Chicken tagine with a red quinoa mujadara
Garnished with almonds, preserved lemons, parsley and fresh apricots, cooked with candy striped beats, russets, carrots, Nicoise olives, this tagine is a well balanced flavor explosion. Ground turmeric, cayenne and cumin combined with garlic create the canvas of the dish; two sweet spices —cardamom and cloves— elevate the root vegetables. Whole caraway and coriander seeds add an element of surprise and marry up the spices with the olives.
Instead of the traditional couscous, I served the tagine over a red quinoa and french lentil mujadara prepared with shallots, green onions, garlic and vidalias, and spices (cumin, crushed Urfa peppers, and coriander).
The almonds — oh the almonds. Freshly toasted, slivered, crunchy almonds transform the flavorful, balanced and complex dish into an experience.
Mujadara: Boil a cup of quinoa and a cup of French lentils al dente in a diluted beef stock. We’re getting sufficient flavor from the spices and aromatics. Dice one medium to large onion, one shallots, and three cloves of garlic and fry in three or four tbsp of olive oil until the aromatics have sweat. Add a tbsp of cumin and a tbsp of crushed red peppers and fry for another minute. Add the boiled and strained quinoa and French lentils to the pot and mix well. Season with salt and pepper.
Making a tagine pot at home: This isn’t hard. We’re making a conic shape with aluminum foil that could be used as a lid for the (clay) pot you’re cooking the dish in.
Instructions for the tagine:
Spices: 1 tsp of cardamom, 1/2 tsp of cloves, 1 tsp of cayenne, 1/2 tbsp of cumin, 1 tsp of caraway seads, 1 tsp of turmeric, 1 tsp of curry, 1/2 tbsp of crushed white pepper, three threads of Spanish saffron (salt will be added to taste)
Prep: Season six chicken legs and fry in butter on all sides to create our favorite chemical reactions (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maillard_reaction). Set aside the chicken. Peel and dice root vegetables (four cups) — season lightly. Add olive oil to the pan and fry the vegetables until there is light browning on the surfaces. At this point add four cloves of sliced garlic, one medium chopped onion, and half of the spices. Add back the chicken to the pot and arrange in a pinwheel. Add the rest of the spices on top of the chicken. Add a third of a cup of Nicoise olives. Add four cups of chicken stock (you can use some of the leftover stock from the lentils or the quinoa) and bring to a gentle boil. Cover with the tagine cone that you manufactured and lower the temperature to sustain a simmer. Simmer until the root vegetables are cooked and season to taste. The olives will provide lots of salt unless washed prior to cooking.
Garnishes: Sweet apricots in season (sweet rather than tart), slivered almonds, chopped parsley and chopped green onions. I diced a quarter of the peel of a preserved lemon and added that as a garnish as well.