Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Moroccan Chicken with Preserved Lemon and Olive

This is my third post on Moroccan cuisine. The first was harira, a popular dish many Moroccans use to break the Ramadan fast. (That post was picked up by WBUR's online site: http://publicradiokitchen.wbur.org/2011/10/28/food-therapy-from-in-the-kitchen-with-eva). It is a hearty stew featuring either beef or lamb, chickpeas, lentils, pasta, and green beans in a flavorful broth.

When I look at recipes, I'm as interested in the spice palette as I am the main ingredients. The Moroccan use of cinnamon, saffron and cumin won me over and I spent time looking for more recipes to try. I really appreciate the fact that Moroccan dishes are committed to ensuring that the spices blend with the main ingredient, through long, slow cooking.

In my recipe search, I came across a dish that is very popular in Morocco: chicken with preserved lemon and olives. My interest was piqued by the use of preserved lemon, which I had never used before. And there's a reason for that; preserved lemon are not readily found in most supermarkets. That was fine by me as I knew that there had to be a recipe out there. And there was! I was pleased to discover that preserved lemon was relatively easy to make (http://inthekitchenwitheva-eva.blogspot.com/2011/11/preserved-lemons.html). The only drawback was that I would have to wait three weeks to use them to make the chicken dish. It takes that long for the salt and lemon/vinegar to infuse into the lemons and tenderize the rind. This was my second post on Moroccan cooking.

Three weeks passed and by the time the preserved lemons were ready for use, I had spent considerable time reviewing a wide range of recipes for Moroccan chicken with preserved lemon and olives. I chose one that I found online (closetcooking.com).

I did not have harissa (a Moroccan spice paste made from dried chili peppers, garlic and spices)) on hand and had to make it. The end result made the effort worthwhile, although it was somewhat time-consuming.

I recommend doubling the recipe so that you have a good amount on hand for other dishes that require harissa. Be forewarned that using dried red chilies --even if you are careful to remove all the pith and seeds -- will still yield a very fiery harissa. If you can't take too much heat, consider using milder chilies. The point is for you to be able to enjoy the dish and not have to focus on the sensation of heat permeating through your mouth. I love heat so I used Southeast Asian dried red chilies. Not for the faint of heart!

I had all the spices on hand for the harissa except for caraway seeds. They were on the expensive side - $5.99 for a very small bottle. I ground them in the coffee grinder before adding them to the rest of the mixture. If you want to release more flavor, you could heat the seeds over a low flame in a non-stick pan. Let them cool before grinding them.

The spice palette for the harissa is ground coriander, caraway seeds and cumin.

Harissa (recipe taken from mideastfood.about.com)


10-12 dried red chili peppers
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground caraway seeds
1/2 teaspoon cumin


Soak the dried chilies in hot water for 30 minutes.

Drain. Remove stems and seeds.

In a food processor combine chili peppers, garlic, salt, and olive oil. Blend.

Add remaining spices and blend to form a smooth paste.

Store in airtight container. Drizzle a small amount of olive oil on top to keep fresh. Will keep for a month in the refrigerator.

Moroccan Chicken Tagine with Olives and Preserved Lemons
(makes 4 servings)
Printable Recipe

1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 pinch saffron
salt and pepper to taste (The blogger makes a good point -- go easy on the salt. Olives and the preserved lemons both have their fair share. Wait until the end to add salt, if it's needed.)

1 whole chicken (cut into 8 pieces, or chicken thighs or breasts - I used drumsticks)
1 tablespoon oil (vegetable oil is good for cooking with a high flame)
1 onion (sliced)
2 cloves garlic (chopped)
1 teaspoon ginger (grated)
1/2 cup water (or chicken stock)
1 preserved lemon (pith removed, and peel rinsed and sliced)
1 cup olives
1 tablespoon harissa (You could probably find it in specialty shops, but I opted to find a recipe for it and make it myself. Make it before you tackle the recipe.)
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 cup parsley (chopped)
1/4 cup cilantro (chopped)


Mix the paprika, cayenne pepper, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, saffron, salt and pepper

and rub it into the chicken.

Make sure you clean the chicken well. I use either lemon juice or white vinegar.

Heat the oil in a large pan.

Add the chicken and brown on all sides and set aside.

Let the chicken darken to a beautiful spice-infused brown.

Remove the browned chicken from the pot and set aside.

Add the onion, and saute for 3 minutes.

Add the garlic and ginger and saute until fragrant, about a minute. I used a bit more ginger because I love it so much!

Add the water (I recommend using chicken stock as it's more flavorful)

and chicken.

Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.

Add the preserved lemon (Remove the flesh and pith and slice the peel thinly. I actually used a bit of the flesh, which was a great combination of salt and lemon.)

The preserved lemon really has an elegant look! I had to stop myself from eating all the slices.

Add the olives (I used a combination of Spanish and nicoise olives).

Add the harissa

and honey

and simmer, covered, for 25 minutes.

Remove from heat and mix in the parsley and cilantro.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Caramel Apple Cupcakes

I like to feature apples during the fall. There are lots of ways to enjoy them beyond the traditional apple pie. So I started flipping through my cookbook collection to find inspiration, which eventually came from Baking . . . Made Simple. I found the small cookbook at Marshall's, which often has great, cheap cookbooks.

I found a nice recipe for caramel apple cupcakes, which looked promising based on the picture. I could tell from the amount of sugar that they weren't going to be super sweet, which was fine by me. The twist that really caught my attention was the topping, which was made of apple slices and caramel and gave the cupcakes a pretty look.

Mine came out well, although they did not look as pretty as the picture in the cookbook.

They were good served at breakfast and as a snack-- probably not sweet enough for dessert. I would make them again.

Caramel Apple Cupcakes
Ingredients (serves 12)

2 apples
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
generous 1/4 cup light brown sugar
4 tbsp butter, plus extra for greasing
scant 1/2 cup milk
scant 1/2 cup apple juice
1 egg, beaten

caramel topping
2 tbsp. light cream
3 tbsp light brown sugar
12/ tbsp butter

1. Grease a 12-cup muffin pan (preferably nonstick).

2. Core and coarsely grate one of the apples.

Slice the remaining apple into 1/4 inch thick wedges

and toss in the lemon juice.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and cinnamon, then stir in the sugar and grated apple.

3. Melt the butter and mix with the milk, apple juice, and egg.

Stir the liquid mixture into the dry ingredients,

mixing lightly

until just combined.

4. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin pan.

Put two apple slices on top of each cake.

5. Bake in a preheated oven, 400 degrees F. for 20-25 minutes, or until risen, firm and golden brown. Run a knife around the edge of the each cake to loosen, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool.

6. For the caramel topping, place all the ingredients in a small saucepan

and heat, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved.

Increase the heat and boil rapidly for 2 minutes, or until slightly thickened and syrupy. Cool slightly, then drizzle over the cakes and let set.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Preserved Lemons

You can tell from my blog that I tend to gravitate toward cuisines and dishes that feature rich spice palettes. Southeast Asian and South Asian cuisines certainly qualify on that score, as does Moroccan cuisine.

A few weeks back I featured a great recipe on harira (http://inthekitchenwitheva-eva.blogspot.com/2011/10/harira-for-me-nothing-is-more.html), a meat stew that Moroccans traditionally use to break their Ramadan fast. It came out so well that I made it twice in a two-week period.

As I was exploring the possibility of making other Moroccan dishes, I noticed that a number of the tagines require an item not easily found on supermarket shelves: preserved lemons. Several recipes for Moroccan chicken with lemon and olive feature this tart, preserved fruit.

Rather than resign myself to defeat, I set about finding a recipe for preserved lemons and found several. Some preserve the lemons in lemon juice while others rely on white vinegar, which is what I used. Some add whole spices such as cinnamon sticks and peppercorns, while others do not.

The most challenging part of the recipe is the fact that you won't be able to use the lemons for about three weeks, which is the length of time it takes for them to be properly preserved.

I have just hit the three-week mark, so check in soon for a post on Moroccan chicken with preserved lemons and olives!

Preserved Lemons (Adapted from simplyrecipes.com)


8-10 lemons, scrubbed very clean
1/2 cup kosher salt, more if needed
Extra fresh squeezed lemon juice (or white vinegar), if needed

Sterilized quart canning jar

1. Place 2 Tbsp of kosher salt

in the bottom of a sterilized jar.

2. One by one, prepare the lemons in the following way. Cut off any protruding stems from the lemons, and cut 1/4 inch off the tip of each lemon.

3. Cut the lemons as if you were going to cut them in half lengthwize, starting from the tip, but do not cut all the way. Keep the lemon attached at the base. Make another cut in a similar manner, so now the lemon is quartered, but again, attached at the base.

3 Pry the lemons open and generously sprinkle salt all over the insides and outsides of the lemons.

4 If you like, you can put peppercorns and a cinnamon stick

in the jars before adding the lemons.

5. Pack the lemons in the jar, squishing them down so that juice is extracted and the lemon juice rises to the top of the jar. Fill up the jar with lemons, make sure the top is covered with lemon juice. Add more fresh squeezed lemon juice if necessary. Top with a couple tablespoons of salt.

5 Seal the jar and let sit at room temperature for a couple days. Turn the jar upside down occasionally. Put in refrigerator and let sit, again turning upside down occasionally, for at least 3 weeks, until lemon rinds soften.

6. To use, remove a lemon from the jar and rinse thoroughly in water to remove salt. Discard seeds before using. Discard the pulp before using, if desired.

7. Store in refrigerator for up to 6 months.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Eating in Accra

Recently I went to Accra, the capital of the West African nation of Ghana. Ghana is noted for being the first black African country to achieve political independence, which it did from Great Britain in 1956. It is a point of pride for the nation, and understandably so.

Although I was there to attend a conference on natural resources, I knew that I had to make exploring the local food culture a priority. Before leaving for Ghana, I did a bit of research on the national cuisine. There is, however, no substitute for local knowledge -- talking to locals and eating!

Groundnut stews are popular throughout West Africa and they feature in Ghana's cuisine as well. I had had exposure to groundnut stew on a trip to Sierra Leone, so I was more interested in other dishes that were more distinctly Ghanaian. While national in scope, some foods have regional origins. For example, in the north you're likely to find lots of yams and corn, while in the south plantains and cassava feature prominently in various dishes.

Given Ghana's location on the coast, seafood is common. Large, sweet prawns and a variety of fish can be found from local street carts to posh hotel restaurants. Ghanaians take particular pride in their grilled tilapia and banku, the latter a corn-based mush. The tilapia is seasoned well and served with red bell peppers, green peppers and onion. Another starch eaten throughout Ghana is fufu, which is pounded yam or pounded cassava mixed with plantain and commonly served with soups and stews.

As I learned more about Ghanaians' eating habits I was reminded of Jamaican cuisine. That makes sense, given the fact that many Ghanaians ended up in Jamaica as slaves. Boiled yam, cassava, green and ripe plantain all figure prominently as staples in both the Ghanaian and Jamaican diets.

I was expecting to find lots of rice on restaurant menus. Fortunately for me, a self-professed carbs gal, it went beyond plain, boiled white rice. Instead, Ghanaians make a rich, flavorful rice cooked in a seasoned tomato sauce. Jollof rice was delicious and I could have eaten it at every meal. It reminded me of of jambalaya rice that is a mainstay of New Orleans cuisine. I wouldn't be surprised if slaves from the Gold Coast ended up in New Orleans and contributed jollof rice to the local diet.

All meals are served with the ubiquitous pepper sauces that add a welcome dose to heat to Ghanaian food. Two are most commonly served. One features chilies and tomatoes. The other, which is very dark, reminded me of pepper sauces and sambals that I eat when I go to Southeast Asia. Shito is made from garlic, tomatoes, spices, either fish or vegetable oil, and either dried fish or dried shellfish. It's pungent. And a little goes a long way. Novices should go easy on these fiery sauces, though.

Unfortunately, my time in Accra was quite short and I had to be focused and efficient in my pursuit of local cuisine. I wasted no time. After arriving at the beachfront hotel, I found out that there was one more day left of Ghana's International Trade Promotion Fair, which featured a food and music festival!

The woman who helped to organize the conference that I was there to attend told me about it. Josephine was kind enough to walk me from the hotel to the Fair. On the way, I had a chance to learn about Ghana's cuisine.

My objective in going to the fair was to sample typical street food. My work takes me all over the world and it's my firm belief that you absolutely must sample street food to get a true gauge on the country's cuisine.

I arrived to the pulsing rhythms of Ghanaian music, played by a live band on stage. The music was blasting, but I didn't mind.

There were two rows of carts selling various snacks. I saw sausages, some of which looked like bratwurst. Lamb and beef kebabs were also common.

The snacks that really caught my attention were the pieces of fried fish and the jumbo shrimp, fried in their shells in coconut oil!

I bought three jumbo shrimp, which set me back all of US $2.00. The shrimp are eaten with the shell, which becomes like a potato chip as a result of the deep fat frying. I detected a slight smokiness to the shrimp and was quite pleased.

Continuing with the seafood theme, I found a street cart that was selling fried fish with the bone in. The fish were jammed tightly into the case.

You tell the seller how many pieces you want and she takes them out of the case and puts them in a plastic bag.

The sellers were not particularly keen on a lot of conversation, so I was not able to find out the type of fish I was eating. Experience, texture, oiliness and the look told me that it was very likely a mackerel. The fish was crispy on the outside yet moist on the inside, definitely the right balance. Again, I picked up a smoky flavor, which I loved. Eating around the bones was a bit of a challenge, but one well worth the effort. The fish was priced like the shrimp. My belly was happily full for about US $5.00.

Having experienced a taste of the street food scene, I decided that I would visit the famous Makola Market. When I told my Ghanaian friend, Kwesi, that I had gone there he said that I was crazy. "We never go there." Oh. Too late. Makola was a heart-pounding, over-stimulating, wild experience. My foot was nearly run over twice by trucks and I was followed by a young teenager who found me fascinating, for some unknown reason.

After weaving my way through rows of toothpaste, textiles, pots and pans, I found the food market. All I had to do was follow my nose, which filled with the scents of pungent spices and sun-heated meats.

I was immediately struck by the huge snails that moved slowly in burlap-lined containers.

Colorful spices caught my eye.I saw pepper, nutmeg, bay leaf, cumin and other spices.

The Makola Market also featured lots of fresh produce. Tomatoes are a mainstay of Ghanaian cuisine, as commonly used as onions and garlic.

And of course, various kinds of smoked fish were everywhere.

Grouper, tilapia and red snapper seemed to be the most common.

I obviously couldn't buy any fresh produce, but I was quite tempted to buy spices. But I also was not keen on the possibility of being heavily fined upon arrival in the US for bringing in agricultural products. Sadly, I left Makola without buying any food-related items.

I was curious what restaurant food would be like. Unfortunately, my time was so limited that I did not have a chance to venture out and really absorb the local restaurant scene.

Kwesi's uncle kindly took me to dinner at a "local joint." The problem? No night lights. We ate in darkness. Literally. I could barely see my hand before my face. So taking pictures was just not possible. But the experience was memorable. I ate a large, grilled tilapia with banku. Two pepper sauces accompanied the entree. Determined to do things the Ghanaian way, I washed my hands with soap in a bowl of water that the waitress brought to the table. I ate with my hands, which somehow made the meal more satisfying.

I did have other worthwhile experiences with local food. The Ghanaian Village Restaurant, located at the LaPalm Royal Resort, became my go-to spot for lunch because of the lack of time to venture away from the conference. I enjoyed sitting at a table overlooking the beach.

The sounds of the waves crashing against the shore made for soothing meals. The only minor annoyance was a beach seller who was determined to chat with me once he found out that I was from the United States. The topic of discussion? Barack Obama. I gave polite, but short answers that satisfied his desire to talk, yet gave me the space to eat in peace.

The menu was filled with local specialties, some of which I didn't quite have the courage to try. For example, grasscutter soup is made from a rat-like animal. Where's Andrew Zimmern when you need him?

I found enough options to satisfy my desire to experience Ghanaian food. One particular dish that I really enjoyed was a grilled, sliced fish (grouper) served with onions and peppers, with fufu as the starch. Of course, I couldn't get enough of the pepper sauces.

I thoroughly enjoyed the food scene in Accra and only regret that I didn't have more time to explore. The upside is that I have a reason to return.