Begin the Tagine – A Slow (Cooker) Dance

Monday night, I had an urge to make a tagine – the sweet warm spices, long cooked to make a relief to this endless Chicago winter. I didn’t have time to prep it before the workday ended, so it got put off to Tuesday.

There’s something amazing about the profile of sweet spices that appears in Persian and Moroccan cuisine (with a few similar dishes in the Indian and Middle Eastern kitchens). Fruits, cinnamon… and meat?  In the words of Anthony Bourdain, “Yes, Please!”

This is another no-shop meal, using only what I had around (I thought I had some preserved lemons, but they’d gone moldy). If you search for Tagine recipes you’ll get thousands, and it’s pretty clear it’s up to you what to use. The only essentials are:

  • Something sweet – I used dried dates, but I’ve seen ones with raisins, apricots, sugar, and similar dishes in Persian cuisine with sour cherries.
  • Ginger and garlic – as with most cuisines, equal quantities
  • Protein – chicken or lamb are traditional, but just chickpeas or favas would work (tofu is probably too fragile)
  • Vegetable – I used carrot, but I’ve seen potato, tomato, bell pepper, eggplant, the sky’s the limit, but probably not cruciferous veg.
  • Sweet warm spices – ras el hanout means essentially “top shelf,” or the best in the house, but a pinch of a bunch of spices that starts with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, perhaps cardamom, clove, tumeric… find the flavors you like.  I have  a baggie my daughter-in-law brought back from Morocco… but it’s gotten a little bit old, I beefed it up with some additional cinnamon, cumin, tumeric, and hot powdered chile.
  • Citrus – preserved lemon is common, lemon juice nearly as common, I used fresh-squeezed orange juice from the supermarket because I had it.

Sorry, no picture today, it wasn’t nearly as pretty as it was tasty.  The dates pretty much dissolved, and the chicken was tender and juicy.

Slow-cooker Chicken Tagine with Dates, Carrots and Chickpeas

Serves 2-3

3/4 lb (about 350g) boneless, skinless chicken thighs (can use breasts, but won’t be as tasty), cut into 1″ (2.5cm) cubes
1/2 cup (100g) carrots, peeled and cut into 1″ (2.5cm) chunks
1/3 cup (75g) diced dried dates
1/2 cup (100g) pitted green olives — any kind will do, I used spanish pimento-stuffed ones
1 cup (200g) canned chickpeas, rinsed
2 Tbs (30ml) olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1″ (2.5cm) ginger, peeled and minced
1 tsp (5ml) paprika
1 tsp (5ml) tumeric
1/2 tsp (2.5ml) cumin
1 tsp (5ml) hot powdered chile*
1/2 (2.5ml) tsp cinnamon
1 tsp (5ml) ras el hanout (see note above)
1 C (250ml) or so chicken broth
1/2 (2.5ml) tsp salt
1/4 C (125ml) fresh orange juice (or a tablespoon of diced preserved lemon, or some lemon juice)
1/4 C (125ml) chopped cilantro leaves

not sure what variety this is — I grabbed a bag without a label, thinking it was my ras el hanout. You may wish to use less if you don’t like spice, but this merely made it nice and warm not dangerously spicy.

  1. Place the carrots, onions, olives, chickpeas, dates and broth in slow cooker, set to high (or a medium saucepan on low)
  2. In a sautee pan, heat oil on medium heat.  Add the chicken and brown briefly on all sides.
  3. Add the ginger and garlic, stir for 30 seconds
  4. Add the spices and salt, stir for another 30 seconds, then add to slow cooker
  5. When the slow cooker comes up to a simmer, drop the heat to low.  Cook for about two hours, less if using chicken breast
  6. Just before serving, add the orange juice and cilantro
  7. Serve with couscous (I used the larger, Israeli-style)

You can skip steps 2-4 and just add everything to the slow cooker.  It’ll take maybe a half-hour longer, and you won’t have as much flavor developed in the meat, but it saves a pan.

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