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Travel abroad without leaving your kitchen

Catherine Wattigny Moroccan 1

In earlier food articles I have written about how cookbooks can take readers on culinary tours of regions of our nation, as well as transporting us to other areas of our world. Because of a Mother’s Day gift from our son, David, and his wife, Katie, my culinary travels this past week have taken me to the exotic country of Morocco. This country, slightly larger than the state of California, and located on the northwestern coast of Africa, lies directly across the Strait of Gibraltar from Spain.

With their gift of the cookbook, “The Modern Tagine Cookbook”, and a kit filled with little tins of Moroccan spices, my journey began. Untraveled in this part of the world, or in its cuisine, I first researched the meaning of the word, “tagine”. I learned that a tagine is a is an earthenware, conical cooking pot with a shallow base. Carried by Nomads in North Africa, they were used as portable ovens as they traveled through North Africa and the Sahara Desert. These little portable ovens can tenderize tougher cuts of meat, and cook fruit and vegetables to a moist perfection, while maintaining the unique flavors of the dish. This happens because of the tight-fitting seal over the wide shallow base in which the moisture of the food rises as steam and then drops back down into the food. Typically the meats cooked in these tagines are lamb, beef and chicken. Pork is not favored in Morocco as it goes against Morocco’s predominantly Islamic religion. Slow cookers and Dutch ovens found in our own kitchens can produce the same moist, flavorful effects.

Further study revealed that the dishes prepared in this clay cookware, similar to what we may know as casseroles, are also called tagines. With a summer mindset of infusing fun into the long, laidback days, I decided to try one of the recipes found in my cookbook. The chicken recipe I selected called for ingredients I was familiar with but have never used in my everyday cooking. Fresh ginger was one such ingredient, and I admit that I had to ask the produce manager where to find it. Not being familiar with the level of heat called for in the red chilies, I was not daring enough to add them. The dish filled the kitchen with exotic aromas, and resulted in an enjoyable, appetizing meal.

Morocco was a major port in the Spice Trade, and ancient Moroccans traded in cinnamon. Moroccan dishes are similar to that of Arab, Mediterranean, Spanish and French cuisine, and the spices used in their recipes can be found interchangeably in lists of ingredients. While adding unique complexities to the distinctive taste of Moroccan food, many of the spices used also have medicinal value. Natural anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties are found in ginger, turmeric, cardamom, black pepper, rosemary, and cinnamon. Anise seed, with a licorice-like flavor commonly used in cookies and bread, contains high amounts of calcium, as well as anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal effects. Capsaicin, from the cayenne pepper grown in North Africa has several health-related benefits, including the relief of pain when used topically.

If a trip to Morocco is not in the plans this summer, you might travel there vicariously by experimenting with, and indulging in one of these ethnic dishes, while fully immersing yourself in the classic Humphry Bogart-Lauren Bacall movie, Casablanca. Happy travels!

The following recipe is one I modified and prepared, inspired by a much spicier version from the cookbook.

Moroccan Chicken with Apricots{/span}

1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter

1 chopped onion

1, 1 inch piece of ginger, finely chopped

1 sprig of rosemary, finely chopped

1 clove of garlic, finely chopped

½-1 tsp. ground cinnamon

6-8 chicken thighs, seasoned to taste with salt and pepper

1 cup dried apricots

2 tablespoons honey

1, 14 ounce can whole tomatoes

Chopped fresh cilantro, parsley, or basil for garnish

Directions:

Heat butter and oil in heavy tagine or Dutch oven.

Sauté the onion, ginger, rosemary, and garlic till ingredients are softened, taking care to avoid burning garlic.

Add the seasoned chicken thighs and brown slightly on both sides.

Toss in the cinnamon, dried apricots, honey, and can of whole tomatoes with juice

Add enough water to prevent sticking of ingredients and to create a sauce.

Cover and cook over low heat for 35-40 minutes, or until chicken is fully cooked, and juices drain clear.

Garnish with fresh, chopped cilantro, parsley or basil.



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