry for 3 more minutes.
- Add the bay leaves, thyme and porcini mushrooms along with 1 litre (4 cups) water.
- Bring to a boil, then down to a low simmer, cover and leave to cook for 1 hour 20 minutes.
- Drain the stock into a bowl using a colander. Press the vegetables down to release as much liquid as possible. Discard all the vegetables.
- For the tagine, put the onions, garlic, spices, prunes, olives and almonds into a large casserole pot. Pour in all of the stock and gently mix around the ingredients. Simmer over a medium-low heat for 45 minutes.
- Stir in the salt, pepper and butter beans and simmer for 10 more minutes. If it looks like there isn't enough liquid, add some water, half a cup at a time.
- If the olives you're using aren't stored in brine, add a splash of white wine vinegar at the end.
- Just after you've added the beans, make the couscous. Put it in a saucepan and pour over 450ml boiled water and mix well. Put the lid on and allow to absorb for 5 minutes or until all the water has been absorbed. Fluff up with a fork before serving.
- Serve the couscous and tagine in wide bowls with parsley scattered on top. Alternatively, the tagine keeps well, and even improves, in the fridge.
|listed ingredient||can be swapped for|
|the vegetable stock||a high-quality shop-bought ones (try to avoid cubes)|
|dried porcini mushrooms||any dried mushrooms|
|prunes||dried apricots or dates|
|green olives||kalamata olives|
|butter beans||cannellini beans|
|couscous||white or brown rice|
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