Khadesia's Tagine - march 22, 2010 (click here for just the recipe)

Tonight I made a tagine with chicken and sweet potatoes. My Moroccan friend Khadesia showed me how to cook this, so it is really her recipe. The best part of this dinner is the sweet potatoes. They steam on top of the other ingredients, which infuses them with spices. Khadesia usually makes this with frozen peas, but today I picked my first harvest of snap peas from our garden. I'll add those in at the last minute instead of frozen ones. 

The peas have been growing like crazy in pots on our deck, their vines hanging down over the railing. I have to reel them in to pick the pods, as though I'm bringing in lobster traps. Unfortunately the plants all have powdery mildew and will have to be pulled as soon as we eat all the peas, which, luckily, are so far unaffected. From now on I'll be more careful to buy only mildew resistant seeds. 

But luckily I won't have to rely solely on spices purchased only by myself tonight. My good friend Laure brought me a gift from Cambodia that I'll be using, and I'm enjoying trying to figure out what it is (see the squat jar on the far right of this photo). She says it is "safran". The jar is labeled "Imit Khmer Safran" and has a picture of what I think is a turmeric rhizome: it looks like bright orange ginger. The powder inside the jar smells just like turmeric to me.

Khadesia calls the spice "colorant," which appears to be a typical ingredient in a moroccan tagine, but she says it is not the same as turmeric. Wikipedia tells me that turmeric has been called Indian saffron in the past and used as a replacement for saffron (the kind from a crocus), so maybe that is why what appears to be turmeric is labeled safran. Whatever the case, it made a good addition to our dinner. Though you can probably make a perfectly fine tagine without it, too.

You will need, however, the proper cooking vessel - a tagine. My favorite is the Emile Henry version, in red. I suppose you could use a plain old western style pan to make this dish, but then I would call it Pan Fried Chicken with Sweet Potatoes and Peas instead. Khadesia told me that to make couscous, which is what I serve this with, I'll need a couscoussiere to cook it properly. But I don't have one and just used a pot.

Khadesia's Chicken Tagine:

This recipe takes about an hour to prepare and will serve a family of 4, with leftovers. It is best served over cous-cous.

1 chicken, cut into parts
4 medium sweet potatoes
1/2 cup peas (or snap peas)
2 slices preserved lemon
1/2 bunch cilantro
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 largish pinches saffron threads
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon colorant (safran)

Heat the oil in a tagine - be careful not to turn the heat up too much because high heat will crack the cooking vessel, which is made of clay. I use a medium low setting. As soon as the oil starts to sizzle loudly turn down the heat a bit, sprinkle a little salt on the chicken, then arrange it in a single layer in the tagine. Add the preserved lemon on top of the chicken. Sprinkle half the spices (1 pinch saffron, 1/2 t coriander, turmeric, paprika and colorant) on top, add salt and pepper and half the cilantro. Put the lid on the tagine and cook over low heat for about twenty minutes.

While the chicken is cooking, wash, peel and slice the sweet potatoes into long slices (I usually cut them in half, then half the halves longways, then halve them longways again, for 8 slices from each). Wash the peas.  When twenty minutes have passed, flip the chicken over, then sprinkle the remainder of the spices and cilantro on top. Lay the sweet potatoes on top of the chicken.  Cover and cook for another twenty to thirty minutes.  For the last few minutes, add the peas.

You can serve the meal family style by putting the bowl of the tagine on the table with a serving spoon and bowl of cous-cous alongside. Salt, pepper and chopped parsley for garnish are good to have at the table.

To make the cous-cous:

1 cup cous-cous
2 cups boiling water
1 tablespoon olive oil

Bring the water to a boil in a teakettle or separate pot and keep it simmering. Heat the oil in a large skillet (or low sided pot, you'll need a lid either way), then add the cous-cous and stir it around for a couple minutes until it browns just a little bit and smells fragrant. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon of salt and remove the skillet from the heat. Pour in the water. It will bubble up and make lots of noise. Quickly cover the skillet with a tight fitting lid and let it sit for ten minutes. Fluff the cous-cous before serving.


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