Recipes from the Road: The Difference Between Moroccan Tagine and Couscous

FlyAwayU | Recipes from the Road: The Difference Between Moroccan Tagine and Couscous
Moroccan Beef Tagine, cooked and served in a tagine pot.

Did you know that tagine is not couscous?

And that couscous is served with a different dish entirely?

David and I didn’t!

That was until we lived in Morocco for three months and ate tagine or couscous almost daily.

Confused?

If you are, I’m not surprised because here in the US, the “tagine” served on most restaurant menus is actually couscous.

Really confused now?

That’s okay. You won’t be for much longer!

Tagine is cooked in a tagine pot over low heat with layers of meat or fish covered with layers of vegetables, herbs, and spices. The only liquid in a tagine is the cooking liquids from the protein and veggies. For serving, the tagine is served right out of the bottom portion of the tagine pot.

Moroccan couscous is served with a stew similar to the tagine. The entire dish is prepared in a couscous pot, which allows similar layers of proteins, veggies and lots of broth to cook underneath a steamer basket, which holds and cooks the couscous grains. For serving, the couscous is poured into a large flat clay bowl, similar in look to the tagine bottom. Then the meat and vegetables are arranged on top, and the broth poured over the entire dish.

Learning how to cook tagine and couscous from several Moroccan cooks was a fantastic experience. We ate beef, chicken, fish and vegetarian tagines. And several variations on couscous.

So we thought that we would share everything we learned so that you know the difference between a tagine and couscous.

What is the Difference Between a Tagine Pot and a Couscoussier?

Traditionally, tagine cooks in a conical-shaped two-piece terra-cotta pot called a tagine pot. It’s sort of like cooking with a crock pot. You layer in meat and veggies, then put the spices on top; close the lid and allow the dish to steaming and simmer until cook through.

Couscous cooks in a couscoussier, a taller metal pot with a slightly bulbous base, a steamer and a lid. The meat and liquids cook below causing steam to rise through the couscous, cooking it during the cooking process.

For those without a tagine pot or couscoussier, you can still cook tagine or couscous. A large heavy cook pot, dutch oven or crock pot works well for cooking a tagine. And couscous can either be made using a large cooking pot fitted with a steamer basket or rice steamer.

The biggest trick is keeping the steam in the pot for steaming in the couscous. Either you need a tight fitting lid or do as the Moroccans do and seal the pan with foil to make sure the steam stays in the pot.

FlyAwayU | Recipes from the Road: The Difference Between Moroccan Tagine and Couscous
Different kinds of Moroccan Khobz, perfect for scooping up tagine or couscous.

How Do You Eat Tagine and Couscous?

Moroccans eat using pieces of torn bread, or khobz,  for scooping the tagine and couscous into their mouths from a community pot.

Silverware is not used by the locals for eating either of these two dishes, but if you are uncomfortable, you can ask for some.

Pronounced “hobs,” khobz is a round flat Moroccan bread baked in several different flavors. While some people still cook khobz at home, most get it fresh daily from the local bakery where it costs an average of $0.10 for a round loaf.

FlyAwayU | Recipes from the Road: The Difference Between Moroccan Tagine and Couscous

What Ingredients are in Tagine and Couscous?

Both tagine and couscous use similar ingredients and are seasonally based. The recipe depends on the chef or if there’s a special occasion.

Proteins include beef, chicken, goat, sheep, lamb, turkey, and different types of fish. While you can find pork in the Western grocery stores like the Carre Four, Morocco is a pork-free country because of religion. Because you’re braising the meat, choose the cheapest possible cuts. No need for expensive cuts here!

Commonly used vegetables include zucchini, carrots, potatoes, eggplant, fennel, winter squash, tomatoes, garlic, and onions. Which are always topped with fresh parsley and coriander! When choosing what vegetables to pick, think of ones that hold up well to long, slow cooking.

Chickpeas, nuts, raisins, dates, preserved lemons, olives, prunes and caramelized onions are also very common additions.

And the final ingredient is the spices. Those are discussed more below.

FlyAwayU | Recipes from the Road: The Difference Between Moroccan Tagine and Couscous
Spices used for both tagine and couscous

What Spices are in Tagine and Couscous?

Both dishes are made using mixtures of cumin, paprika, saffron, black pepper, cinnamon, turmeric, ground ginger and chili powder.

The amount and which spices used depends on the protein and vegetables used and the cook’s recipe. Recipes vary by region and of course, by the cook.

Both dishes are spicy but not chili-pepper spicy. Just spicy from the number and quantity of spices used. The Moroccans believe in flavor in their food. No bland food served there!

How to Make Your Tagine

Tagine is VERY easy to make. It’s such a simple dish that tastes so complex and delicious.

It’s as simple forming a pyramid by layering.

If using meat, place on the bottom of the pan. Always use a cheap cut of meat. Nothing fancy here! The slow braising breaks down the fibers, making them melt-in-your-mouth tender.

Second, build a pyramid over the top of the meat with the veggies by laying them on the meat. Arrange some of each vegetable all the way around the pot. Top with chopped herbs and any other ingredients that you want.

Finally, mix your spices with a small amount of water and pour over the top, place the lid on the pot and walk away.

If you’re using fish, place the fish on top the vegetables, then top with the rest of the ingredients.

Making a tagine is as simple as that.

Check out the video above for the layering process. I’ve also included the basic beef tagine recipe that I learned from our Airbnb host Aziz, while in Morocco.

So what do you think? Are you ready to make a tagine? Or just ready to visit Morocco and have one made for you?

If so, please use our Skyscanner affiliate link to compare prices on flights and book. It doesn’t cost you a thing but does help us bring you posts like these.

Print Recipe
Beef Tagine
servings="2-3" time="2hr 30mins" difficulty="easy
Servings
Ingredients
Servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Mix spices together in a small glass or cup. Add a little water to make a slurry. Set aside until needed.
  2. Set your tagine pot or dutch oven on the stove over medium-low heat.
  3. Add a nice drizzle of olive oil, about 1 to 2 tablespoons. Place the cut up beef in the pot.
  4. Beef will start cooking and sizzling while you are cutting up the rest of your ingredients.
  5. Spread the onion, garlic and tomato around the middle area of the beef, allowing to slightly spill over the edges.
  6. Now start layering in the rest of your veggies based on hardness of cooking. Place the long spears in a pyramid form over the meat. Starting with potatoes and carrots, followed by zucchini.
  7. Pour your spice slurry over the pile of meat and veggies and drizzle again with a small drizzle of olive oil.
  8. Finally, top the pyramid with the chopped parsley and place the lid on the pot. Check that your heat is turned down to just keep the meat simmering.
  9. Depending on the size of your meat and the quality of the cut, the tagine will take between 1 1/2 to 2 hours or more to cook. Do remember to use a very cheap cut of meat for this.
  10. Once everything is nice and tender, serve up with flatbread on the side for scooping out your meal.
  11. As Naima, our Airbnb host in Essaouira would say, Bon Appetit!

30 thoughts on “Recipes from the Road: The Difference Between Moroccan Tagine and Couscous

  • 02/02/2018 at 15:38
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    Oh my goodness, the deliciousness! I didn’t know I was confused, but now I am. In the USA you call tagine, couscous? I wonder why! In the UK we call tagine tagine but couscous is just the grain, there isn’t a full meal called couscous, so you’ve answered a question for the Brits that you didn’t even know needed answering!

    Reply
    • 02/02/2018 at 23:15
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      LOL, I guess so Cassie. It’s always a nice surprise when things would out that way 🙂

      Reply
  • 03/02/2018 at 02:48
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    Thanks for sharing. What delicious looking meal. I have never had Tagine but would love to try it some day. I would definitely like to have it in Morocco. There is a restaurant in town that serves it but I an sure it didn’t look like the one in you pictures. I guess different countries put their own ‘slant’ on recipes from elsewhere, if only to adjust it to local tastes.

    Reply
    • 03/02/2018 at 15:57
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      Nicole, tagines are amazing for sure. I would imagine different countries do put their own slant of the recipe which reminds me of burritos in Ireland. They were all served with BBQ sauce. LOL! So not even close to the real thing. But there are so many different tagines, my photos only represent a few so the one in your hometown could be tasty as well 🙂

      Reply
  • 03/02/2018 at 08:20
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    Even though I am a hotel management graduate I didn’t know the difference. I would love to try it but being a vegetarian, I would stick to the vegetarian version. The Khobz seems huge. Even 1 Khobz will be sufficient for me to polish off tagine.

    Reply
    • 03/02/2018 at 15:48
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      Abhinav, they have some many beautiful vegetarian tagines! I had one loaded with eggplant, zucchini, potatoes, olives and lemon that was out of this world with flavor. And yes, the khobz are huge because they are meant for sharing. The hubby and I usually used maybe one to one and a half for an entire meal.

      Reply
  • 03/02/2018 at 18:31
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    I knew it was not the same but could not exactly tell the difference. Thanks for clearing that up. Either way I love both dishes. Love the picture with all the spices in 1 glass. This whole post made me hungry! 🤗🤗

    Reply
    • 04/02/2018 at 16:57
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      LOL. I love them both as well! It was interesting to learn the differences.

      Reply
  • 03/02/2018 at 19:15
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    Folks in the US call tagine, couscous? Lol, didn’t know that. Travel teaches one so many things and clears up so many misconceptions doesn’t it 🙂
    The Khobs looks so delicious. I’m hungry now!

    Reply
    • 04/02/2018 at 16:48
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      Yep, I’m afraid they do. Oh well, every society has it’s misconceptions of another and as you say, travel is the only way to clear them up 🙂

      Reply
  • 04/02/2018 at 19:38
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    Nice post! I’ve never been to Morocco, but it’s great to know about the local cuisines of different countries. Both Tagine and Khobz look mouth watering! Thanks for sharing the Tagine recipe. I’ll try my hands on it.

    Reply
  • 05/02/2018 at 01:35
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    Great post I didn’t know the difference and I have worked all over. I must say it looks and sounds very tasty and I would love to try it one day. I also love learning international recipes so I will be looking through your blog for some more I can try.

    Reply
    • 05/02/2018 at 02:28
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      Hey Lisa,
      I’m working to add more recipes from our travels, so stay tuned 🙂

      Reply
  • 05/02/2018 at 09:47
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    I love that you added he recipe to your experience! Funny, I was a couple of days ago in a Moroccan restaurant and we got some of us Tagine and some Couscous. Although I knew that the Tagine was more like a stew, I was still surprised not to get any couscous on the side….! Anyway, I had no idea that the tagine had no liquid added. Nice to know and I will save the recipe to prepare it myself! Thanks for sharing =)

    Reply
    • 05/02/2018 at 13:58
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      It was a surprise to me as well Jenn. It’s so much fun to learn about food while on the road 🙂

      Reply
  • 05/02/2018 at 16:23
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    Loved the Moroccan tagine and it’s cooking method. I never had this cuisine, but reading this post makes me tempt to try it. I am vegetarian, so I will customize it with loads of veggies. Now I have to look for tagine pot, to make this wonderful recipe. Even in Dum Biryani, we do layering procedure and it looks quite similar to that process.

    Reply
    • 05/02/2018 at 19:49
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      Yukti, tagine is the perfect vegetarian dish! I did reduce the amount of spices just a bit when only using veggies unless you like it really spicy 🙂

      Reply
  • 06/02/2018 at 01:23
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    So sad I’ve always eaten Couscous all my life calling it with confidence Tagine. Never too late to learn, but it’s sad I’ve been ripped. I like how you’ve been able to make your local Moroccan dishes. This will be welcoming to the locals. Thanks for this recipe, I might want to try the real Tagine at home. Your pictures are beautiful and yummy.

    Reply
  • 06/02/2018 at 03:45
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    While I knew about the basic difference between tagine and couscous, this was the intricate knowledge that I seek and enjoy reading about. Thanks for all the details about the ingredients and since I have not been to Morocco, the cultural aspects of it all. Food for me is something very important when travelling to a new place and discovering the local traditions that go with food is simply wonderful.

    Reply
    • 06/02/2018 at 04:47
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      I so agree. The food is such an important part of the local culture and if you skip that part of it, you’re missing out so much 🙂

      Reply
  • 06/02/2018 at 09:00
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    Wow this is too much for me to understand. I am a vegetarian but I do heard about the difference between the two during a conversation with a friend. Hoped they have veg option too 😛

    Reply
  • 06/02/2018 at 17:57
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    I have a friend who uses a tagine and has been obsessed with how easy it is and all the delicious recipes she can make. She started using a tagine to cook healthier foods to lose weight. I love the recipes that you’ve included in this article — Moroccan food is so yummy!

    Reply
    • 06/02/2018 at 18:04
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      Martha, it really is easy to use a tagine and I agree, the food is very healthy and yet so yummy!

      Reply
  • 06/02/2018 at 20:53
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    Wow! That’s interesting. Yes, as outsiders, its difficult to understand dishes with minor differences. As an Indian I can vouch for that minor difference that makes one heck of a change in taste. With the same ingredients, and different technique to prepare, our region alone has some 4-5 dishes!

    Reply
    • 06/02/2018 at 22:38
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      Bhusha, exactly. But you just don’t know until you visit the area and find out. Can’t wait to get to India and try all the food there and see how it translated into the dishes I know.

      Reply
  • 07/02/2018 at 06:16
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    We new the difference only because we have been living in the middle east long enough ahah! Otherwise it is a great comparison. Our fav is tagine. We feel there is a bit more to it than the couscous. Tagine can be the perfect veg dish too without the meat and be delicious!

    Reply
    • 07/02/2018 at 14:29
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      We love tagine as well! While we do eat couscous, I’m not so fond of the swelling it does in the tummy after eating it. It always fills heavy!

      Reply

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