I’ve been wanting a tajine for a few years now, so it was a no brainer to include a couple of options on our wedding gift wishlist. Unfortunately, the store where we had our list was out of them at the time, but our friend T. ordered one and gave us a jar of preserved lemons and some Tunisian spice mix to be going on with.
The problem with shipping tajines is that if they are not padded and packed correctly, they can break in transit, and that’s what happened to the first lot which arrived in the shop. Then some arrived, but they were not the ones from the Lombok Pottery Centre, which is what I’d listed and T. had ordered.
Last week, at the Wool Day market, I’d stopped at a stall which sold spices and oils and vinegars, and ended up with some Ras El Hanout, which is a traditional Moroccan spice mix. The next day I found out my tajine had arrived, so I took it home after work.
I had thought about cooking with it on Tuesday, which I had off, but it took most of the afternoon to season it by soaking until all the air bubbles were gone (about an hour in the sink each for the base and the lid), then letting it air dry, and finally seasoning it by rubbing olive oil all over the inside, and placing in a warm oven for a few hours. (Tajines shouldn’t be moved quickly from hot to cold or vice versa, so I put the tajine in a cold oven, which I then turned on and allowed it to heat slowly. When was done I turned off the oven and let it cool before removing the tajine). That didn’t leave much time for the type of cooking which needs a long, slow simmer, so I made a quick curry in the wok, and left it until my next day off.
In the meantime, I browsed through Morrocan style recipes, and thought about what I might like to cook. In the end I settled on a hybrid between chicken tajine with seven vegetables, chicken with olive and lemon, and chicken with ginger and garbanzo beans (all from Food Down Under)<sup1 to create a dish with chicken, vegetables, chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans) and preserved lemon. Partly this was because I didn’t have the right ingredients to make any of those recipes, but did have some. But I have a pretty good track record when it comes to putting flavours together, so I wasn’t worried about exactly following a recipe, and even though it was my first cooking in a tajine, it wasn’t the first time I have made dishes which are meant for tajines.
This is what I came up with:
Chicken with vegetables, chickpeas, and lemon
2 tbls olive oil
1 small red onion
2 cloves garlic
2cm of fresh tumeric
1 generous pinch saffron
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp paprika
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
8 chicken drumsticks
1 medium eggplant
1 small zucchini
1 cup chickpeas
1 ½ cups chicken stock
¼ preserved lemon
salt for eggplants and to taste.
Cut skin off drumsticks and make a couple of small incisions on each, cover with the juice of one lemon. Cut the other lemon into wedges and squish between the chicken pieces. Cover and refrigerate for 40 minutes.
Dice and salt the eggplant. When it has sweated, rinse and spread out over a couple of paper towels to dry.
Dice the zucchini.
Coat bottom of tajine with olive, add thinly sliced onion, garlic, tumeric and dried spices. Add one tablespoon of water and turn heat onto lowest setting.
Microwave the chicken stock so it is warm.
Allow the tajine to heat up gradually, then add a couple of drumsticks at a time and coat with spices an oil for a few minutes. You will probably have to do 2-3 batches. Then layer the drumsticks in the bottom of the tajine.
Cover with the diced vegetables and add the warm chicken stock. Turn heat up to the next setting (still low, but not the lowest), cover, and allow to simmer for 1 and a half hours. (you may need to rearrange drumsticks halfway through to ensure even cooking).
After 1 ½ hours, the meat and vegetables should be mostly cooked through. Drain chickpeas and remove the skins – it doesn’t matter if you don’t get every skin, but it improves the texture if you do, add to the tajine. I used canned chickpeas this time, but you can soak dried chickpeas the night before, and boil them in water with some salt before removing the skins.
Remove the pith and flesh from one quarter of a preserved lemon and discard, finely slice the skin and add to the tajine.
(For detailed instructions on soaking chickpeas and making your own preserved lemons, read this post by Habeas Brulee. In fact, read it anyway, it’s a great bit of writing about slow cooking in a fast world.)
Stir in the lemon and chickpeas, and cook for 30 minutes more. If the broth is too liquid, remove the lid for the last 30 minutes to let it thicken a little. Check the flavour of the broth and add salt to taste if desired.
Serve with couscous and warm turkish bread.