Tagine genie: Bill Granger spirits up a Moroccan meal with real bite

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I don't know about everyone else, but two months after Christmas, I'm just about ready to get excited about cooking for a crowd again. My wife jokes that Christmas entertaining is not unlike childbirth: it's lucky we forget the trauma, otherwise nobody would ever do it again!

This kind of meal is much more my kind of thing, so easy and casual that at no point does it need to feel like a chore for the host. A bowl of nuts when people arrive, then a lovely tagine that's comforting like a stew, but much lighter and fresher. It's so quick and simple to make that we'll often have it when it's just us at home.

But when I want to elevate it to a meal for friends, I'll serve it with a big platter of salads, nuts and herbs, and take everything to the table at once for everyone to mix and match as they like. It's an idea I've unashamedly stolen from Vietnam, where you always get a lovely plate of herbs, chilli and lime wedges with your pho (noodle soup), giving you the chance to pimp the dish to your personal taste.

I've written these recipes to serve four, but you can easily double the quantities for a crowd, with no more work involved.

Bill's restaurant, Granger & Co, is at 175 Westbourne Grove, London W11, tel: 020 7229 9111, grangerandco.com

Spiced nuts

After much experimentation, I've come up with my ideal spice combination for nuts. This is one little recipe that I can assure you delivers way more in flavour than the sum of its parts.

Serves 4

200g mixed nuts (we used walnuts, almonds, cashews and pistachios)
½ tsp sea salt
½ tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
½ tsp dried chilli flakes
½ tbsp honey

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas4. Place the nuts in an oven tray and roast for 10 minutes, stirring after 5. Scatter with the cumin, fennel seeds and chilli and roast for another 5 minutes, or until the nuts are golden and the aroma of the spices has been released. Fold the honey through the nuts and set aside to cool.
 
Chicken, fennel and courgette tagine

The trick to a great tagine is having a really light, flavoursome broth. Traditionally you'd soak it up with couscous, but I enjoy the bite and nuttiness that eating it with the quinoa in the salad (below) adds to the dish.

Light and flavoursome: Chicken, fennel and courgette tagine (Kristin Perers) Light and flavoursome: Chicken, fennel and courgette tagine (Kristin Perers)
Serves 4

2 tbsp olive oil
8 chicken thighs
1 large onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1 tsp ground cumin
Large pinch saffron
½ tbsp harissa
1 tbsp honey
1 fennel bulb, cut into thick wedges
650ml chicken stock
400g can chickpeas, drained
2 courgettes, cut into chunks
Juice ½ lemon
Small handful flat-leaf parsley leaves

Heat the oil in a wide, heavy-based pan over a medium heat. Season the chicken with salt k and freshly ground black pepper. Cook, skin-side down, for 6 to 8 minutes until golden, then turn the chicken over. Add the onions and fry for another 6 to 8 minutes, until the onions begin to soften. Stir in the garlic, cumin, saffron, harissa and honey and cook, stirring, for 1 further minute.

Add the fennel to the pan, pour in the stock and bring to the boil. Simmer, covered, for 20 minutes, add the chickpeas and courgettes, cook for a further 20 minutes, or till the chicken is cooked through.

Add the lemon juice and more salt and harissa, to taste. Stir in the parsley. Serve with the Moroccan salad platter.

Moroccan salad platter

There are no rules as to how to combine these salads with the tagine – freshen up the tagine with more herbs, stir some pistachios into the quinoa, use the zingy carrot and beetroot as a palette-cleanser. Anything goes.

  Anything goes: Quinoa and carrot-and-beetroot salads (Kristin Perers) Anything goes: Quinoa and carrot-and-beetroot salads (Kristin Perers)
Serves 4

For the quinoa salad

2 tbsp olive oil
Juice ½ orange
1 garlic clove, crushed
½ tsp ground cinnamon
100g sultanas
400g quinoa
Small handful mint leaves, chopped

For the carrot- and-beetroot salad

½ tsp cumin seeds
3 tbsp pumpkin seeds
2 large carrots, coarsely grated
1 large beetroot, peeled and coarsely grated
1 tsp caster sugar
Juice 0.5 lemon
2 tbsp olive oil

To serve

5 spring onions
Handful coriander leaves
Handful mint leaves
75g toasted pistachios
Lemon wedges

For the quinoa, combine the olive oil, orange juice, garlic, cinnamon and sultanas in a large bowl. Set aside. Cook the quinoa in salted boiling water until just tender. Drain and toss into the bowl with the orange dressing. Stir in the mint and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

For the carrot and beetroot, toast the cumin and pumpkin seeds in a frying pan over a low heat for 1 minute. Mix the carrots and beetroot in a large bowl. Add the toasted seeds. In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar, lemon juice and olive oil. Toss into the salad and season.

Place the salads on a serving platter alongside the spring onions, herbs and pistachios. Take to the table with the tagine, for people to mix and match as they like.

Food preparation: Marina Filippelli; Props merchandising: Rachel Jukes

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