Friday, March 4, 2011

A trip to Northern Africa

I think it was June last year when we received an unexpected package in the mail containing a beautiful North African cookbook! I was seriously so excited about it I wanted to make something from it that very night. It came from a friend who currently lives in North Africa and shares my love for cooking. Just reading through the book made me want to hop on a plane and visit a few friends of ours that are in that area. Over the next week or two I made a couple of the recipes and absolutely loved them. I found a lamb and prune tagine recipe in the book, but had chicken and not lamb on hand so I looked in another Mediterranean cookbook of mine and happen to find a chicken and prune tajine recipe, so I took a bit from each book and made a wonderful dish that I shared with Ryan's cousin who had recently had her first child. She loved it and had asked for the recipe, but I am just now getting around to writing down what I had done to the recipe to make it taste even better.

I actually made the recipe two nights in a row because I wasn't quite comfortable serving a dish to someone that I had not yet made for my family. Although I have done this in the past, this one was a bit unique, so I wanted to check it out first, besides I really wanted to try it myself. In making it the first night I realized that the cooking time for the chicken needed to be adjusted - it got a bit too dry and although the meal was incredibly flavorful, the chicken hadn't taken on as much of the flavor as I had hoped. So, I tried brining the chicken and that helped a ton. But I also was low on saffron and prunes after making it the first time so I added some turmeric and dates - very tasty!

Although I do not own a tagine/tajine - a domed clay pot, I was able to make this aromatic dish in a large saucepan on my stovetop. You'll want to start the brine in the morning if you plan to have this for dinner. Or sometimes I brine my chicken when I get it and then wrap it in smaller portions and freeze it. The recipe primarily comes from my Reader's Digest Mediterranean Cooking cookbook with a few ideas from my Medina Kitchen cookbook (the unexpected gift in the mail).

Chicken Tajine with Prunes
Tajine de poulet aux pruneaux
1/2 cup sea salt
1/4 molasses
1 cup boiling water + more cold water and ice
1 whole cut-up chicken (bone-in)

Mix 1/2 cup of sea salt and 1/4 cup of molasses into 1 cup of boiling water until salt is completely dissolved. Add ice and 1 more cup of cold water, when brine is cool to the touch add chicken and fill with water until chicken is fully covered. Store in refrigerator for a 4-5 hours.

Brined chicken (from above)
1-3 large onions, chopped
1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
1-2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons of butter
1 cinnamon stick
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads or 1/2 teaspoon turmeric*
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger*
freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup pitted prunes
1/4 cup whole dates, chopped
2 Tablespoons honey
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 Tablespoon sesame seeds
3/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted

Lightly cover the bottom of a large saucepan with olive oil and add butter, onions, garlic, and spices. Add chicken and cover with 1 1/2 cups water. Cover the pan and cook over low heat for 20-30 minutes, turning chicken halfway through. At 20 minutes you may want to remove smaller pieces of chicken to a plate, but continue cooking thicker breast pieces. After 30 minutes check chicken to make sure juices run clear and it is no longer pink. Remove chicken to plate and cover. Add the prunes and dates to the cooking liquid, cooking until softened - about 10-15 minutes. Add honey and lemon juice, reducing liquid by half. You can turn up the heat to medium to speed up the process or continue to cook on low. Return the chicken to the sauce and cook for an additional 10 minutes.

1 cup water
3/4 cup whole wheat couscous
1 Tablespoon ground flax seed*

For couscous, boil 1 cup of water and add 3/4 cup of whole wheat couscous and 1 Tablespoon ground flax seed. Remove from heat, cover and let sit for 5-10 minutes. Fluff with a fork before serving.

Serve over whole wheat couscous and sprinkle with sesame seeds and toasted almonds.

Side notes: If you choose not to brine your chicken, you will want to add salt at some point to the recipe. If, however, you do brine the chicken you should not need to add any additional salt. Both saffron and turmeric happen to be in my spice cupboard due to my love for cooking international dishes. Saffron is the more pricey of the two and the one called for in the original recipe. Turmeric can be used in it's place and will likely be cheaper. I have a huge package of turmeric that I found at an Indian grocery store and I keep it in my freezer. This
recipe calls for dry ground ginger, but if you have fresh, I bet it would be delicious! Grate about a teaspoon into the pan along with the onion and garlic and spices. The flax seed is totally optional, but I once bought a box of whole wheat couscous that contained flax, so I thought why not add it - you can never have too much fiber (well maybe some people can).

As always, enjoy!  And please forgive the look of the last few posts as they have added a an updated edit option, but it is not working as well as I had hoped:(

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