For quite a lot of Australians the transition between seasons can slip past without a great deal of notice as the climate in large parts of the country is very mild for most of the year. Here in the Adelaide Hills this is not the case, though. Summer is still hot here, but the nights are much cooler than down on the plain, and we slide into autumn with a riot of reds, burgundies and browns as the introduced trees which grow so well up here prepare for the coming chills. Winter is generally cold, wet and foggy, but worth it for the glories of spring. The blossom trees are breathtaking in their beauty and the dormant gardens start to kick into a life that is teeming with activity. The slightly warmer weather rouses all sorts of living things, not all of them welcome – brown snakes come to mind, from their repose and the atmosphere comes alive with birdsong and the satisfied buzz of what I like to think of as my own, personal bees as they go about the business of pollination and honey making.
Sources of natural sugars such as fruit, maple syrup and honey are high in energy and, because of this, we can be fairly sure that our hunter gatherer ancestors had quite a sweet tooth. While collecting fruit is simple to do, collecting honey can be a little fraught, so we can also be fairly sure that those same ancestors worked out how to coax bees from their hives using smoke quite early, too. Indeed, in Spain there are cave paintings dating back 7,000 years ago depicting an individual collecting honey while bees buzz around him and there are Egyptian tomb reliefs of the third millennium BC, but believed to date back much earlier, showing bees being smoked from their nests. Those wise old ancients must have known a thing or two as we still use smoking today to pacify bees while we harvest the wonderful liquid gold from their hives.
As an excellent source of energy, honey has always been on our plates in one form or another and is one of my favourite ingredients in cooking. I’ve never really outgrown of my childish enjoyment of Honey Joys, a treat consisting of cornflakes coated in a mixture of honey and butter, and use it frequently in baking, but I think the versatility of honey really shines in Moroccan and Middle Eastern cuisines where honey is combined – to great effect – with various savoury ingredients to create some stunning dishes. While we may be past the best weather for hearty casseroles and stews, tagines are a little lighter, but still welcome on a chilly spring evening.
The recipe I have for you today uses some of the flavours of these cuisines but is even easier than putting together a tagine. If you’ll recall, I’m quite a lazy cook and will always take the path that leads to maximum flavour with minimal effort. This is a simple marinade into which I threw some chicken, in a ziplock bag, and then left in the fridge for a few hours. I’ve used Ras el Hanout, a Moroccan blend of dozens of spices whose name roughly translates to “top of the shop”. There is no definitive combination of spices in this mix, but it will always contain cumin, coriander and cinnamon, and each cook has their own preferred blend. I’ve made my own in the past, but tend to buy it now – as I mentioned before, I’m lazy. I baked mine in the oven, but this would be just as good (maybe even better) on a barbecue.