I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to travel a little over the last few years. As we bid farewell to school fees (one more year, but who’s counting), school books, uniform costs, dependent offspring and their associated expenses, both The Husband and I hope to be able to do include quite a bit more of it in our future. If I assume we won’t be winning the lottery any time soon, I don’t suppose I’ll ever get to all the places I want to see, but I intend to prioritise and Morocco is going to be very high on that list.
I have long had a passion for the flavours of Moroccan and Middle Eastern food, neither of which is a cuisine commonly found locally to me. Thanks to some excellent sources of supply for the requisite spices, I like to think I do a pretty fair job of preparing my favourite dishes at home, but I long for the opportunity to lie around on some sort of cushioned arrangement, in a gloriously tiled courtyard, wearing something loose, drapey and flattering, listening to the gentle splash of a small fountain, while sipping freshly made, sweet mint tea and enjoying authentic Moroccan food. As you can probably tell, I’ve got the complete fantasy worked out – the whole lying around aspect is very attractive to this lazy woman.
Moroccan food is not difficult to make if you have the right spices – and they are readily available these days. Try to avoid buying the supermarket spices if you can – their flavours are often not really very good. I buy mine online or at gourmet stores and it is well worth the small extra expense. This delicious chicken tagine, served with steaming piles of golden couscous, is quite simple to make and so wonderfully fragrant that you will be very impressed with yourself – even my ungrateful teens enjoyed this meal and took the leftovers to school the next day for lunch.
One tip for the couscous – the boxed stuff is pretty ordinary, but will absorb surprising amounts of liquid and will reward you handsomely if you spend a little more time over it. Traditionally couscous is steamed three times (being rubbed between each stage) over the cooking stew and, in reality, that’s easily enough done if you have the right equipment. But if not, try this method. Place 2 cups of couscous in a wide, shallow dish with an equivalent amount of very hot (or boiling) stock, give it a stir with a fork, then cover for 5-10 minutes. Remove cover, melt 100 gms of butter, pour it over the couscous then, with clean (or gloved) hands, gently rub the couscous through your fingers to separate it, making sure the butter is distributed evenly. Cover again for 5 minutes, then fluff up with a fork (or fingers) before serving.
Chicken Tagine with Sweet Potato, Prunes & Orange
- 700 gms chicken thighs on the bone if possible
- 2 medium sweet potatoes cut into large cubes
- 2 onions chopped
- 2 Tbs Ras el Hanout
- 50 gms butter
- 30 ml olive oil
- 1 litre chicken or veg stock
- 1 can chick peas drained
- 3/4 cup prunes stones removed
- zest of 1 orange cut into strips
- orange blossom water
- 1/4 cup flaked almonds
- Melt butter and oil together in a heavy based saucepan over moderate heat. Add Ras el Hanout and cook gently for a minute or two, until fragrant.
- Add chicken to spiced oil and brown quickly. Set aside.
- Add onions to spiced oil and cook over moderate heat until softened and golden.
- Return chicken to pot, add the sweet potato and stock to cover, stir to combine. Cover, bring to boil, then turn heat down to a slow simmer. Cook for 30 minutes.
- Add chick peas and prunes and simmer for 10 minutes more, then stir in orange zest and simmer a further 5 minutes.
- Serve on couscous, drizzling with a splash of orange blossom water and sprinkled with almonds.