ChickenTagine 

Mmmm...spicy peas. 

How exciting that the San Francisco Chronicle answered my quest for a homemade energy bar in their Sunday food section this weekend!  Thanks Mr. Hearst, I promise I'll stop threatening to cancel my subscription whenever your delivery boy throws the paper through our window.  I'll test the Cherry Chocolate Energy Bar recipe out later this week.

Yesterday we dined at my friend Laure's house.  She served a delicious salt cod dinner and we brought a pea and asparagus salad from a recipe in the latest Canal House Cooking. I'll have to make the salad again soon, it was really tasty.  

Tonight I made a tagine with chicken and sweet potatoes. My Moroccan friend Khadesia showed me how to cook this, so its really her recipe. She usually makes it with frozen peas, but today I picked my first harvest of snap peas from our garden, so I'm putting those in at the last minute instead.  The best part of this dinner are the sweet potatoes.  They cook on top of the chicken, so basically are steamed over spices.

Today was a great day in the garden.  First of all, we finished planting the strawberries.  Sixteen of them (a few are leftovers from last year) in a terraced rock garden that should get enough sun, if I can find an arborist to lop a couple branches off our ancient apple tree.  I'm determined to have great berries this year so that my kids can feed themselves (I'm also planting a dozen raspberries). I'm debating whether or not to mulch with black plastic, then coconut hulls or straw on top. I'd love to hear about your strawberries, if you have any.

As for the peas, they have been growing like crazy over the sides of our deck.  I have to reel in the vines that hang down over the railing to pick the peas, as though I'm bringing in lobster traps.  Unfortunately all our pea plants have powdery mildew right now, so I'm planning to pull them as soon as their current flowers have turned into peas and are ready to eat. The mildew seems to start at ground level and then travel outward, so the newest growth is fine, while the part in the pot look horrible.  From now on I'll be more careful to buy only mildew resistant seeds. 

Now, back to the tagine.  One of the spices I use is a bit of a mystery to me - it is on the far right of today's photo. My friend Laure brought it to me from Cambodia.  It is labeled Imit or maybe 1mit.  It calls itself Khmer Safran and has a picture of a rootish thing, that looks like what turmeric comes from, basically an orange piece of ginger.  Khadesia called it "colorant", which appears to be a typical ingredient in a moroccan tagine, but she said it is not the same as turmeric.  My friend Laure told me it was "safran" and left it at that. I think it smells similar to 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. Go figure.  I'll  list it on the ingredient list, but good luck finding it.  Your tagine will probably be fine without it.  

You will need, however, the proper cooking vessel - a tagine. My favorite is the Emile Henry version, in red. Its kind of pricey.  I served this with cous-cous, which I made really quickly in a regular old pot. Khadesia tells me that to make couscous you need a couscoussiere to cook it properly, and would probably be horrified to see my instructions below.

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Khadesia's Chicken Tagine:

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)

salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a tagine - be careful not to turn the heat up too high (I use a medium low setting) because you can crack the tagine .  The temperature is about right before you hear a lot of sizzling. Sprinkle a little salt on the chicken, then arrange it in a single layer in the tagine. Add the preserved lemon to the chicken - on top is fine. Sprinkle half the spices (1 pinch saffron, 1/2 t coriander, turmeric, paprika and colorant) on top of the chicken, salt and pepper it and add half the cilantro. Put the lid on the tagine and cook over  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).  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.

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cous-cous:

1 cup cous-cous

2 cups boiling water

1 tablespoon olive oil

salt

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), then add the cous-cous and stir it around for a couple minutes until it browns just a little bit. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon of salt and remove the skillet from heat.  Pour in the water, it will bubble up and make some noise.  Quickly stir it one time, then cover the skillet with a lid and let it sit for ten minutes. Fluff the cous-cous before serving.

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