On food extremism, tajine, preserved lemons and parsley roots

February 21st, 2011 § 1 comment

I have a confession to make: I can turn into a heavy-duty food extremist when it comes to the food close to my heart…

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Don’t get me wrong, I do not mind free interpretations (I wouldn’t be well placed complaining about that) as long as the essence of the original cuisine remains. What bothers me, in particular in restaurants who are representing a specific cuisine, is, too often, the lack of care, of taste and the prevalence of quantity over quality… Hence my efforts in avoiding eating out in restaurants claiming any remote connection to Moroccan or Arabic cuisine when in Europe. I’ve gone through to many disappointments.

I thought I had gone milder with the years, and it is not only out of politeness but also out of real curiosity that I followed my friend A into hotel/restaurant Le Bazar in Rotterdam for a late dinner. I loved the decorum which kinds of made me feel like being in a Turkish bazar lost somewhere in Mexico, very ‘Hollywood cliche’. But then came the menu, and with it the awakening of the food extremist in me. I saw myself begging my friend to please, oh please not take El’ couscous…

I wished the Bazar had proved me (and my not so discrete disdain) wrong, but they didn’t: The hummus we shared for starter tasted like a blend creamed Marseille soap. I was more lucky with my main dish a turkish style spicy lamb kebab with rice and yogurt which was ok, but El’couscous was mediocre with tasteless grain and sauce. Had the food been a little less cliche and a little more tasteful… Too bad, the place looked cool.

On the bright side, this adventure in the souk of Rotterdam turned into a fruitful urge to a) make it up to my friend for my incongruous behavior, b) give her a taste of what proper Moroccan food is all about and c) try out those preserved lemons that my mum brought me back at Christmas.

All in all, a pretty good tajine, free improvisation (couldn’t reach my mom!) of the dish Djej’ M’Chermel, one of the most popular chicken tajines in Morocco: Chicken slowly stewed with onions and parsley, in a rich saffron sauce with preserved lemons and purple olives. I skipped the olives (cause the dutchie does not like them so much) and added the parsley roots that I had almost forgotten in the bottom of my market basket. The latter, although not traditional, gave a sweet balance to the dish that we all appreciated. I served it like they use to serve it in my family, with fries.

 

M’chermel style chicken tajine with preserved lemon* and parsley roots
Tajine de Poulet facon M’chermel au citron confit et racines de persil

serves 4 pers.
prep: 20 min. cook: 50 min

Ingredients:

  • 4 chicken legs (or better: 1 farm chicken cut in 6 to 8 pieces)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 onions, peeled and  chopped
  • 1 shallot, , peeled and chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled, germ removed and crushed
  • 1 small preserved lemon*, felsh discarded and thoroughly rinsed to remove most of the preserving salts
  • 1 small handful parsley, roughly chopped
  • 1 small handful cilantro, roughly chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ginger powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 pinch saffron threads
  • sea salt, pepper and chili pepper to taste
  • 150 ml water
  • 400 g parsley roots, peeled and cut into sticks
  • optional: 1 handful purple or green olives, rinsed


In a cast iron cocotte / ‘dutch oven’**, heat up the olive oil. Brown the chicken on all sides for about 5 to 8 minutes. Lower the heat to medium heat. Add the onions, shallot, garlic, herbs, the spices (ginger, turmeric and saffron) and 1/4 of the preserved lemon rind chopped thinly. Season to taste with sea salt, pepper and chili pepper. Toss well to coat the chicken with the spices. Leave to reduce for a couple of minutes. Pour the water, toss and bring to a gentle simmer on low heat.

Simmer covered for about 20 minutes. Add the parsley roots, and the rest of the preserved lemon rind cut in thin strips . At this point you can also add olives if you wish. Simmer covered for 15 more minutes or until chicken and parsley roots are cooked through.

If the sauce is to thin (which happened to me since the parsley roots rendered water while cooking), strain the juices into a small pan. Keep the meet and vegetables warm, while you reduce the juices on medium heat until the desired consistancy. Serve hot, preferably with crispy fries.

Bon appétit!


* Preserved lemons can generally be found in oriental deli’s. Otherwise they are pretty easy and fun to make yourself as you can read on Food Gal’s blog. Preferably use organic lemons since the rind will be eaten. You could get a very decent result with fresh organic lemon rind and some lemon juice instead of the preserved lemon, but you will miss a little ‘je-ne-sais-quoi’.
** You could of course prepare this dish in a traditional Tajine. In that case, it can be handy to first brown the meat in a large frying pan before transferring the chicken and its juices to the tajine for the reminder of the preparation.

 

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§ One Response to On food extremism, tajine, preserved lemons and parsley roots

  • Sophie says:

    ça me rappelle juste mon dîner dans un soit-disant restaurant français à Rome : absolument infâme ! à part le fromage qui venait de France et qui n’avait donc pas dû être cuisiné !!!

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