Chicken Tagine with Carrots, Apricots & Preserved Lemon
“Be of love (a little) more careful than of anything.” -e.e cummings
Like you, I planned to start the year with poise and in perfect control of my diary, my diet, my conversations, my life.
How are you doing with all that?
This side, I can report, has started in much the same way that the work year ended last year. Jelle and I are scrambling around. He’s decided to trade futures recently, so in effect his day starts at 7 30 am and ends with the last bell of the American market at 11 pm our time. To some extent, it suits me – my better hours begin in the late afternoon and evening. But 11 pm (unless you’re living in Spain or Portugal) isn’t the ideal time to catch a dinner together. In fact I had to really convince Jelle to pop a sumptuous chocolate filled raspberry into his mouth tonight, as he slouched up the stairs, the lids of his small blue eyes drooping thickly. I may have fed it to him as he gave me a smooch on his way up.
The year has just began and post a wonderful holiday of good food and plenty of sleep, we’re tired. Bodies have slipped back into the old pattern. Emptied by the end of our respective days, but fuelled by new plans and hopes for the future and a love for what we do.
I was thinking about love (A Valentine’s day piece I’m working on may have something or nothing to do with this). It carries with it a huge risk, doesn’t it?
Does he love? Does he love me still? It demands care and tender hands. It needs your time and patience. While it is a pleasure to give yourself unto it and its demands, anyone who is managing a house/family/career/studies (insert your challenge here) will agree that this isn’t always the easiest thing.
Elaborate dinner dates that end in long conversations over drinks, and steamy kisses on the couch on never-ending nights slip further away, the deeper one gets into a relationship and the more demanding the goals you’ve set become. Not for want of trying, dinner dates out are often combined with “catch up sessions” with couple or single friends who also seem to be juggling similar sets of obligations and diaries.
A breakfast in bed together on a Sunday, which often led to giggly wonder at still being in the same position come the afternoon is now followed by a mad dash to get all the groceries you may need for the week, while you have his able hands to help you lug the bags around horrid, crowd infested shopping malls. Oh, wait…perhaps I’m just speaking about myself now. Oh, bother. Don’t leave me hanging, will you?
Love needs care. I think that’s what Mr Cummings meant. Without doubt, one needs to be wary of its fickle nature, its ruses, its potential wickedness. One must be careful. But even more so of preserving it. I know this, it gnaws at me. Not because of the seven steps I took around the fire that fine day in May in the Natal Midlands. But because I know my husband deserves that sort of care. And more dinner dates on never-ending nights that involve two.
If you read this, Jelle, this tagine, which I know you love, is really especially for you. We honeymooned in Morocco and have sought Moroccan cuisine for as many celebratory dinners on travels, that we could and can find.
In fact, eating food cooked and flavored in the style of North African cuisine, has become a source of great comfort and joy in our home. For large parties and dinners for two.
Jelle, I hope you don’t mind too terribly, I’ve shared a few of our special moments here. Well, you really have no choice eh?
(Oh, and honey…commenting here would be weird. Rules according to blog owner. xx)
Note: you can use a tagine (mine wasn’t deep enough) or a tightly sealed pot for the same effect for this dish.
1 medium onion, sliced
20 ml olive oil, plus extra
500 g free range chicken fillet, cut into cubes 4 cm cubes (or pieces)
4 cloves of garlic
2 cm fresh ginger
3 t harissa paste or 2 large red chillies, chopped
2 cinnamon sticks
1 t saffron, soaked in 1/3 cup water
2 t zaa’tar
2 t ground cumin
4 cardamom pods, bashed
1 t paprika (hot or sweet)
1 t ground coriander
1/2 t ground cinnamon
250 ml chicken stock (I use NoMu fond)
2 x 410 g chopped, peeled tomatoes
4 medium carrots, chopped
1 t sugar
125 ml dried apricot halves
2 slices preserved lemon, chopped finely – Recipe for Instant Preserved Lemons here.
salt, to taste
Honey, to serve
Heat a large (wide and deep) oven and stove proof saucepan on medium, add oil and fry onions and cinnamon sticks till onions just start to brown.
In an pestle and mortar pound the ginger, garlic, chilli/harissa till smooth. Add a bit of salt to aid break down.
Add to the chicken, coat well and add to pot.
Brown chicken on all sides. Turn heat up a little if you have to and add a little more oil.
Once browned, sprinkle with a little salt
Lower heat to medium and add the rest of the spices, including the soaked saffron. Stir well to mix.
Add the chicken stock and cook for 5 minutes or so.
Add tomatoes, carrots, sugar and more salt. Taste and adjust.
Allow to cook for 10-12 minutes. Heat the oven to 180˚C in meanwhile.
Remove pot from heat on stove. Carefully cover with heavy duty foil and seal well. Make a small gash in the centre with a sharp knife.
Bake for 45 minutes.
Remove from oven. Add apricots and lemons and bake for further 25 -30 minutes.
The apricots will mellow and add a tangy profile to the dish, the lemons will relax and become aromatic.
I add a generous swirl of honey, mix well and serve over couscous with pomegranate studded yoghurt or mint and cucumber salad.