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    Recipes: A taste of North Africa with spring vegetable tagines

    Fennel and artichokes take beautifully to hallmark ingredients like dried fruit, harissa, and preserved lemon.

    Photograph by Jim Scherer / Styling by Catrine Kelty
    Fennel tagine with tomatoes, olives, and currants.

    Tagine, a North African dish named for the conical earthenware it’s traditionally cooked in, often includes meat or poultry — but it doesn’t have to. Vegetable-based versions, using seasonal goodies such as fennel and artichokes, take beautifully to hallmark ingredients like dried fruit, saffron, warm spices, garlic, harissa, and preserved lemon. The technique here — essentially a braise — creates steam from a little added liquid to cook the vegetables through. These tagines make a relatively quick side dish or, with couscous or quinoa alongside, a light, springy main course.

    Fennel Tagine With Tomatoes, Olives, and Currants

    Makes about 8 cups

    This recipe is adapted from Mourad: New Moroccan by Mourad Lahlou.

    ½      cup currants

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    ¼      teaspoon crushed saffron threads

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    3        tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

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    TIP: Artichokes discolor quickly, so rub trimmed ones all over with a piece of lemon and soak in a bowl of cool water with 2 tablespoons lemon juice.

    1         large onion, finely chopped

    ¼      cup thinly sliced garlic (about 10 medium cloves)

    1         tablespoon fennel seed, lightly toasted, cooled, and lightly crushed

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    Salt and black pepper

    1½    tablespoons finely grated orange zest

    ¾      teaspoon ground coriander

    ¼      teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

    1         can (15 ounces) diced tomatoes

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    1         tablespoon honey

    3        medium fennel bulbs, trimmed and cut lengthwise into eighths, and about ¼ cup chopped fronds for garnish

    ¾      cup green olives, quartered lengthwise   

     1/3       cup chopped fresh parsley

    In a small bowl, cover the currants with hot water and set aside to soften, at least 15 minutes. Meanwhile, in another small bowl, mix the saffron with ¼ cup hot water and set aside.

    In a medium Dutch oven over medium heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the onion, garlic, fennel seed, and 1 teaspoon salt, and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the orange zest, coriander, and red pepper flakes, and cook, stirring, about 40 seconds. Add the tomatoes (with their juices), honey, and reserved saffron water, adjust the heat to medium-high, and bring to a strong simmer, stirring. Add the fennel, stir to coat, and partially submerge it in the tomato mixture. Adjust the heat to medium-low and cook, covered and stirring occasionally, until the fennel is tender but not mushy when pierced with the tip of a knife, 20 to 30 minutes. Drain the reserved currants, add them and the olives, and stir to incorporate.

    Taste and adjust the seasoning with additional salt and black pepper, if necessary. Add the parsley and stir to mix. Sprinkle with the reserved chopped fennel fronds and serve hot or warm.

    Artichoke and Bell Pepper Tagine With Chickpeas

    Makes about 9 cups

    If you don't mind sacrificing some texture, substitute 1 9-ounce package of frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and blotted dry, adding them to the pan along with the chickpeas.

    6        medium artichokes, about 8 ounces each

    3        tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

    2        medium orange, red, and/or yellow bell peppers, cored, seeded, and cut into 1-inch squares

    1         large onion, finely chopped

    Salt and black pepper

    1         tablespoon minced garlic (4 or 5 medium cloves)

    ½      teaspoon ground cumin

    ½      teaspoon ground coriander

    3        tablespoons harissa

    1         can (15 ounces) petite-diced tomatoes

    1         teaspoon sugar

    1         can (15 ounces) chickpeas, drained and rinsed

    2½   tablespoons finely chopped preserved lemon rind (about ½ of a large preserved lemon)

    ¼      cup chopped fresh cilantro

    To trim the artichokes, chop off the top third of each and cut stems to about 1½ inches. Working around the base, snap off the outer leaves until you reach the pale inner leaves. With a paring knife, trim off the dark green outer layer of the stem and base of the artichoke. Cut the artichokes in half lengthwise and, with a dinner spoon, scrape away any prickly inner leaves and hairy choke.

    In a medium Dutch oven over high heat, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil until shimmering. Add the bell peppers and cook, stirring occasionally, until spotty brown, about 5 minutes; scrape them into a bowl and set aside. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil, adjust the heat under the Dutch oven to medium, and heat until the oil is shimmering. Add the onion and 1 teaspoon salt, and cook, stirring, until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic, cumin, and coriander, and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the harissa and stir to combine. Add the tomatoes and sugar, and bring to a strong simmer, stirring. Add the artichokes, cover, and simmer gently, stirring occasionally to ensure even cooking, for 25 minutes (if some smaller artichokes are fully tender at this point, remove them to the bowl with the reserved bell peppers while the larger artichokes finish cooking). Add the chickpeas and preserved lemon, stir, replace the cover, and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until the artichoke hearts are fully tender when poked with a paring knife, 5 to 15 minutes longer. Add the reserved bell peppers, stir gently, and heat them through, about 3 minutes.

    Taste and adjust the seasoning with additional salt and black pepper, if necessary. Add the cilantro, stir, and serve hot or warm.

    Cauliflower Tagine With Pearl Onions, Raisins, and Chickpeas

    Makes about 8 cups

    When cutting the cauliflower, leave flat surfaces on as many florets as possible to aid browning.

    ¾      cup golden raisins

    ¼      teaspoon crushed saffron threads

    3        tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

    1         medium head cauliflower (about 2½ pounds), trimmed and cut into 1½-inch florets (about 9 cups)

    Salt and pepper

    3        cups thawed frozen pearl onions (about 12 ounces)

    1         tablespoon minced garlic (4 or 5 medium cloves)

    ½      teaspoon ground cumin

    ½      teaspoon ground coriander

    ¾      teaspoon ground cinnamon

    1         can (15 ounces) chickpeas, drained and rinsed (about 1½ cups)

    3½   tablespoons finely chopped preserved lemon rind (about ¾ of a large preserved lemon)

    ¼      cup chopped fresh parsley

    In a small bowl, cover the raisins with hot water, set aside to soften, at least 15 minutes, and drain. In a small bowl, mix the saffron with 2/3 cup hot water and set aside.

    In a Dutch oven over medium-high heat, heat 1½ tablespoons oil until shimmering. Add the cauliflower and ¼ teaspoon salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the florets are brown in spots, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and set aside.

    Return the Dutch oven to medium-high heat, add the remaining 1½ tablespoons oil, and heat until shimmering. Add the pearl onions and ¼ teaspoon salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are light golden, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic, cumin, coriander, and cinnamon, and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 40 seconds. Add the reserved saffron water and scrape the bottom of the pot to loosen and dissolve any fond. Add the chickpeas and reserved cauliflower, and cook, covered and stirring frequently to promote even cooking, for about 5 minutes. Add the preserved lemon, reserved raisins, ½ teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste, and continue to cook, covered and stirring frequently, until the cauliflower is tender when pierced with the tip of a knife, about 7 minutes longer.

    Taste and adjust the seasoning with additional salt and pepper, if necessary. Add the parsley, stir to mix, and serve hot or warm.

    Adam Ried appears regularly on “America’s Test Kitchen.” Send comments to cooking@globe.com.