Friday, November 30, 2012

Recipe: Mqualli - Moroccan Chicken Tajine with Preserved Lemon & Olives

This dish is called a tajine, because it is traditionally cooked in a vessel called a tajine (similar concept as paella). The tajine is an earthenware (mitti) dish comprised of 2 parts. The bottom is circular and flattish with slightly raised edges and it has a conical cover that sits on this base.

The concept of cooking in a tajine is that the earthenware adds some amount of flavour to the dish (like mud pots used in Indian cooking) and the conical top, captures the condensation and returns the moisture to the dish cooking below.

The dish is typically cooked on low heat and ends up being really moist and tender. The advantage of cooking in a tagine is that you can always lift the lid to adjust spices or add vegetables in installments. However, you can still cook this dish, even if you don't have a tajine.

1kg chicken - curry cut (preferably with bones, they add flavour to the stew)
2 cups (500 ml) water / stock
2 tsps olive oil
1 large onion sliced
6 cloves garlic chopped
2 tsp ginger paste
1 tsp cumin powder
2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
pinch of saffron
2 preserved lemons
1/2 cup green olives (canned)
2 tbsp chopped parsley
2 tbsp chopped corriander
salt to taste

In the tajine/heavy bottomed dish, heat the olive oil
Add the onions and garlic and saute lightly until they start to soften.
Add ginger paste, cumin powder, salt and pepper powder and sir till well mixed.
Add chicken pieces and brown on both sides.
If using dried lemon - wash well, pierce a couple of times with a fork/knife and add at this stage.
Add 1 cup stock/water, bring to a boil, then cover, lower the heat and cook for 15-20 minutes.
If you are using preserved lemons - rinse, discard the flesh, slice the skin and add it at this stage.
If you used dehdrated lemons, then add the juice of 1 fresh lemon at this stage.
If you don't have preserved or dehydrated lemons, add the juice of 2-3 lemons at this stage with some lemon rind.
Mix well
Add the olives, saffron and the remaining water / stock and give it a swirl.
Sprinkle the chopped parsley and corriander on top.
Cover and cook on low heat for another 20 minutes until done.

If you are serving this tajine with bread or rice, then you will want a slightly thicker curry.
If you are serving it with couscous, you will want a slightly thinner curry.

Serve hot with rice, couscous or bread.

Kim's Tips:
1. All you need is a heavy bottomed pan with a tight fitting lid that won't let the steam escape, if you don't have access to a tajine.

2. This particular recipe calls for preserved lemons (typical in Moroccan cuisine), but I didn't have them in stock, I only had dried lemons (used in Middle Eastern cooking), so I substituted the preserved lemons with dehydrated lemons and the juice of 1 fresh lemon. If you can't find preserved/dehydrated lemons, you can make the dish with juice from 2-3 lemons and some lemon rind. It won't taste as good as the original, but it will still be tasty.

3. Preserved lemons and bottled olives have some salt in them, remember to adjust for this when salting the dish.

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