Chicken Tagine with Apricots and Almonds

Chicken Tagine with Apricots

This is the main dish that we made for Friday dinner with my friend Jason this week. The concept originated from recipe in Paula Wolfert’s book Food of Morocco, but ended up straying a bit far from the original. For those of you not familiar with tagines, the term refers to both a slow cooked dish and the lidded clay vessel in which it is cooked. For this one, chicken thighs are treated with a spice rub and allowed to rest overnight prior to slow cooking them in our large tagine for over an hour. At about the half-way point, vegetables and a reduced orange and apricot sauce are added. Shortly prior to serving, finishing vegetables are added and the dish is garnished with almonds and cilantro.

The end result is a delightfully flavored dish of melt off the bones chicken that is, surprisingly, moderately spiced. The apricot reduction adds tartness that accents the piney flavor of the parsnips perfectly. A couple of notes on ingredients: 1) this dish uses saffron-infused water in the spice rub. This is a much more efficient method for using saffron as it reduces waste and adds consistency. There is a link for making saffron water at the bottom of the post. 2) We buy our ras el hanout from a local spice vendor, but it is fairly simple to make. The formulation on food.com is pretty similar to what we use. 3) As noted above, this dish mildly, but adequately spiced. If you are looking for a more intensely spiced tagine, I recommend adding additional spices to the apricot reduction, add a bit more fluid (stock) and add it to the dish earlier in the cooking process.

For the rest of the meal, we served ground nut soup, steamed asparagus with vinaigrette, and a semolina-based yeast bread for dipping. Hope you enjoy!

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Chickpea and Spinach Soup Flavored with Cumin and Tahini

Garbanzo Spinach SoupThis is a rich one…and considerably less spicy than most things that we have on our table.  I do believe that this particular soup will be a repeat visitor to our table.  It fills a somewhat special niche in the soup world; it is a creamy soup that does not involve cooking with cream.  For anyone that has had the unpleasant experience of breaking and thereby rendering a cream-based soup…unpleasant (or at least very unattractive), you will probably understand the immediate appeal.  Instead, this soup uses a combination of tahini and starch to lend a thick, rich texture that, while not a direct substitute for cream, gets pretty close.

This soup packs highly flavorful punch from the combination of cumin and coriander.  I think that the combination of the chickpeas and potatoes softens the impact of this spice combination, allowing the distinct flavor of the saffron to shine.  The flavor profile is finished off with a small dose of cayenne.  The cayenne doesn’t really provide much heat, but has a sharpness that balances the dish.

This was a great lead in to a period of soup experimentation that we went through last month.  This soup spree was kicked off by the arrival of our flameware dutch over from Clay Coyote Pottery.   This is an amazing piece of gear.  Stylish, durable, and really, really consistent in application of heat.  The best part is that it can be use on flame, electric, glass, whatever.  I couldn’t be more pleased with this new addition to the kitchen.  It pretty much lives on our stove top and will probably be supplemented by on of their flameware tagines.

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Chickpea and Spinach Soup Flavored with Cumin and Tahini
 
Adapted from 400 Soups by Anne Sheasby
Recipe type: Soup
Cuisine: Mediterranean
Ingredients
  • 2 Tbs. Olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced
  • ½ large red onion, ½ chopped, ½ thinly sliced
  • 1½ tsp. cumin, roated and ground
  • 1½ tsp corriander, roasted and ground
  • 3 cups stock
  • 1 medium potato, peeled and cut into small cubes
  • pinch saffron
  • 1½ to 2 cups cooked chickpeas
  • ½ tsp. cornstarch
  • ¼ cup water
  • 4 Tbs. Tahini
  • 5 oz. spinach
  • ¼ tsp. cayenne
Instructions
  1. In large stock pot, heat the oil and saute the onion and garlic over medium-high heat until softened. Stir in the cumin and corriander and cook until fragrant, about 2 to 3 minutes.
  2. Add the stock, the saffron, and potato. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer about 15 minutes. Add the chickpeas and simmer an additional 5 minutes.
  3. Whisk together the cornstarch, water, and tahini. Add to soup incrementally while stirring, Add spinach and cayenne. Simmer an additional several minutes to blend flavors and thicken.

 

Anchovy and Olive Crackers

Anchovie and Olive Crackers

Ok, I know how it sounds…not good.  All I can ask is that, as you think this concept through, you keep in mind that there are a lot of people out there right now eating horrible little yellow fish crackers.  These are better.  They are probably the original fish cracker; and they actually contain fish!

I dredged this recipe up because we are in the middle of a binge on soups and these little treats are a perfect accompaniment to the vaguely Mediterranean soup that I have slotted for this evening.  Although they may sound like a strange concept, these beauties are a sharp-flavored, simply wonderful companion to a wide range of soups and are generally a welcome addition to most table settings as a simple side dish.

These crackers actually don’t really taste very fishy.  They have a ton of butter in them and I think that this washes out a lot of the fishiness that a lot of people would usually associate with anchovies.  You just get the sharp salty flavor of the anchovies as an accent to the Parmesan cheese, and a little richness from the olives.  Vary the spices to suit, but I like a pile of crushed black pepper accented with some cayenne.  Try to make sure you use grated Parm rather than the sawdust stuff in the tube and chop both the olives and fish up pretty well before you blend them with the flour.  It works better with an even distribution of bait chunks throughout the dough.

If you have a food processor, a rolling pin, and a baking sheet, this recipe is a snap.  Just grind the stuff up to form a coarse dough ball, chill it down for about 30 minutes, and roll it flat.  After that, all that remains is cutting somewhat triangular shapes and briefly baking them on a baking sheet.  Baking time will vary wildly depending on oven setup, so just bake until the corners turn a nice golden brown.  Trust me, you should not be able to fuck this up.

Once baked, cool your lovelies on a wire rack and bag up the ones that you are not going to use immediately.  They will keep a very long time; weeks in the refrigerator and months in the freezer.  That’s right, you can resurrect them down the road for a tasty soup-based lunch.  No effort or forethought required.  Every time I cook these, I ask myself, “Self, why do you not do this more often?”.  The fact is that the simplicity of this recipe kicks it further down the memory hole than I should allow it go. These crackers really are a great addition to the table for a lot of meals and I should make more of an effort to have them on hand.

Accept the anchovy challenge and make a batch for yourself and bake a batch up…this week!  As always, let me know what you think and what you served them with.  Cheers.  Off to cook the soup now.

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Anchovy and Olive Crackers
 
Recipe type: Bread
Cuisine: Mediterranean
Ingredients
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • ½ cup chilled butter, cut into chunks
  • ½ cup pitted black olives, coarsely chopped
  • 2 oz. canned anchovies, drained
  • ¾ tsp. cayenne
  • ¾ tsp. black pepper, crushed
  • kosher salt to top
Instructions
  1. Place flour, cheese, and butter into a food processor and process until mixture resembles fine crumbs. Add cayenne and black pepper and blend until combined. Add anchovies and black olives and process until mixture forms a dough. Turn out onto a counter and lightly knead for about a minute. Form into a ball and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and roll to about ⅛ inch thickness using a rolling pin. Cut into 2 to 3 inch strips using a rotary cutter and then cut crosswise into equal-sized triangles. Arrange on a baking sheet and bake in preheated over for 10 to 15 minutes or until edges begin to brown. Cool on wire rack.

 

Dolmas – Grape Leaves stuffed with Lamb and Dried Cherries

DSC_0029One of the better things about summer and early fall in the Pacific Northwest is that this is the time that grape leaves finally get big enough to use in cooking.  That means that it is time to make dolmas …or at least my version of it.  And if you have your own particular version of this dish, you are not alone.  As it turns out, the idea of stuffing grapes leaves with various spices, dried fruits, grains, and meats is wildly popular.  Although the term is Turkish in origin and also refers to hollowed out and stuffed vegetables, stuffed vine leaves fall under the umbrella term.  I make mine with lamb, dried cherries, and rice and spice them pretty conservatively with allspice, cinnamon, and paprika.  Tomato and lemon juice are there to sharpen the flavors somewhat and mint provides a nice aromatic touch.  Although dolmas are commonly baked as a casserole, I prefer mine steamed so that the texture is firmer…. 

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Lamb and Pork Kefta with Cilantro Dressing

DSC_0046Most people like meatballs.  In fact, I was at Barnes and Noble the other day and found a book devoted entirely to the subject of cooking tasty meatballs of different types.  While I recognize the role of the meatball in providing another way to get meat into someone’s mouth, I don’t believe that you should subject someone to bland food.  Because of the this, the meatballs that I tend to make are a variant on kefta; a spiced ground meat mixture.  Although it is common to see kefta threaded onto skewers and grilled, simmering them in a broth is a good way to cook them as well and leaves the meat nice and moist.  For our meal, we served them over some couscous and with a side of Zucchini and Artichoke Hearts with Charmoula.

There are probably as many different spicing schemes for kefta as there are cooks.  I tend to favor cumin, coriander, and onion as the primary flavors in mine, with the white pepper providing a little bit of heat.  This dish is a little unusual for me in its lack of chili, which I tend to put in most food.  For the meat, I like the taste of lamb, but find that it can be a bit dry if used by itself.  Adding some ground pork really helps out by providing some fat…. 

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