06 April 2017

Recipe: Tagine de Legumes du Cafe Aion

When my wife and I spent a few days in Boulder in March, my favorite restaurant was Cafe Aion. We had great French food at Brasserie Ten Ten and great Italian at Via Perla. But the lunch we had at Aion was so delicious and memorable that I'd have to say it was my favorite.

As I wrote in my original blog post about Aion (click here for the full post), I liked the vegetable tagine so much that I sent an email to the restaurant requesting instructions on how to replicate it. I got this quick reply:

"Roast vegetables with a little olive oil and salt - high heat in the oven. (we use carrots, butternut squash & cauliflower)
"Make the mix: sauté equal parts of chopped ginger & garlic in olive oil. when they are starting to turn golden add in ground cumin, coriander, cinnamon, chili, bay leaf & saffron, stir briefly to release aromatics Then add in canned tomatoes and let simmer until it has thickened a bit. Then add in cooked chickpeas, the roast veggies and let the whole mess simmer for a bit (might need to add a little bit of veg stock)  to really come together! 
"We like to top ours with fresh chopped herbs (parsley, cilantro & mint) as well as preserved lemons & fresh chilies."

That was good enough for me to give it a try. I made it for our family Friday night dinner recently when my sister-in-law and her husband joined us; he's a vegetarian. I basically liked how it turned out, and I'm using my experience to suggest a recipe. I did consult some other posted recipes for tagines and particularly for vegetable tagines. The New York Times Cooking web site has a very useful and instructive post on how to make tagine. I'd recommend it. 

When I made this tagine, I think I used too much saffron. I used two healthy pinches of saffron threads, and the resulting dish had a very pronounced saffron flavor. Usually, I think saffron should be more balanced with the other spices, as it was in the tagine I had at Aion. So in the recipe, I've called for less saffron. I did saute some chopped onions before I added the canned tomatoes. I envisioned the garlic and ginger and spices to be the basis for a tomato sauce, and I just thought some onion would be good. 

I used home canned tomatoes from my mother's garden. They tend to have quite a lot more liquid than commercial canned tomatoes. The instructions I got from Aion suggested adding vegetable stock if the tagine seems too thick. With the home-canned tomatoes, I didn't have to add any more liquid. But I think that might be necessary if using commercial canned tomatoes. 

My version of this dish has more chickpeas than what I was served at Aion. I liked having more chickpeas in the dish, and they helped make it more substantial for the vegetarian. I served the tagine with brown rice. Aion serves it with pita bread. 
My version is on the left. I was trying to replicate Aion's on the right

Since I'm making the recipe up, I took the liberty to name it. But I also believe in giving credit when it's due. So I'm calling this: 

Vegetable Tagine from Cafe Aion

Roasted vegetables
1 small to medium head of cauliflower, cut into florets
1/2 large butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (2-3 cups of cubed squash)
3-4 carrots, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about the same quantity as the squash)
Olive oil
Salt

Sauce
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced (about equal to the amount of garlic)
Olive oil
3/4 tsp. cumin
3/4 tsp. coriander
3/4 tsp. cinnamon 
3/4 tsp. chili powder
4 bay leaves
1 large pinch saffron threads
1/2 large onion, chopped
28 oz. canned tomatoes (or 1 qt. of home canned tomatoes)
Salt & pepper (as needed)
2 c. cooked garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
Water or vegetable stock as needed 

Garnish
2 tbsp. minced fresh parsley
2 tbsp. minced fresh mint
1 preserved lemon (discard pulp and mince the rind)

Combine vegetables in a bowl. Coat veggies with olive oil and season lightly with salt. Spread vegetables on a large baking sheet. Roast in 400 degree oven until tender and beginning to brown (30-45 minutes). 

Saute onion in a 3-quart Dutch oven until soft and translucent. Add garlic and ginger and continue to cook for 2-3 minutes. Stir in spices; cook for an additional minute. Add tomatoes, bay leaf, and saffron. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until the tomatoes start to thicken (15-20 minutes). Taste the tomato sauce and season as needed with salt and pepper. Add garbanzos and roasted vegetables. Cover and continue to simmer to blend the flavors, another 10-15 minutes. Add water or vegetable stock if the tagine is getting too thick. The finished consistency should be like a thick stew.

Pour the tagine into a large serving bowl or platter. Remove the bay leaves. Garnish with chopped fresh herbs and minced rind from a preserved lemon. (You can see in the photo that Aion uses the bay leaves as an additional garnish.) Serve with garlic toasted pita bread or rice or couscous. 

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