On travel, writing, and food, or that magic Tagine

Travel is wonderful of course, who could disagree? Gradually, as you get older and more set in your ways, actually setting off becomes more difficult, as the discomfort of travel is inevitably more of an issue. All the more valuable then are those memories of travel and its flavours cherished in the comfort of your own kitchen.

Mia Kankimäki’s book, The things that make the heart beat faster, was one of the best-sellers of 2013 in terms of Finnish-language books; an interesting travel story and research report about the unlikely subject of Japanese diarist and poet Sei Shōnagon, who was born in 966AD (in Japan) and died ( 1025AD – Japan). I only managed to get around to reading this little gem of a book in early 2015, but it got me thinking of travel books more generally.

Travel books have a particular magic about them. My mother was an avid reader of travel books and left behind a library I’ve enjoyed ever since, including many Finnish women travel authors: Vivi-Ann Sjögren and Kyllikki Villa can be warmly recommended to anyone interested in the travel books genre. Both are published in Swedish, but unfortunately not in English, as far as I know. In addition to these authors, my mother gave me a special travel book many years ago called “Järvien, vuorien ja sankareiden maa” = “The land of lochs, mountains and heroes”, which is a travel book on Scotland, published in 1946 and written by Helmi Krohn, the wife of the most famous person born in Kokemäki (my home town) Eemil Nestor Setälä, and sister of Aino Kallas. Quite a gem!

The book describes amongst other things arriving in a rainy Edinburgh:

“It was raining as I arrived. It is likely to rain at any time in Scotland, it is a kind of necessary evil, which is best taken calmly. At least the Scots themselves do so. A Scottish gentleman once said that Scotland never has bad weather, in the worst case, only “beautiful, moist weather.” And in a way, he was right, at least if the rain does not happen to be too heavy and the fog not too thick. The weather simply provides the landscape with a special feeling, providing the mountainous landscapes in particular with a mysterious foggy veil. It is easy to understand how such an environment could stir one’s imagination.”

Rainy or wet weather is certainly ideal for a warm stew. This time alas, the inspiration comes not from Scotland, but from sunnier climes.

 Kaisa’s Morrocan lamb stew

The star of the meal is the lamb – depending on how huingry the crowd is, for 6-8 people count 2-3 lamb shanks and a couple of better cuts of your choice (approx. 1.5 kg of meat in total). No matter if there should be some leftover, as the stew only improves with time.

1. For seasoning and marinade:

  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • A generous glug (~2 tablespoons) of olive oil
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • approx. 3 tablespoons of Harissa paste (you can get this from your local supermarket these days, though given the enthusiasm and ambition, do make it yourself, e.g. using this recipe: http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2014/10/homemade-harissa/

2. Best of fruit&veg:

  • red bell pepper
  • 1 eggplant
  • 1 (red) onion
  • 4 carrots

(Why not go for additional root vegetables, if you feel like it! Or – if you should so desire, you can make the stew entirely without meat – the flavours are beautiful also in vegetarian mode).

  •  Canned chickpeas (soak overnight)
  • garlic according to taste (I usually crush 3 cloves)
  • 1 lemon, quartered
  • 1 stock cube
  • 1-2 cans crushed tomato

To serve – and (once again) according to taste, to finish: some honey, 1-2 preserved lemons, Merguez sausages or other good fresh lamb sausages (fried separately first) served on top

3. Couscous (prepare as instructed on the packet), with added roasted almonds, some dried fruit (usually I use the apricot, fig, or dates)

1 lemon, juiced

1 tablespoon of butter

+ To serve, mint and coriander, pomegranate seeds + plain yogurt on the side if you want to reduce the heat of the dish


  1. Marinate the lamb overnight using, for instance, Harissa paste, oil and red wine.
  2. Soak the chickpeas overnight and prepare the almonds and, when colouring them on the frying pan, don’t let them out of your sight as they burn very easily.
  3. Chop the vegetables.
  4. Let the lamb rest at room temperature while admiring its beauty. Cook quickly on the pan and then pop in the oven with all the other ingredients for about 3 hours (170-180 degrees).
  5. If unsure, pop the meat thermometer in and serve when the lamb is cooked to your liking. ENJOY!

A similar type of delicious Tagine-style hot pot can also be prepared with organic chicken or cockrel, too. A loval producer brings us beautiful Merguez sausages to the door.

Prepare the Tagine as above, with the only difference being replacing lamb with chicken, and with the red wine omitted. Well, I suppose a glass will go perfectly with the ready-made product in any case.  For chicken / cockerel thighs, please allow approx. 1.5 hours cooking time. Bon appetit!


2 thoughts on “On travel, writing, and food, or that magic Tagine

  1. Thanks, Kaisa. Looking forward to following you! I think you may need to do a “research” trip to Colorado!


    1. You may be right, Julie. 🙂 I was also thinking how the exchangees over the years each left a little mark in Iris’s kitchen. You may have been the one who brought black pepper with you. 🙂


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