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CHICKEN TAGINE WITH APRICOTS AND SPICED PINE NUTS

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Saturday I was having one of those days when I just needed to get out of the house. I spent a great afternoon sitting in the bookstore looking at cookbooks for a couple of hours, then browsing through a local cooking and appliance store. I was drawn to the tagines, the vessels that the food by the same name are cooked in. They are earthenware pots with the unique conical lid that is designed to lock in moisture and flavors. They were glazed in beautiful shades of red and blue. But they were almost $200, so I settled on a cookbook instead. The name of the cookbook is Tagine, Spicy Stews from Morocco. Besides having great recipes, the book explains the history of tagines. The Tagine was originally a Berber dish, but has evolved with the history of the region as waves of Arab and Ottoman invaders. Moorish refugees from Andalusia, and French colonialists left their influences on the cuisine. Classic tagines include combinations of lamb with dried prunes or apricots; chicken with preserved lemon and green olives; duck with dates and honey; and fish cooked with tomatoes, lime, and cilantro.

Tagines are traditionally served as a course on their own, with freshly baked flat breads to mop up the sauces, and are followed by couscous. Today, the courses are usually combined and served with an accompaning salad.

The key to great tagines is to simmer the ingredients over a low heat, so that everything remains moist and tender.

Sunday I decided to make a tagine for dinner. I didn't have all of the ingredients for any of the recipes in the new cookbook, so I decided to do a search on Epicurious. I chose the recipe from that site. I made some changes, such as using boneless skinless chicken breasts. Since the breasts didn't need to cook as long as chicken pieces, I combined the two cooking stages into one, thus reducing the overall cooking time. If you want the original recipe, you can find it at Epicurious.com.

I served the tagine with buttery couscous, a recipe from the new cookbook. This was a different method of cooking than I have done in the past, and made for a much fluffier couscous.

I started the dinner off with a simple salad of oranges, radishes, and red onions, and dressed that with a sprinking of white balsamic vinegar and blood orange infused olive oil and sea salt.


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CHICKEN TAGINE WITH APRICOTS AND SPICED PINE NUTS
Adapted from Epicurious.com
Serves 4

For Tagine:
4 chicken breasts
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon grated peeled ginger
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon sweet paprika
Pinch of saffron threads (optional)
1 cup water
2 tablespoons blood-orange preserves or bitter-orange marmalade
1 2" cinnamon stick
1 thyme sprig
6 dried apricots, chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro or flat-leaf parsley

For Spiced Pine Nuts:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon sweet paprika
Pinch of cayenne

Heat olive oil in a 12" heavy skillet over medium heat, and lightly brown chicken breasts, which you have salted. Transfer to a plate. Wipe out skillet.

Melt butter in the same skillet, and add the chopped onions. Cook over medium heat until soft, stirring frequently, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, turmeric, and paprika, and cook, stirring, 3 minutes.

Add water, orange preserves, cinnamon stick, thyme, and apricots, and stir until mixed. Bring to a boil, then add chicken breasts and any accumulated juices. Turn heat to a low simmer, cover, and cook until breasts are cooked through and sauce has thickened, about 20 to 30 minutes. If chicken is cooked but sauce is too thin, take out the breasts and reduce sauce, then add chicken back to warm.

While chicken is cooking, make the pine nuts: Heat oil in a small heavy skillet over medium heat until it shimmers, then stir in pine nuts, turmeric, paprika, and cayenne, and cook, stirring frequently, until nuts are lightly browned. Transfer to a small bowl.

To Serve, place chicken and sauce over couscous and sprinkle with spiced nuts.

PLAIN BUTTERY COUSCOUS
Makes 4 servings
1 2/3 cup traditional couscous, rinsed and drained
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 3/4 cup warm water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter, cut in small pieces

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
After draining, put the couscous into an ovenproof dish. Stir the salt into the water and pour it over the couscous. Cover, and leave the couscous to absorb the water for about 10 minutes.

Sprinkle the oil over the couscous, and rub the oil into the grains to break up lumps and air them. Dot the butter over the surface and cover with a piece of foil or lid. Put the dish in the oven for about 15 minutes to heat through.

Fluff up the grains with a fork and serve.


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Comments (1)

Amy:

That looks delicious! I adore Moroccan cooking.

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