The cuisine of the Maghreb region, an area of northwest Africa which runs across the Mediterranean Sea, is distinctive, unique and delicious. Food from this area has influenced food of countries just across the Mediterranean, i.e. Spain, but has also been influenced by the food of countries in Europe, specifically France & Italy. The cooking methods vary between the countries of this region, Algeria, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia, but the flavours are very shared. Dishes from this region use spices, herbs, vegetables, grains, meat & fish; saffron, cumin, cardamon, cinnamon, ginger, paprika, corriander (cilantro) and preserved lemons to name a few. This is a rich and perfumed cuisine & nothing makes the kitchen smell quite so exotic than a tagine simmering on the stove. The tagine is a dish named after the cooking vessel, made of clay, in which it is made and I’ve have never been disappointed by any slow cooked ‘stew’ or tagine which I’ve made.
Where as lamb, beef, goat, seafood, legumes and vegetables are most commonly the base of a tagine, there are many recipes which also include chicken, which I think also goes well with dried fruit, nuts & preserved lemons which also feature in this style of cooking. My tagine sits on the stove (because it’s pretty), and like anything we see day in & day out, it sort of blends into the background, but last Friday when wondering what I would make for dinner, I just happened to ‘see’ it. This was the start of a weekend kitchen journey to that part of the world.
What I love about this cuisine is that as long as you use the ‘basic’ ingredients, pretty much anything goes. I adapted a recipe I picked up from a cooking class I did at one of the Gewurshaus stores, the herb and spice merchants. There are several beautiful shops in Melbourne and Sydney & they have the most fabulous and varied spices and blends of spices from around the world, which can also be purchased online. You could make your own spice blend/s from the high quality single spices, but their Moroccan Souk Spice mix is simply perfect for this type of cooking, containing cumin, corriander, salt, garlic, cayenne pepper, cassia, turmeric & cardamon. With the Chicken Tagine (recipe below) I served Saffron Cous Cous, from the same class, which has in it cooked broad beans, toasted almonds and of course saffron. When making cous cous, the ratio of fluid to grain is important, 2 cups of stock (or water depending on the recipe) to 1.5 cups of cous cous. Simply rub a few tablespoons of olive oil into the cous cous, seasoned with a pinch of salt, ensuring all the grains are coated. Add heated stock in which a pinch of saffron has steeped & cover the bowl until all the stock is absorbed. Once ready add the broad beans and almonds, some corriander (or parsley) and a few tabs of butter. You can also add some diced preserved lemons ( I make my own and always have a jar in the fridge) or lemon zest if you don’t have any preserved lemons on hand.
I wanted to continue to explore these flavours and over the weekend I did just that, creating a few dishes which gave more than a nod to North African cuisine. The Scampi with Moroccan Pearl Barley was delicious, and easy, if you are interested let me know and I will blog the recipe. I was looking for Langoustine but Sydney Fish Markets only had Scampi….only.. …haha…they are delicious!!
I had some Duck Maryland in the freezer and the idea of making a rub with saffron butter, herbs and spices, came to mind. I served the finished duck, which was first pan cooked and then finished off in the oven, with some sides from one of my favourite cookbooks by Christine Mansfield, “FIRE”. The Cauliflower & Pinenuts and Smoked Eggplant with roasted Cherry Tomatoes went perfectly well with the Spiced Duck…again simple but tasty.
I throughly enjoyed my culinary trip to North Africa and will return… I like the idea of Pastilla so that might be the next dish.
Chicken and Apricot Tagine
Frangrant Chicken served with cous cous
- 2 tbsp Gewurzhaus Moroccan Souk Spice (A blend using of ground cumin, corriander,sea salt, garlic, cayenne pepper, cassia, turmeric & cardamon)
- 1 Onion (medium dice)
- 3 cloves Garlic (minced or crushed)
- 1/2 cup Slivered almonds
- 750 gm Chicken thighs (trimmed and cut into pieces)
- 400 mls Water or Chicken stock
- 1/2 tsp Saffron threads
- 1/2 cup Dried apricots (diced)
- 1/2 cup Lemon juice
- 2 tbsp Parsley (chopped)
- 2 tbsp Corriander (Cilantro) (chopped)
- 2 quarters Perserved Lemon skin (diced)
- 2 Chillies (deseeded and finely diced)
- 3/4 cup Green Olives (deseeded)
- pinch Salt (to taste)
- pinch White Pepper (to taste)
In a tagine or a heavy based casserole/dutch oven, add the oil, onion, half the almonds & spices. Cook until the almonds start to take on colour.
Add the garlic
Add the chicken pieces, saffron, half the apricots and season with salt and pepper.
Add the water (or stock if using) and cover and simmer for 45 mins until the chicken is soft and tender.
Stir in the lemon juice, parsley, corriander, preserved lemons, remaining apricots and olives. Cook for another 5 mins.
When ready to serve sprinkle the remaining almonds and some extra chopped parsley.
Serve with cous cous