A reader, wistfully looking for the smells and tastes of the souk, asks where she can find tagines. Traditionally, tagines are less-expensive cuts of meat — such as lamb neck or shoulder — slow-cooked with fruits and spices. The word tagine is the Berber word for the heavy earthenware circular base with conical cover cooking vessel.
Essential to Moroccan tagines is ras el hanout, a spice mix like curry, which is uniquely personal. Ras el hanout translates to "head of the shop"; in other words, these are the best spices in the store. In Morocco, a blend of spices may include Grains of Paradise, ajwain seed, lavender and monk's pepper. But in the U.S., ras el hanout typically contains cardamom, cinnamon, chile peppers, cumin and turmeric. Ras el hanout, and other North African blends, is available at the Savory Spice Shop, 2000 South Blvd. (1/2 ounce $2.60).
Moroccan-native Sam Roussi opened Casablanca Café, a fast-casual spot, in 2009 (9609 N. Tryon St.), but has redecorated since opening. He also opened Marrakesh in Cornelius last summer, but closed two weeks later. At Casablanca, tagines are offered daily, including the lamb tagine ($11.99). Roussi blends the spices for his ras el hanout.
At Blue Restaurant, in the Hearst Tower, Chef Brigg's creates a tagine of slow-roasted lamb shank, ras el hanout, apricots, dates, and saffron potatoes. This is served with cous cous and harrisa ($29). Although not a tagine, French Chef Bernard Brunet creates a sumptuous Moroccan starter: skewers of lamb and beef tenderloin with spiced yogurt in his Global Restaurant, 3520 Toringdon Way in Ballantyne.
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