Flavors of Morocco

The past few weeks, I have been limited in terms of physical activity due to an old ankle injury.  I have been walking in a cast and unfortunately, am unable to enjoy much of the warm weather we have been having, other than sitting outside and reading.  On the flip side, I have been able to spend a lot of time researching, cooking, and trying new recipes — which has been great.

The combination of cooking with no physical activity, however, can be dangerous, so I have been trying to adapt my recipes so that they are lighter versions of the original, with as little impact to flavor as possible.

In keeping with my general theme of Middle Eastern-type cuisine, which seems to be running throughout on this site, today I made a wonderful Chicken Tagine with Apricots and Sliced Almonds. 

A “tagine” is a dish from Northern Africa that is named after the special clay pot in which it is cooked, which looks like this:

The conical shape of the cover allows steam to circulate inside and to push all of the condensation to the bottom, keeping the food tender and moist.  I don’t have one of these vessels, but my everyday saute pan is an excellent substitute.

A Moroccan tagine dish is basically a slow-cooked stew that is braised at a low temperature, resulting in tender meat with aromatic vegetables and sauce.  Sound familiar? Remember Osso Buco?  A Tunisian tagine is quite different — it resembles more of a frittata than a stew.  I’m going to focus on Moroccan tagine in this post.

A Moroccan tagine is usually made with lamb or chicken with some combination of  ingredients, such as: olives, quinces, apples, apricots, dates, raisins, prunes, nuts, and fresh or preserved lemons (found at Middle Eastern grocery stores).  Sometimes honey may be used.  Traditional spices in a tagine may include cinnamon, ginger, cumin, paprika, and saffron. 

Most of the ingredients are items that one would normally have around the house.  The recipe below contains components that I liked from two different recipes.  Also, I tried to lighten it up from the traditional tagine by using much less oil than is normally called for, and by using boneless, skinless chicken breasts.  However, if I were to make for company, I’d likely use chicken legs and thighs with the bones.  The flavors remind me of the Greek dish “Chicken Kapama” that my mother used to make, which is very similar except that it has tomatoes.

This would be great served with a side dish of couscous or risotto with chopped apricots and raisins.

Isn’t it gorgeous?

 

Chicken Tagine with Apricots and Sliced Almonds

(serves 4)

  • 4 tsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 chicken breasts, 6 oz each
  • Coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup fresh ginger, peeled and julienned
  • 15 dried apricots
  • Zest of 1/2 lemon
  • Juice of 1/2 fresh lemon
  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds
  • Chopped cilantro for garnish, optional

In a large saute pan, heat the oil.  Add the onion and cinnamon sticks and cook until the onions are softened, about 4-5 minutes.  Push to the side of the pan.  Place the chicken breasts in the pan and brown on all sides, seasoning with the salt and pepper.   Mix the onions occasionally so that they don’t burn.  They will begin to caramelize after about 20 minutes.

Once the chicken has browned and the onions caramelized, add the wine and the water and bring to a boil.  Turn the heat down to low.  Add the ginger and lemon zest.  Cover and simmer for 45 minutes.

Add the apricots to the pan, nestling between the chicken, and cook for another 20 minutes.
 
 In a small frying pan, toast the slivered almonds until nicely browned.  Set aside.  (DP note: don’t take your eyes off the almonds while they toast – because they are slivered they will toast VERY quickly.  I overcooked the first batch because I wasn’t paying attention and had to throw them away.)
 
Ten minutes before cooking is completed, squeeze the lemon juice over the chicken.  Serve the dish sprinkled with toasted almonds, and some chopped cilantro.
 
Tip:  If you’re using chicken with bones, cook the Tagine until the chicken is literally falling off the bone.
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