August 2, 2009

Butternut Squash, Fennel, and Chickpea Tagine with Couscous Pilaf

Tagine is a traditional North African dish named after the clay pot in which it is made, which has a flat bottom and a conical lid. During cooking, the lid collects condensation and transfers the moisture back to the food at the base, making it a perfect vessel for braising. A tagine is often used to make a stew-like dish including meat, such as lamb or chicken, vegetables, a variety of spices, dried fruit, olives, and preserved lemons. 

I wanted to make a vegetarian tagine, and decided on a sweet and savory combination of butternut squash, fennel, chickpeas, and apricots. For the spice blend, I turned to a terrific combination of cinnamon, cumin, coriander, ginger, nutmeg, and vanilla bean, from a chicken tagine recipe by Mark Bittman. The vanilla bean is the key to the dish, so don't leave it out - it adds incredible flavor and aroma.

Since I don't have an actual tagine, I used an enamel-covered cast iron pot with a lid, which works fine.

Butternut Squash, Fennel, and Chickpea Tagine
Serves 4 to 6

2 tbsp XVOO
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
pinch of nutmeg
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 vanilla bean
1 fennel bulb, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 1 cup)
1 small butternut squash, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 1-1/2 cups)
1 15-ounce can chick peas, rinsed and drained
3 small to medium size tomatoes, diced (about 1 1/2 to 2 cups; canned diced tomatoes would also be fine)
1/2 cup unsulfured dried apricots, chopped
sea salt
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • Heat olive oil and butter in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add onions and a pinch of salt, and saute until soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and stir for 1 minute. Stir in spices and vanilla bean.
  • Add the fennel and butternut squash to the pot with a pinch of salt, stirring to coat the vegetables with the spices.
  • Stir in chickpeas, tomatoes, and dried apricots. Bring to a simmer, cover pot, and cook over low-medium heat for about 45 minutes. The butternut squash should be tender but not mushy.
  • Season to taste with salt and pepper, and drizzle with a little more olive oil if desired. 
  • Serve over couscous pilaf (below) and garnish with chopped parsley.

Couscous Pilaf with Cashews, Raisins, and Fennel Seed
Serves 4 to 6

2 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 cup raw cashews, chopped
1 cup couscous
1/3 cup raisins
1/4 tsp salt
1-2 tbsp XVOO
Freshly ground black pepper
  • Toast fennel seeds in a small, heavy-bottomed saute pan. Transfer fennel seeds to a bowl and then toast the chopped cashews.
  • Combine couscous, raisins, and salt in a medium bowl. Add 1-1/2 cups boiling water, stir, cover, and let sit for 5 minutes.
  • Fluff couscous with a fork, and stir in fennel seeds, cashews, and olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. 


  1. Great recipe. What can you use as a substitue if you don't like fennel?

  2. Very good healthy recipe. Fennel seeds are very common, it is commonly found in kitchen. It adds flavours to dishes. It has many health benefits like, it act as mouth freshener, women who face irregularities in their periods felt effective cure by fennel seeds, it provides relief to strained eyes, gives soft and conditioned locks, healthy skin etc. For more details on fennel seeds, refer Fennel seeds

  3. Hi Raymond - The fennel adds a very subtle flavor to the tagine, so I don't think it would affect the flavor of the final dish if you leave it out. You could just add more butternut squash or another vegetable if you like.

    You can also make the couscous pilaf without the fennel seeds - toasted cumin seeds would be a good substitute.

  4. Nancy,
    As a Moroccan woman, I love to see people trying our amazing cuisine and sharing recipes with all. Thanks.