I am a massive fan of a take away meal. I don't have a favourite, it tends to be food that I can't perfect myself or don't have the time or ingredients to make myself. But, let's face it, every now and then it's nice to have a break from cooking.
I'll be honest, it's been a while since I've had a take away. Mainly because I've been using my time to be creative and also to keep my freezer topped up - future me is going to be so happy. But on Sunday, I really fancied something different to what I usually cook. We bandied about the idea of getting a Chinese or Indian take away but neither of us really wanted those. And then it struck me - Moroccan food! When was the last time we had a tagine?
I must say, I'm very fussy when it comes to tagines, if they're not well spiced or well researched, they can be bland or too acidic - particularly the tomato based ones. Which is why I generally leave it to the experts. If you haven't been to Los Moros in York yet, it should be your next restaurant stop!
I was well into my twenties before I even thought about trying to make Moroccan food myself. When we were younger, Abu Dhabi had no shortage of different cuisines available for take away. My brother and I obviously favoured the burger, pizza, shawarma options. Mum on the other hand would pull the trump card every so often and order moroccan food. It was much healthier and, for her, much more delicious. She would order a couple of pots of harira (soup), a bag of moroccan bread, a tray of plain couscous, a tray of couscous with lamb tagine with carrots and onions, and a tray of chicken tagine with lemon and olives. The chicken one was her favourite. And, as far as my brother and I were concerned, she was welcome to it. Dad on the other hand had to fight his way for some.
Fifteen years on and now the chicken one is my go to tagine. If I'm in a restaurant, I'll be honest I generally go for a lamb tagine. With the experience I now have, it's so easy to make the chicken tagine at home. My go to recipe is always Sabrina Ghayour's from her book Persiana. However, being in the situation we are, my larder was lacking and I didn't have any preserved lemons, just fresh ones. So I made some subsitutions and found that it REALLY works.
Chicken, Olive and Lemon Tagine
4-6 chicken thigh fillets (no skin or bone)
1 large white onion, sliced
6 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tsp ground coriander
150ml hot water
6 tbsp olives (the darker the better, not bright green)
2 lemons, zested and juiced
Handful of finely chopped parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
Let me just explain a few things about the ingredients. First of all, do not, under any circumstances use chicken breast. It will go dry and tough while cooking in this sauce. If you can only get thighs with the skin on and bone in, it's not the end of the world but you will need to cook them longer.
Secondly, the olives. Do not buy fancy, big, bright green olives from a deli. They don't have enough flavour and you don't get to take the brine with you. Use either dark green or black smaller olives that you can buy in a jar. Country of origin will generally telly you how meaty they are. I generally buy Lebanese or Jordanian ones but Greek ones work too.
Now to the recipe.
In a heavy bottomed pot or a tagine (use it if you have one, it makes a difference) fry the onions with 2 tbsp butter and 2 tbsp olive oil until soft. Add the garlic and lemon zest and stir it around. Once it is fragrant, move the garlic and onions to the edge of the pot and lay the chicken thighs in flat.
Cook the thighs on one side until they start to go golden (about 5 minutes) and then flip them over and cook for the same amount on the other side. Move the garlic and onions over the top of the chicken so that it doesn't burn.
Mix the ground coriander in the hot water until it's well combined and then pour it into the pot. Put the lid on and let it simmer for ten minutes.
When you take the lid off, scatter the olives in, don't worry if you get some of the brine in too, it's all flavour. Make sure nothing is stuck to the bottom and put the lid back on, simmering for 15 minutes.
The tagine is now fully cooked so just give it a taste and season it. Serve with either couscous, bread or potatoes. Before you take the tagine to the table, pour over the lemon juice and scatter over as much parsley as you like.