This Moroccan vegetable dish is a tarted-up version of the stew served with couscous and bears a generic resemblance to many such dishes around the world, where a rich but cheap dish is used to liven up and season a large amount of plain cereal. The vegetable curry served with biriyani in India is another obvious example. The first couscous I ever ate was at Soho’s only North African restaurant on the corner of Old Compton and Greek Streets (sounds like Manhattan, doesn’t it?). It was not particularly good, but must have made an impression, because I started mucking about with food from this part of the world almost immediately afterwards.
Don’t worry if you do not possess a tagine; an earthenware or cast-iron casserole will do. The advantage of using the correct dish with its curious conical lid is that condensation from the large interior surface area of this lid moistens the vegetables as they slowly cook and produces a larger amount of delicious juices. This is soaked up by the couscous and gives this very bland staple some interest.
Lightly salt the aubergine and leave to drain in a colander. Make the spice mix. If this entails some shopping it might be sensible to justify all this work by making up a larger batch. It keeps well for several days and can be frozen but subsequent uses should be preceded by a short toasting in a dry frying pan to wake the spices up. Rinse the aubergine and put back in the colander to drain.
Heat a large frying pan on a medium flame and put the tagine over a very low heat.
Prepare the steamed couscous, labneh and chermoula.
Turn the couscous out from its basin into the centre of deep dinner plates or soup plates. Spoon the vegetable tagine around these rounds. Serve the chermoula and labneh separately as side dishes.
© 1999 Alastair Little. All rights reserved.