Okay, I’m not gonna lie. This one is a little bit of work.
But if you put on some good tunes and pour yourself a beverage, you’ll get through it. And at the end you will have a rich, delicious mess of goodness in your bowl. This is a riff on Moroccan tagines, but we’re not using the traditional tagine clay pot and we’re not slow braising a leg or neck of lamb until it’s falling off the bone (which, by the way, would be a wonderful thing to do). Instead, we’re using fresh caught Mexican white shrimp, which has a rich flavor and very firm flesh, so it just gets a quick dunk in the pot for the last few minutes of cooking.
Everything else is pretty close to the classical Moroccan dish. Layers of sliced vegetables, a rich tomato sauce, olives and preserved lemons, all stewed together into something so rich and decadent and aromatic that you caint hardly stand it.
So, lets get started!
What you need: (there’s more stuff after the marinade, so, don’t miss that…)
For the marinade:
A pound and a half of fresh, or thawed frozen shrimp. This is an excellent time to use Trader Joe’s red Argentine shrimp if you’ve got it.
A handful of chopped cilantro
A handful of chopped parsley
Tbs of sweet paprika
generous pinch of saffron threads, crumbled
TBS minced ginger
1/3 cup of olive oil
Juice from a large lemon
salt and pepper (generous)
Mix these ingredients in a large bowl, then add the shrimp and stir until coated. Refrigerate the shrimp for two hours or more. I like to put the shrimp into a large ziplock bag, squeeze the air out, and zip it shut. Takes up less room, and ensures everything gets in good contact with the marinade.
For the sauce:
Three pounds of plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped.
(I used fresh tomatoes from the farmer’s market, but it was a giant pain in the ass to peel and seed and chop them. Much simpler to open two 28 oz. cans of chopped tomatoes, and every bit as good if you ask me.)
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed.
2 tbs cumin
salt and pepper to taste.
In a medium sauce pan on a medium flame, simmer the chopped tomatoes, garlic, and cumin until the tomatoes break down and turn from sharp smelling to mellow, about ten or fifteen minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside, or leave on a low flame while you prep and chop the veggies.
Four or five good sized carrots, peeled and sliced.
Two sweet onions, sliced.
Four fist sized red potatoes, mandolined or sliced thin.
One red, one green, one yellow bell pepper, sliced thin.
One half preserved lemon*, peel only, chopped or sliced thin
Half cup (or more)- (okay, more.) A cup if you can pitted green olives, sliced or chopped. I used Lucques, which were wonderful.
*A note on the preserved lemons. See that jar of artichoke hearts? Those are my lemons. What you do is simple, but it takes a few weeks before you can use them. Slice up a couple of lemons, enough to fill the container you’re using. The small jar I had held a couple of lemons. If you use a quart jar you’ll never run out but you’ll use six or eight lemons. Anyway, fill the jar with lemons and as you put them in, pack kosher salt over them. Fill jar with lemons and salt and refrigerate. In three or four weeks they’ll be ready. When you use them, cut away the flesh and just use the peels. Chop them up or slice them fine. The flavor they impart to a dish is incomparable- bright and alive with lemony goodness. They are absolutely essential to this recipe, so don’t make this until your lemons are ready or if you have a fancypants market that carries preserved lemons you can use store bought. I just don’t have anywhere local that carries them. I guess you could order them online, too.
Also, once my lemons are started, I throw in a few new slices every time I use the preserved lemons. I use them infrequently, so by the time I pull the jar out again, whatever I put in before are ready to go.
They are like homemade kimchi. Once you get used to having them around, you’ll want always to have them on hand.
Okay, on we go:
Here’s how she goes:
Put in the carrots.
Salt and pepper the carrots and add the onions.
Salt and pepper the onions and add the potatoes.
Salt and pepper the potatoes and add the peppers.
Cover with the tomato sauce.
Now, set your stockpot under a medium flame and cover it, letting the veggies cook until softened, about twenty minutes or so. Longer is okay, shorter isn’t so much. If the sauce is thick and you’re worried about the carrots scorching, add a quarter cup of water. It won’t hurt anything.
Once the veggies have cooked , you can add the olives and preserved lemons in a single layer on top of the tomatoes.
Now your shrimps go in.
Medium flame, let it bubble away, covered, until the shrimp curl up and turn pink. Should be just a few minutes. Don’t let them overcook or they’ll get too tough. Once they pink up, remove the shrimp and put ‘em in a bowl or plate. Let the tagine cook, uncovered, until the juices have mostly evaporated, about five or ten minutes. At this point, I peeled the piping hot shrimp because my woman don’t like shrimps with the shells on. I do that for her out of love. You might enjoy peeling them at the table, one at a time, as you eat them from your bowl, which is more in the spirit of the Moroccan ideal.
A note about love while I’m on the topic. This meal involves a lot of prep, and how you go about it is essential if you want this thing to turn out right. You should be thinking of whoever you are cooking for all the while you are chopping and peeling and mixing together. This is true even if you are cooking only for yourself, in fact, probably even more true. You should imagine your beloved tasting each morsel, each tender shrimp, each vivid little chunk of preserved lemon, each bitter green olive, each sweet onion and soft, buttery potato. Cook with love. Keep it right up there in the front of your mind.
Believe me, you can taste it.
Okay, to plate, just stir up the tagine and fill a bowl with the vegetables and sauce. Top with some of the shrimp. Serve with a nice crusty loaf of bread to sop up the juices. You could have a salad of arugula and figs and almonds if you absolutely had to, but this is fine standing alone.
Trust and believe that.
This recipe is pretty forgiving when it comes to amounts of everything. Use what’s to hand and make up the difference somewhere else. And use this as a jumping off point. You could add a lot more heat with red pepper flakes and some jalapenos, and then cut the heat back with some honey. Add a handful or two of dates or golden raisins. Add some garbanzos. Figs. Do the long, slow braise of some cheap cut of meat. Use chicken thighs one time, or turkey legs. Goat, if you’ve got it. Lamb. Add more cumin and turmeric.
The main thing is the love.
That is all.