This super-savoury yet sweet stew draws inspiration from a Moroccan tagine - using dates, harissa and cinnamon to give depth and richness to creamy aubergine and jammy red peppers.
Without a doubt, the main hero in this recipe is aubergine. When cooked well, aubergine is rich, soft and melt-in-your-mouth creamy. When cooked badly, it's tough, watery and chewy. If you prefer the latter, then you can skip this whole section, but I think we're all here for the former. I find most aubergine conundrums boil down to a time issue, both in terms of cooking and preparing it. I know it sounds obvious to say that aubergine tastes best when it's fully cooked, but undercooked aubergine is actually so common and probably the reason why a lot of people don't like it. Aubergine takes long to cook and when making a stew, you really want to make sure that it's almost fully cooked before adding any form of liquid to the pot. Once liquid is added, the aubergine cooking process is slowed down. In the recipe you'll see the aubergine is cooked with the onions, pepper and tomato paste for around 20 minutes before adding chopped tomatoes. Don't be tempted to cut down the time on this - letting the aubergine fully cook in that stage ensures that once the tomatoes are added, the stew only requires 15 minutes to come together, rather than an hour or more.
You'll also notice the recipe also suggests for you to salt the sliced aubergine, for at least 30 mins, before using it. Salting aubergine is a process in which you heavily sprinkle sliced aubergine with salt, and let it sit in a colander for up to an hour, before rinsing and drying it. It sounds tedious, which is the reason why I didn't start doing it until this year. What salting does, however, is get rid of extra moisture and bitterness in the flesh of the aubergine. Although it's not necessary when roasting aubergine, it's what makes for creamy and melty fried or stewed aubergine. If you're very pressed for time, you can skip this step, but I find that the aubergine salts just in time for you to prep all of your ingredients, and cook down the onions, spices and peppers - so really, there's very little reason not to.
800g aubergine (around 2 large)
4 tbsp olive oil
1 white onion
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground coriander
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp harissa pasta
1 tsp salt
200g red pepper
1 tin good quality chopped tomatoes
2 tsp maple syrup
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
100g carrots, thinly sliced into rounds
1 tbsp olive oil
10g mint, finely chopped
10g fresh parsley,
Start by preparing and salting the aubergine. Slice the aubergine into around 4x4cm chunks. Place in a colander and sprinkle heavily with salt - which will be rinsed out afterwards. Transfer the colander into the sink or over a bowl and let the aubergine sit for at least 30 minutes - preferably an hour.
Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a heavy set pot over medium heat. Add the onions and cook down for 10-12 minutes, until starting to caramelise. Add the minced garlic and cook for another 3-4 minutes.
Add the cumin, cinnamon, coriander, tomato paste, harissa pasta and salt. Stir to combine, and cook for 3-4 minutes, until the paste has darkened and is sticking to the bottom of the pot - this means it is caramelising. Add the red pepper and cook for 4-5 until it is softening.
Rinse the salted aubergine and pat it dry with a tea towel. Add it to the pot and stir to combine, until the aubergine is fully coated in the tomato spice paste. Add the remaining 2 tbsp of olive oil and cook the aubergine for 15-20 minutes with the lid on, stirring occasionally until the aubergine has softened.
Add the dates, chopped tomatoes, maple syrup, vinegar and 100ml water and simmer for 15 more minutes.
In the meantime, combine carrots, oil, mint and a pinch of salt in a small bowl. Cook couscous according to the package instructions.
Divide the tagine amongst six bowls, and serve with couscous, carrots and fresh parsley.
Valentina is our Food Creative, who dreams up our tasty dishes and recipes for our social channels. She has loads of experience cooking up a storm in Italian kitchens, so it’s no surprise she can’t live without good-quality olive oil (don’t come between her and her olive oil) and fresh pasta.