Fragrant Middle Eastern Butternut Squash Tagine Recipe

Updated on January 24, 2020
Glenis Rix profile image

After 40 years cooking for a family, Glenis recently adopted a flexitarian approach, adding more plant-based meals into the weekly diet.

Traditional tagines in a pottery shop in Morocco
Traditional tagines in a pottery shop in Morocco | Source

The tagine’s conical shape makes a uniquely moist, hot cooking environment for the dish being cooked. The base is wide and shallow, and the tall lid fits snugly inside. As the food cooks, steam rises into the cone, condenses, and then trickles down the sides back into the dish.


Traditional tagine pots are an attractive serving dish and talking point but they are not essential items for the production of a casserole dish suffused with the fruits and spices typical of North African and Middle Eastern cookery.

Searching for a recipe for a butternut squash languishing in my larder, I came across several recipes for butternut squash tagine by celebrity chefs. Yotam Ottolenghi is an Israeli who runs seven immensely popular Mediterranean restaurants in London. I combined his recipe with the one offered by James Martin. The result, cooked on my hob in a deep sauté pan, was a colourful and aromatic feast for the senses—soft chunks of vivid squash mingled with sweet apricots and intense bitter lemon, nestling in a rich red, fragrant and spicy sauce.

Preserved lemons are an essential tagine ingredient. The flavour and the aroma are delightfully intense. Larger lemons would need to have the pith and flesh removed, but I simply cut these into quarters.
Preserved lemons are an essential tagine ingredient. The flavour and the aroma are delightfully intense. Larger lemons would need to have the pith and flesh removed, but I simply cut these into quarters. | Source

Overview of Preparation

Start by gathering together and measuring out the ingredients. Then chop the vegetables and the garlic. Butternut squash can be time-consuming to peel and chop. Some cooks say that it's unnecessary to peel it, but for this recipe, I invested some time. (If you are time poor and cash rich, you could consider buying a ready peeled and chopped pack from the supermarket.)

Butternut squash is a good source of vitamin E, thiamin, niacin, vitamin B-6, folate, pantothenic acid, and manganese. A cup of cubed butternut squash also provides 582 mg of potassium, more than the amount available in a banana.



  • 1 large onion, finely sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 butternut squash, peeled, seeds removed, and chopped in 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground coriander (I had only the seeds, so I wrapped some in clingfilm and crushed them with a rolling pin)
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 cinnamon stick (or 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon)
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric (I only had root turmeric, which I finely chopped. Be warned: It stains badly, and if you don't wear gloves to do this your fingers will end up looking like those of a heavy smoker.)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 200g/7 oz chopped tinned tomatoes
  • 200ml/7fl oz stock (I'm not a vegetarian so I used chicken stock)
  • Preserved lemons (I used 3 miniature ones, cut into quarters)
  • Small handful dried apricots, chopped
  • 1 tbsp clear honey
  • 2 tbsp cooking oil (olive oil or rapeseed oil are best)

I chopped the onion super fast in a small bowl attachment to my Kenwood stick blender (a reasonably priced, compact and essential item in my kitchen for a variety of processes).

My stick blender
My stick blender | Source

How to Prepare a Butternut Squash

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Peel the butternut squash and scoop out the seedsCut it into slices Cut the slices into small cubes
Peel the butternut squash and scoop out the seeds
Peel the butternut squash and scoop out the seeds | Source
Cut it into slices
Cut it into slices | Source
Cut the slices into small cubes
Cut the slices into small cubes | Source


  1. Heat the oil in a large pan and fry the onion gently for a couple of minutes to soften it.
  2. Add the chopped garlic and continue to fry for another 2 minutes.
  3. Add the spices and stir until they start to release their fragrance.
  4. Add the butternut squash, making sure each piece is coated in the spices.
  5. Add the tomatoes and the stock, followed by the bay leaf, the chopped preserved lemon, the honey and the apricots.
  6. Stir well, bring to the boil and then simmer, stirring occasionally, until the butternut squash is soft but still in chunks. Approximately 30 minutes.
  7. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste, if required (I found that none was needed).

Stir well to coat all of the cubes of squash with spices
Stir well to coat all of the cubes of squash with spices | Source
Butternut squash tagine simmering in the pan
Butternut squash tagine simmering in the pan | Source

Pre-chopped Butternut Squash For Cooks Who Are Short of Time

Pre-chopped butternut squash is available from the freezer in many supermarkets
Pre-chopped butternut squash is available from the freezer in many supermarkets | Source

More Ideas for Using Preserved Lemons

  • Less is more when using preserved lemons - they are very salty and the flavor is intense.
  • Remove the flesh before using - only the peel is needed.
  • Some people recommend rinsing preserved lemons to reduce the saltiness but I don't do that - just add less salt to the dish.
  • Half a preserved lemon chopped and added to mashed potatoes adds a dash of sophistication. Good served with fish.
  • Add finely chopped preserved lemon to couscous or rice
  • Add to salad dressing

Couscous Side Dish

Serve the tagine with easy-to-prepare couscous flavoured with herbs and lemon zest. You can prepare the cousous whilst the tagine is simmering.


  • 250 g couscous
  • 2 tbsp chopped coriander and flat leaf parsley
  • 2 spring onions, finely sliced
  • Hot water


  1. Place sufficient couscous for four servings in a large bowl.
  2. Cover the couscous with hot water.
  3. Chop the herbs and the spring onion. I did this in seconds in the bowl attachment for my Kenwood stick blender.
  4. When all of the water has been absorbed, fluff the couscous with a fork.
  5. Add the herbs, spring onion, and the lemon zest.
  6. Add salt and pepper to taste, if required. I didn't find that it was necessary because the tagine that it will accompany has very robust flavourings.

Chopped coriander and flat leaf parsley
Chopped coriander and flat leaf parsley | Source

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 GlenR


    Submit a Comment
    • Glenis Rix profile imageAUTHOR


      7 weeks ago from UK

      I think my family is now flexitarian. We rarely eat red meat, because of the methane produced by cows, (as well as being bad for the arteries!) and eat beans and pulses as the main component of our evening meal on 3 occasions each week.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      7 weeks ago from UK

      My daughter is a vegetarian so I will make a note of this recipe for her next visit. It looks very tasty and I appreciate the detailed instructions.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      7 weeks ago from Houston, Texas

      My husband and I both enjoy eating butternut squash, and your recipe sounds delicious. Pinning this to my vegetables board so that I can easily find it and make this dish sometime soon. Thanks for posting it.

    • Glenis Rix profile imageAUTHOR


      13 months ago from UK

      Hi Pamela

      A tagine is a North African stew, also made in the MIddle East. Traditionally a tagine is made in a pot that is also called a tagine - a casserole dish with a conical lid, often cooked over charcoal. But any vessel that cooks the stew very slowly will be ok - I used the hob. It's also lovely cooked with lamb. Do give it a try and thanks for visiting. If you can't find preserved lemons in the shops they are easy to pickle in salt at home - you just have to wait at least a month before they can be used. Thanks for visiting and commenting. .

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      13 months ago from Sunny Florida

      I like butternut squash and this sounds like a spicy recipe that is probably delicious. A tangine is new to me and also the lemons. I will look for those in the store. I think this is a tasty recipe.


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