The first night of our staycation was in Marrakesh, Morocco. Much like the food of India, north African cuisine is abundant in spices. Smoky, warm, complex, and robust, the foods of Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt often include more spices than any other cuisine, making the food of this region vibrant and full-flavored. One of the most quintessential dishes in Moroccan cooking is the tagine. Tagine is the word both for the cooking vessel and the resulting dish that comes out of it—food is slowly braised in the base while the tall conical lid collects and redistributes the steam. It's often made with beef, lamb, even pigeon; cumin, paprika, cinnamon, coriander, and cayenne are the main spices that give tagine its oopmph.
Since I don't have an actual tagine, and since foods cooked in tagines are often stewed for hours, I decided to go with the traditional flavors, but I did a quick roast in the oven. This was—as Paula Deen often says—stupid easy. A quick do-ahead marinade, superfast prep, less than an hour in the oven, and that's it. I have to tell you--Jason said it was the best meal he'd had in a long time. And if I may say so myself, I agreed.
The flavors were clean and defined. The earthy cumin, warm cinnamon, sweet coriander and paprika, and the slight spice of the cayenne all worked together in perfect harmony. The tomato sauce cooks down and marries with the spices into a brick-red, aromatic gravy that coats everything with a perfect slickness. The accompanying couscous, which soaks up every drip of the rich sauce, is definitely the best recipe for couscous I've ever done (again, if I do say so myself). It would be delicious with just about anything. Fudul! (That's Arabic for "bon appetit.")
Moroccan Chicken "Tagine"
serves 2 with leftovers
I had leftover tomato soup I had made last week, so I used that to pour over the chicken. If you have some tomato soup, or even leftover marinara, as long as it's pretty plain, it will be just fine as the base to your sauce and will bring a little extra flavor to the party. If you don't have those things on hand, just use plain crushed tomatoes from a can—there are so many spices in here, you don't need to worry about it being bland.
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons paprika
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin
3/4 tablespoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 to 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, depending on heat preference
6 skinless chicken drumsticks or skinless chicken thighs
1 lemon, 1/2 thinly sliced, 1/2 zested and juiced
1/2 small onion, very thinly sliced
1/4 cup green olives, chopped (optional)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup canned crushed tomatoes
Kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste
In a roasting pan, whisk together the oil, vinegar, paprika, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, salt, sugar, and cayenne. Add the drumsticks and turn to coat. Cover with aluminum foil, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to 6.
Preheat oven to 375°. Remove chicken from refrigerator and turn chicken to fully coat in the marinade. Tuck lemon slices in between and on top of meaty end of drumsticks. Sprinkle on the lemon zest, lemon juice, and garlic; evenly distribute onions on top, and then pour the tomato sauce over everything. Give the pan a shimmy to make sure the sauce is distributed. Sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper, for good measure.
Re-cover with aluminum foil, and bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until chicken is completely done. Serve with couscous to soak up the sauce.
Orange-Scented Couscous with Almonds
serves 2 with leftovers
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup water
3/4 cup couscous
3 large green onions
1/2 cup almonds, toasted and crushed*
2 generous tablespoons orange juice, fresh or store bought
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine garlic and oil. Heat until garlic is fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add salt and water, stir to combine, and cover pan. When water boils, add couscous, turn off heat, and set aside for 5 minutes.
Use a fork to fluff the couscous. Add green onions, almonds, and orange juice, and use the fork to combine everything. Taste and add salt, if needed. Serve immediately.