I first became acquainted with bottle gourds (slaoui; singular slaouia) in Morocco, where they’re a popular summer vegetable to use in cooked salads, couscous or traditional stews such as the Bottle Gourd Tagine Recipe featured here. Fresh tomatoes, garlic, ginger and saffron are key to the zesty good flavor of the dish, which purposefully yields abundant sauce ideal for sopping up with Moroccan bread.
To prep the bottle gourds, you’ll want to remove the spongy interior in the same way you might want to remove the pulpy interior and seeds from a cucumber. How to Prep Bottle Gourds for Moroccan Recipes shows the process. Since this is a task that can be done several days ahead of time, the time involved is listed separately.
The cooking time is for preparation in a pressure cooker, which is how I usually see the dish prepared. Allow double this time if cooking in a conventional pot and up to triple the time if slow cooking in a clay or ceramic tagine.
Moroccan Bottle Gourd Tagine
- 4 1/2 lbs. bottle gourds
- 1 lb. lamb, beef or goat meat (some on the bone)
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 3 fresh, ripe tomatoes (grated)
- 1 onion (medium to large)
- 4 to 6 cloves garlic
- 1 large handful fresh parsley and cilantro, mixed (finely chopped or tied in a bouquet)
- 1 tbsp ground ginger
- 2 tsp salt (or to taste)
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1 pinch saffron threads, crumbled (optional but recommended)
- 3 cups water (approximate)
Clean the Bottle Gourds
- This step can be done ahead of time or while the meat is cooking. Remove the bottle gourds' necks. Peel the remaining gourd and cut in half lengthwise to expose the spongy interior with seeds. Remove the seedy interior and discard. Slice or cut the remaining hollowed-out gourd as desired. Cover with plastic and set aside.
To Prepare in a Pressure Cooker or Conventional Pot
- In a pressure cooker (or heavy-bottomed pot), mix the meat with the tomatoes, onion, garlic, chopped parsley and cilantro, spices and oil. Brown the meat over medium heat, uncovered and stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes. Add the water, cover, and bring to pressure (or to a simmer).
- Cook with medium pressure for 25 to 30 minutes (or at a simmer for 1 to 1 1/2 hours), until the meat is nearly tender. Interrupt the cooking at this point to add the prepared bottle gourds and, if necessary, additional water to barely reach the top of the gourds.
- Cover, return to pressure and cook for another 12 to 15 minutes (or simmer, covered, for 30 minutes), or until the bottle gourds are tender and flavorful. Reduce the liquids to a thick sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning.
- Transfer to a platter or tagine and serve.
To Prepare in a Clay or Ceramic Tagine
- Combine the dry spices and use a little of it to season the meat. Add the remaining spice mixture to the grated tomatoes.
- Place the tagine over medium-low to medium heat, using a diffuser if the tagine will make direct contact with the heat source (ie. ceramic or electric stove tops). Add the oil; when hot, add the meat, onions and garlic. Cook for a few minutes, turning to brown the meat on all sides.
- Center the meat bone-side-down in the tagine then add the grated tomatoes with spices, the parsley and cilantro (either chopped or tied into a bouquet) and about two cups of water.
- Cover the tagine and allow the liquids to come to a simmer. Continue cooking at a slow to medium simmer, undisturbed, for 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
- Add the bottle gourds (and a little more water if necessary). Spoon some of the sauce over the bottle gourds, cover, and return to a simmer. Continue cooking for another hour or longer, until both the meat and bottle gourds are to desired tenderness and the liquids have reduce to a thick sauce.
- Serve the Bottle Gourd Tagine directly from the tagine in which it was prepared. It will hold warm off the heat, covered, for a half hour.
- Moroccan main dishes such as this one are traditionally served on a single large platter (or from the tagine in which they were cooked), with each person using bread to scoop up the meat and vegetables from his own side of the dish.
- Water amount is always an approximation because rate of evaporation will vary among pressure cookers, pots and tagines.
- In conventional pot and tagine cooking, it's easy to check on the level of liquids and add more when necessary. When using a pressure cooker, interrupt the cooking to check on liquids if you either smell something burning, or are unable to feel liquids moving around when you pick up the cooker and swirl it.
- Modern tagine materials can handle higher heat than clay or ceramic tagines, and dishes can be made more quickly. However, slow cooking and braising will yield the best tagine flavor.
- The quantity of oil is intended to blend with cooking liquids to yield ample sauce for sopping up with bread. You can reduce the amount of oil, which will result in either less sauce or thinner sauce.