>> Monday, April 26, 2010

Spring has arrived in London. It's such a different experience from the change in season back home which is much gentler and less noticeable. All the trees down our street are either in bloom or already covered in new leaves. I know I'm meant to be craving salads and crunchy, fresh things now that the warm weather is upon us, but a couple weeks ago there was still enough of a chill in the air to remind me of the snow and icy wind we'd recently escaped. I wasn't quite ready to give up the warming, hearty dishes of winter.

A tagine sounded just about right. Perfect for a chilly day but so full of the flavours of summer that you can hardly call it winter fare. Whenever I want to cook something from the Middle East, I always turn to recipes from my favourite New Zealand chef/cook, Julie Le Clerc.

Inspired by the heritage of her Lebanese great grandfather, Julie traveled to Morocco, Lebanon, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Jordan and Iran; a journey culminating in two beautiful cook books on the food and culinary traditions of the Middle East. I have given both of these books to Chris' mother Barbara. Everything either of us has made from their pages has turned out wonderfully and several of the recipes have even become regular favourites.

The dish I chose to cook last Sunday night was from the second of the two, 'Taking Tea in the Medina'. ('Made in Morocco' is the first.) I've made this recipe a few times, and every time I do, I remember why. Because it's so delicious. It's fragrant yet simple, enticing yet honest. The kind of food I love.

Every step in this recipe is easy. There are no exclusive or hard-to-find ingredients and, as long as you take your time and don't try to rush it, it will turn out exactly the way it's meant to.

You can serve it as it comes or with a dollop of thick, plain yoghurt on the side. I also made a quick salad of sliced cucumber and fennel, sprinkled with fresh mint leaves and dressed with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and the juice of half a lemon.

I can't wait to start traveling through this part of the world and experience first hand what I have only seen in the pages of a book or on a screen.

In the mean time, my kitchen is an adequate substitute – clouds of cinnamon and cumin laced steam rising from my cook top. Halving dried figs and apricots, the sugary, concentrated juice coating my fingers. Filling a cast-iron pot with layers of ingredients and covering and baking until meltingly soft. The heavily spiced aroma of cooking in the air.

A worthy send-off to our first winter in London!

Egyptian Chicken with Apricots + Figs
(slightly adapted from Taking Tea in the Medina by Julie Le Clerc)

12 chicken thighs (with bone in)
sea salt + freshly ground black pepper
olive oil
1 cup dried apricots
1/2 cup dried figs, halved
1/4 cup raisins or sultanas
2 onions, finely sliced
2 teaspoons each ground cinnamon + coriander
2 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 cups long grain rice

1. Preheat oven to 190°C. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Heat a frying pan, add a little oil and brown chicken pieces for 5-6 minutes on each side until golden brown. Remove to a roasting pan or dish and scatter with apricots, figs and raisins.

2. In the same frying pan, cook onions over a gentle heat in a little more oil for 10 minutes until softened but not coloured. Add spices and fry for 1 minute. Add stock and bring to the boil, then pour this sauce over the chicken. Bake uncovered for 45 minutes.

3. Cook rice in boiling water for 10 minutes, then drain well. Season with salt and pepper and place in a buttered ovenproof dish. Spoon chicken and sauce on top. Cover with foil (and a lid if you have one to go with your oven dish) and bake for a further 30 minutes or until chicken tests cooked - when a sharp knife is inserted to the bone and the juices run clear.

4. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper if necessary before serving.

Serves 6



Copyright: All images and text appearing on this blog ( may not be reproduced, copied or manipulated without the written permission of Natalie Graham © 2010

  © Blogger template 2009

Back to TOP