Melting Pot

May 8, 2017

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Turmeric chicken with apricots, cinnamon, toasted almonds, and a mint garnish

This week’s post got me thinking a lot about the concept of the “melting pot” as a (flawed) measure of the diversity of a country, most often as it applies to the United States. It also got me thinking about the idea that diversity and the variety it brings with it function a lot like cooking – adding spice to food always makes it taste richer, especially when those spices work together to create a new flavour you might not know existed before. In many ways, this approach is not unlike the process of blending together different concepts to produce something unique and flavourful, while also highlighting each of the individual ingredients that go into the final product, that is often reflected in Morocco’s (extremely) old-school answer to preparing food, the tagine (taj-een).

What is a tagine, and why is it so great? I happen to be a bit of a historical nerd and somewhat of a cooking gadget enthusiast (part of the habit, I guess?), so I find the concept that people in Morocco, Tunisia, and other parts of North Africa, southern Spain, and the Middle East have been using this literal “one-pot wonder” to cook with since the 9th century pretty amazing. Most closely associated with the nomadic Bedouin people of the Arabian peninsula, the tagine is both functional, allowing food to be prepared almost entirely within the tagine itself (complete with a small hole at the top of the pottery for venting steam during the cooking process), and fashionable, often decorated with beautiful, colourful designs which surround the lid of the tagine and its base.

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In addition to being the name of the container used to cook the food, tagine is also the name given to the dishes cooked in this portable work of art by individuals for nearly 800 years. Many dishes prepared in Morocco and Tunisia feature lamb, chicken, or beef, combined with vibrant, fragrant herbs and spices such as turmeric, cinnamon, and mint, as well as apricots, plums, and other fruits which complement the savoury flavours of the meal, making it beautiful and delicious; in other words, Instagram-worthy.

Getting hungry yet? I am. Here’s how you make a Moroccan-style tagine from scratch; you can buy a decent tagine from any kitchen goods store for around $50 or $60, not including the heat diffuser, which looks like this and will run you an additional $12-$15. I recommend you buy the heat diffuser when you get your tagine; it will allow your tagine to last longer, since it will not be directly exposed to the heat from your stove for as long, and will allow the tagine itself to retain less heat, so you can carry it more easily, if you need to. If you don’t have a tagine, you can make this dish just as easily in a deep, medium-large size pot with a lid.

Moroccan-style Turmeric Chicken with Apricots, Cinnamon, and Toasted Almonds

Chicken

  • 3 tbsp. butter
  • 2 lb. chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 cloves garlic (or 1 tsp. minced garlic)
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1.5 tsp. turmeric
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 2 cinnamon sticks

1. Melt butter in pan.
2. Add chicken and olive oil to pan and brown chicken over medium-high heat.
3. Add browned chicken and remaining ingredients to tagine and mix together.
4. Add 1 cup water to ingredients in tagine.

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5. Cover tagine and cook on medium-high heat until liquid is boiling, stirring intermittently.

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6. When liquid begins to boil, lower heat to medium-low and cook for 30 additional minutes.
7. While chicken is cooking, prepare the apricot and almond toppings for the dish.

Apricots

  • 1/2 (16 oz.) bag dried apricots, cut into quarters
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1.5 tbsp. butter

1. Add all ingredients and 1/2 cup water to small saucepan.

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2. Bring to a boil, stirring intermittently.
3. Cook over low heat until sauce thickens slightly (about 5 minutes).
4. Let sit until chicken is ready to serve.

Toasted Almonds

  • 1 tbsp. Canola oil
  • 3.5 tbsp. sliced almonds

1. Heat oil in pan and toast almonds, stirring regularly (about 3-5 minutes).
2. Transfer almonds to paper towel-lined plate to absorb excess oil from toasting.
3. Let sit until chicken is ready to serve.

When chicken is finished, remove from cooking liquid to serving plate (or leave in the tagine) and discard liquid. Cover chicken with apricot sauce and sprinkle almonds on top. Serve with couscous and enjoy!

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Couscous

  • 1 (32 oz.) container chicken/vegetable broth
  • 1 (16 oz.) box couscous
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2-3 tbsp. harissa (optional)

1. Add broth, couscous, salt, pepper, and olive oil into a medium pot.
2. Cook on medium heat until couscous has absorbed almost all of the liquid (couscous should still be moist), stirring occasionally with fork to make sure couscous remains “fluffy.”

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If you prefer to add a little spice to your couscous, you can mix 2-3 tbsp. of harissa (Moroccan red pepper paste) into the finished couscous; you can make the recipe from scratch, though I typically use the jarred variety available at Trader Joe’s for $3.99.

Fun fact: Morocco was the first nation to sign a treaty with the United States, in 1786. It is also the only place in the world where the precious thuya wood used in the dashboards of Rolls Royce automobiles can be found, located exclusively in the Atlas Mountains which stretch through Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia.

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