Healthy Lunch: Moroccan Vegetable Tagine

by | Feb 6, 2009

If you really want to be healthy, you need to find a way to prepare most of your meals yourself. Eating out is fun and if you are careful you can avoid too much damage, but when you find yourself at restaurants multiple times per week chances are you will have a lot of trouble maintaining a healthy weight.

For many people, lunch on weekdays (at work) is one of the hardest meals to make healthy because bringing your own food requires planning and preparation, which is difficult on a busy schedule. There can also be powerful social pressures at the office to do what everyone else is doing, and that usually means hitting up the local restaurants.

I have combated this lunch issue with delicious food and a little planning. During the summer I make seasonal, fresh salads that are the envy of everyone at the office (aka lab). But since tomatoes and my other favorite salad treats are not available in the winter, I have been on a quest to find the perfect cold weather lunch.

Soup has been the winning ticket so far. The chicken chard soup I posted a few weeks ago was satisfying, delectable and lasted me the entire week. This past week I made red lentil Indian style soup following a recipe from Splendid Soups, my favorite soup cookbook (sorry, no post on this one).

This week I modified Mark Bittman’s Moroccan tagine recipe, skipping the chicken and adding some beautiful romanesco broccoli instead. A tagine is a thick and hearty Moroccan stew made with spices, chickpeas and dried fruit.

Normally a tagine is served with spiced couscous, but I didn’t have any so I used red quinoa I found at my corner market, Valencia Farmers Market (24th Street and Valencia). At first I was really mad at myself for forgetting I was out of couscous, but the red Inca quinoa was amazing and in the future I may actually prefer it for a lunch recipe like this.

Quinoa is substantially healthier than couscous, which is not whole grain.

Bittman’s recipe was quick and easy because I made the chickpeas the day before in my pressure cooker. It was simple and perfect for my lunch this week.

But if you want a tagine that is the real deal (harissa and all), I recommend the recipe from Splendid Soups.

Moroccan Vegetable Tagine


  • 1 medium head romanesco (or cauliflower)
  • 1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1 28-oz can of diced tomatoes, drained
  • 3 cups chickpeas, cooked (or 2 cans, drained and rinsed)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Pinch nutmeg
  • 0.5 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 0.5 tsp ground black pepper
  • Pinch cayenne pepper
  • 0.5 cup diced dried apricots (or golden raisins or dates)
  • 0.25 cup sliced almonds, toasted

Bittman adds half a vanilla bean and cautions not to use extract. I didn’t have a vanilla bean so I just left it out. Also it appears I forgot to add the parsley. Feel free to use it as a garnish, I’m sure it would be a nice addition.

Saute onions in 2 tbsp of olive oil until tender and soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and spices and stir until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add romanesco pieces, salt and continue to saute for another 5 minutes.

Add tomatoes, chickpeas and dried fruit and bring to a boil. Turn heat down and simmer. Taste and adjust salt. You can add 0.5 cup of water if necessary, but keep in mind a tagine should not be very fluid. Cover and allow to simmer 30 minutes, or until romanesco is tender. Stir occasionally.

While the tagine is simmering, rinse and cook quinoa according to the instructions on the box (takes 15 minutes). You can also toast your almonds during this time if you haven’t already. I tried to toast mine on a cookie sheet in the oven, but forgot about them (as usual) and they burnt. I toasted a new batch in a non-stick pan on the stove. Toast nuts on medium-low heat without oil, turning occasionally for about 5 minutes. If you prefer to use the oven, set a timer!

To serve scoop half a cup of cooked quinoa into a bowl and cover generously with tagine. Tagine is very hearty, so an additional side dish is probably not necessary. Sprinkle with toasted almonds and serve immediately.

This recipe has fed me 1 delicious meal per day for 4 days.

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8 Responses to “Healthy Lunch: Moroccan Vegetable Tagine”

  1. Mike says:

    Woooow!!! The elusive red quinoa caught on camera! lol that stuff looks okay I guess; I could just imagine explaining to my buddies what I’m eating though……In the end they’d be jealous. Thanks for the idea!

  2. Dinneen-Eat Without Guilt says:

    Looks like a great recipe! I love tagine, and what a great meal during the winter. You're so right on and I always preach, "cook once, eat twice (or 3 times..)" the best way to cook & eat right.Thanks for your recipes!

  3. Healthyliving says:

    I almost made a Moroccan dish like this the other night, but chickened out. Maybe I’ll give this one a try; it doesn’t have the volume of leafy-greens that you usually go for though, I guess the romanesco makes up for it? Sure looks good.

  4. Trey - Swollen Thumb Entertainment says:

    At first, I was skeptical about the word “soup”, but that recipe looks pretty tempting. I think I might have to try that sometime.And yes, peer pressure can be pretty bad when it comes to eating lunch in an office setting. I gained a lot of weight at my last job for this reason. 🙂

  5. Darya Pino says:

    @MikeOddly I liked the red quinoa even more than regular quinoa. Go figure.—–@DinneenThanks! It was really a great eating week for me. Yummy!—–@HealthylivingYou should definitely try it. It tastes exotic, but all the spices are pretty common. It is a unique flavor combination, but not hard to achieve.I went with romanesco as the main fresh vegetable. It is a cruciferous vegetable just like kale 🙂 Also, I was eating the tagine for lunch and usually chard and sardines/beans for dinner.—–@TreyThis one wasn’t very soupy (but soup is great!), more like a curry. It’s easy and delicious, you should try it!

  6. Matt Shook says:

    Soups are awesome this time of year…especially ones that have quinoa in them! Not only great tasting, but a complete protein as well…a true “staple” of my diet.Actually, I would agree with Mike that the red quinoa is a bit elusive…I haven’t seen it since I was in southeastern Peru.I was contemplating about making some black bean w/ tempeh chili or a mung bean dal, but maybe I’ll try this recipe out first. It has a good variety of ingredients that I’m familiar with, and I love curry-esque concoctions.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I loved this recipe, and so did my husband, who is a meat and potatoes guy. It lasted me for several days, and made a convenient lunch to bring to work.

  8. Darya Pino says:

    @AnonWonderful! I’m so glad you enjoyed it. It is always fantastic to hear when the carnivorous type are won over by a vegetable dish. Warms my heart 😉

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