A few years ago my husband and I had a lovely vacation in Marrakesh. Anyplace that has rose bushes and clementine trees growing in the medians is fine by me and we had an unbelievably interesting day hanging out with the family of our regular cab driver, Said.
During this visit I fell in love with tagines (which are basically like stews) made with preserved lemons. It’s easier than you think to preserve lemons and the rewards are plentiful, especially during those times of year when you can’t really get good produce. I made a jar of preserved lemons for us by simply dissolving a half cup of salt in a quart of water, then pouring that over two dozen small lemons, cut in half, and jamming them into an airtight glass jar that sits on my kitchen counter. (The salt and the acid from the lemons keep bacteria from growing and the sight of all that sunny yellow cheers me during our relentlessly overcast winter.) Once they’ve sat there a few months, you can use them. The trick is to only use the skin of the lemons, not the flesh. While the flesh will be so bitter it will be caustic and inedible, the skin will have gone all soft and tender and is very flavorful.
This is my favorite tagine recipe and it’s a good quick weeknight supper. If you don’t have a tagine, a dutch oven works just fine.
6 boneless chicken thighs
1 dozen green olives
the skin from one whole preserved lemon, chopped into slivers or chunks
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1 medium onion, sliced or diced
1 cup chicken stock or white wine (or mix them up)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
salt and pepper to taste
Brown the chicken thighs in a tablespoon of olive oil in the bottom of the pan or tagine, then add the onion and cook until browned and translucent. Finally, toss in the garlic and saute just until you can smell it’s aroma rising from the pan. Toss in the rest of the ingredients, then cover the pan and cook in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes until the chicken is cooked through. Serve over couscous or rice.
NOTE: Couscous is ridiculously easy to make. You simply put whatever amount of it you want in a glass bowl, and pour over an equal amount of boiled water or stock. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit while the tagine is in the oven. The couscous will absorb all the liquid and be cooked through. This also works with bulgar (a cracked wheat). Another good option for a base is quinoa, which cooks just like rice. I’ve also served this with orzo pasta on occasion.
Variation: If you like a mix of sweet and salty in dishes (which I do but some in my family don’t) swap out the olives for a half cup of sultanas (white raisins) and swap out the turmeric for a half teaspoon of cinnamon. It adds a level of complexity to the flavor that I quite like.