Chicken & Chickpea Tagine
I was lucky enough to spend time in Morocco while studying abroad, on a program with the Peace Corps during college. This was 2006, and my experience cooking up to that point was...zilch. I made a mean salami + muenster quesadilla with dijon mustard with a toaster oven - some culinary prowess picked up from my sister (the foodie before there were foodies). Other than that, I usually heated up frozen Indian food that my mother sent to me periodically, and of course, there were the authentic Indian hot sauces that I put on pizza and bagels. A very healthy diet, indeed.
On this trip to Morocco, I stayed with two families - one in Tangier and the other in Chefchaouen. One, a bustling city, the other a bustling village high in the mountains. Both were magical experiences, as they opened my eyes to a cuisine other than Indian cuisine, and I finally gravitated towards the art of cooking.
In Tangier, under the watchful eye of a Moroccan spice mama and spice grandma, I learned to make tagine. A tagine is very similar to an Indian curry, except ras el hanout takes a slightly different approach then garam masala. Tagines balance sweet and spicy, often incorporating raisins, apricots, currants, dates, honey, and cinnamon. This sweetness, for me, makes them far more addicting than a curry (I know - blasphemy for an Indian woman to say!). Tagines are also far less spicy, and thus more appealing to a broader palate. I, of course, have a sizable dose of spicy harissa alongside mine.
The chicken and chickpea tagine recipe'd below is a labor of love - comes from my heart and those beautiful memories of staying with this family in Tangier. I reworked it to be far less sweet than many tagines, and the mellow bursts of sweetness from apricot, honey, and roasted fennel balance beautifully with the complex spice blend.
As a vegan option, you can easily leave out the chicken and start with the red onion step, use 1 1/2 cups crushed tomato and 1/4 cup water instead for an equally delicious meal. Replace honey with coconut palm nectar or maple syrup, and just use 1 tbsp instead of 2.
As a spicy accompaniment, you can choose to make my preserved lemon harissa (a slightly Indian take on harissa), cumin-paprika hot sauce, or simply buy harissa sauce from the store. (I like Mina harissa).
I really like this one, guys. Hope you enjoy <3
RAS EL HANOUT
2 tsp coriander seeds
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground clove
2 tsp ground paprika
1 tsp kashmiri red chili powder (or cayenne)
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
2 tsp ground turmeric
8 boneless skinless chicken thighs
2 cans chickpeas, drained well
1/4 cup + 1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 1/2 cups crushed tomatoes
1 cup water + 1/2 cup water
1 red onion, thinly sliced into half-moons
1 large bulb fennel, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
4 oz dried apricots, chopped
2 tbsp honey
2 cups pearl (Israeli) couscous
ras el hanout
Toast coriander and cumin seeds in a dry skillet, over low heat for approximately two minutes. The coriander seeds should lightly brown, and both should crush underneath your fingernail. The cumin seed should crumble in your fingers but definitely not be burnt or blackened. Pay attention during this step :) Crush seeds in coffee grinder or spice/nut grinder. Mortar & pestles work too, but you definitely want the seeds finely ground. Add remainder of spices to grinder or mix all together in a bowl.
In a mixing bowl, toss chicken thighs with 1/4 cup olive oil and 1 tbsp ras el hanout. Make sure spice blend is well distributed. In a large dutch oven, heat 1/8 cup olive oil over moderate high heat. Brown chicken, 2 minutes on each side. Get the chicken a light golden brown, but not too brown or with burnt edges. (It's ok if a few have crisp edges). May need to do chicken in 2-3 batches so the chicken don't touch while they're cooking.
Reserve chicken on plate after cooking.
Add red onion, remainder of olive oil, and fennel to the dutch oven, stirring well. Turn heat to low-medium. Cook for 8-10 minutes, until onion and fennel are very soft and tender, stirring every minute or so. Add garlic, stir. Let cook for 2 minutes, until garlic gets a little color. Add 2 1/2 tbsp of spice blend, and stir well for 1 minute. Add crushed tomatoes, stir. Add chicken with juices into the pot, along with chickpeas. Mix well. Add water, and stir again.
Bring mixture to a low simmer, just barely bubbling and cover pot. Depending on how long you have, you can turn up the dial on the simmer. I like to do a low simmer for about 90 minutes, so the flavor really comes together and the chicken becomes super tender. If you want it done in 60 or less, bring to a heavier simmer by turning the heat up to low-medium. Let the dutch oven do its thing, checking in and stirring every 20-30 minutes. After 60 minutes, add 1/2 tsp kosher salt (or more to taste) - I'm very salt sensitive!
At about 60 minutes, make your syrup out of 1/4 cup water, honey, and apricots. Simply bring the ingredients to a boil in a saucepan, reduce to a heavy simmer over low-med heat, uncovered. After about 10 minutes, a delicious, chunky, apricot-honey syrup will form.
As the tagine is starting to come together, when you stir, there will be less liquid and the sauce will start to come together. Add the syrup at this point, at about 60-75 minutes. Simmer until the tagine has become a thick stew - you can always speed up the process at the end by partially covering the tagine as it cooks, and slightly turning up the heat.
I did absolutely nothing to my couscous. Bring 3 cups water to a boil, lightly salt. Add couscous and bring to a simmer and cover. Check at about 10-15 minutes. It should be fluffy, without any residual water. I just let it be a plain foil for the delicious tagine flavors!
don't forget the harissa.