Moroccan spice

It’s been a little while since you had a food post, so when I was cooking for a group of friends who were coming for dinner last Sunday night, I thought I would share the recipe with you.  In my heart of hearts I am a fairly lazy cook, and I love dishes which can cook slowly and be prepared ahead of time.  A tagine is just one such dish, and it is infinitely variable.  For my recipe I drew inspiration from a variety of sources:  Nigel Slater’s recipe for Lamb Tagine, The Hairy Biker’s recipe for Chicken Tagine, along with recipes from books in my collection by authors such as Claudia Roden and Sam and Sam Clark (Moro).

While I was revising this post, I found that two of the blogs I follow (www.cookinginsens.wordpress.com and http://www.frugalfeeding.wordpress.com) had also posted tagine recipes recently.  I wonder if this is the effect of a collective psyche?? 😀

To cook the dish, I used an earthenware tagine pot, which is a wide, relatively shallow pan, with a conical lid.  Just for the record, the black pot on the right is used to cook rice!

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Once you have assembled all your ingredients the preparation is pretty straightforward.

The spices I used were cinnamon, cumin, ginger, turmeric, paprika, chili and saffron.  For the meat I used chicken – one leg quarter per person, separated into thigh and drumstick.

The meat is browned in some olive oil – I had to do this in batches.  Once brown, the meat is removed and set aside.

The chopped onions were added next along with the remaining olive oil, and the heat turned down to medium/low.  The sliced garlic was added after about five minutes, and both were cooked slowly until softened, but not browned, which took about 10 minutes.

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Once the onions were nice and soft I added the spices and gave it a good stir.  Be careful not to burn the spices – it’s a good idea to have your chopped tomatoes handy so you can add them if it looks as though the spices might get too hot.

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At this point a very heady aroma will fill your kitchen, and you may be feeling somewhat impatient for a taste.  Be patient – delicious things come to those who wait!!

Once you have added the chopped tomatoes, return the chicken pieces to the pan and add the dried apricots.  Add water or stock to barely cover the meat, and add a good pinch of salt, and some freshly ground pepper.  Don’t be tempted to over-season at this point, you can add more salt later.

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Once the liquid has come to the boil, the lid goes on and you simmer the tagine very slowly for 1 hour – the liquid in the pan should barely move.  Add the dried prunes after an hour, if using Pruneaux d’Agen – they are softer and don’t need to be cooked for a long time.  If you use regular dried prunes, add them after 45 minutes. Continue to simmer the tagine for another 30 minutes, by which time the chicken should be very tender.

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Remove the pulp from the preserved lemon and chop the skin finely.  Add to the tagine and mix in very gently.  Sprinkle with chopped coriander, and serve with couscous or plain rice.  Accompany with harissa paste.

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I served a pumpkin soup to start the meal, made with home-grown pumpkin.  After cheese there was dessert, and for that I had prepared Pecan Pie Cheesecake Squares, found at ChristinaWithCaramel – I think we were all quite full at that point, but everyone cleared their dessert plates all the same!!  😉

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Chicken Tagine

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients:

6 chicken leg quarters, separated into drumstick and thigh
2 large onions, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground turmeric
2 tsp paprika
1 tsp chili powder (vary this according to how hot you like your food)
one good pinch of saffron strands
1 can chopped tomatoes (400g)
250g dried apricots
250g dried prunes (I used Pruneaux d’Agen)
half a preserved lemon, pulp removed and the skin finely chopped
2 tbsp chopped coriander leaves
Harrisa paste to serve

Assemble your spices and other ingredients.  Brown the chicken pieces all over in half the olive oil.  Remove and add the chopped onion to the pan and the remaining olive oil, over medium/low heat, stirring occasionally.  After five minutes add the sliced garlic and continue to cook until the onions and garlic are soft but not brown – about another five minutes.  Add the spices, stir and cook for a minute, then add the chopped tomato.  Return the chicken pieces to the pan and add the dried apricots.  Add stock to barely cover the meat, season lightly with salt and pepper.  Bring to the boil and then simmer very gently for one hour.  Add the dried prunes and simmer for another 30 minutes, if using Pruneaux d’Agen.  Add regular dried prunes after 45 minutes of cooking and simmer for 45 minutes more.  When the dish is cooked, add the preserved lemon and stir very gently to distribute evenly.

Serve with plain boiled rice or couscous, and sprinkle with chopped coriander.  Don’t forget to pass the harissa!

Cooking with friends – a round up of recent months

I would like to dedicate this post to my dear friend Monica Hodson, who lost her battle with cancer last Monday – I will miss her!

Losing Monica has been a shock to the system, having seen her battle and rally always left me with a vague hope that she might yet pull through, but alas it was not to be.  It’s made me supremely aware that friends are very important to my life and all too often I don’t spend enough time with them, as our lives get increasingly busy.  It was one of the reasons behind our cooking group – to get together on a regular basis, and to share food and good times.  And we’ve been doing this ever since it all started back in March.

I’ve not been keeping you abreast of what we’ve been cooking (and eating :-)) so here’s a run-down of the last three occasions;  I’ll start with the most recent first!

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Hand-raised pies – typically British food and very traditional.  In Britain they can be bought in almost any shop, and when they are good they are very good.  But who would go to the bother of making them at home?  Well, in France the only equivalent is pate en croute, so we decided to give them a try.  Ingredients are simple – the pastry is a hot water crust, made with flour, lard, egg, salt and water.  The filling has varying ingredients, but most seem to call for pork.  We decided to make three different kinds:  “pork, apple and elderberry pie”, where we substituted cranberries for the elderberries which are out of season,  “chicken and bacon pie” and “small pork pies with quails’ eggs”.   The pork, apple and elderberry pie was made in a raised pie mould, to be eaten hot for our dinner.  The other pies were topped up with jellied stock after cooking and left to mature in the fridge for a day or two before being eaten.

The verdict:  The pastry was very soft and not easy to work with.  We tied a strip of grease-proof paper around the outside of the raised pies to stop them collapsing, which worked great, but this instruction was missing from the recipes we were using.  All three pies tasted delicious and were well worth the effort.  Would I make them again?  Yes!!

The time before it was my turn to host the get-together, and the theme was Autumn Food.  I drew on all kinds of influences and came up with a menu of pumpkin and chestnut soup for starter, goulash with bread dumplings, and apple strudel.  A fair bit of work but we had three extra pairs of hands, and it all worked beautifully.   As the goulash took the longest to cook we started that first, only onions, beef, paprika, with some garlic, caraway seeds and some tomato paste – no water added!  We made our own strudel paste and tried to pull it as thin as possible – the idea is that one should be able to read the paper through it!  My grandmother was able to do that, but I think it comes with practice 🙂 – she made it practically once a week when there were apples around.  It still turned out very nicely though and tasted delicious!  The bread dumplings use up stale French bread, which gets moistened with some boiling milk and left to steam.  Eggs are added along with chopped parsley, finely chopped sweated onions and seasoning, and then the paste is formed into mandarin sized balls which are simmered in salted water for about 20 minutes.  The pumpkin and chestnut soup was delicious and simple.  Chopped onions, carrots, celery and leeks are sweated in olive oil to develop the flavour, the pumpkin and chestnuts added and brought to a boil with some vegetable or chicken stock.  When everything is tender the soup is blended to a smooth texture, and served with a dollop of creme fraiche and a drizzle of pumpkin seed oil.

The verdict:  I would make all of it again, and have actually made the pumpkin soup twice since.  The goulash takes fairly long to cook as the onions need to be cooked slowly until very soft, and the meat is added only at that point, and needs some cooking time itself, so not a dish for a speedy supper!

The time before our theme was Lebanese food and we had some very delicious food on our plates.  On the menu we had kibbet aadas (lentil fingers); stuffed vine leaves; filo parcels (brik); yoghurt cheese (labneh);  Kibbeh & salad for main course and for dessert there was cardamom yoghurt mousse with orange compote.

The verdict:  All of it was delicious, and some of it was very simple and easy to prepare.  I would definitely make the yoghurt cheese balls, lentil fingers and filo parcels again.  The tahini dip was simplicity in itself and very yummy.  The vine leaves tasted delicious but were a lot of work and the kibbet was good but a little dry.  The yoghurt mousse and orange compote were very good too and I’ve kept that recipe in my file.