Thursday, March 15, 2007

Couscous Calling - Preserved Lemon Tagine

I have wanted a tagine since the year 440 BC.

Let me fast forward. I have wanted a tagine since 1992, when I read the passage in The English Patient where the war-weary nurse Hana reads from handwritten notes tucked into a ragtag copy of Herodotus (circa 440 BC) kept by the mysterious patient. Imbat, aajej, simoom, are among the many melodious and menacing Arabic evocations for winds that are weak or wicked, soothing or severe. There are possibly as many words for wind in Arabic as there are words for snow in Eskimo. When nature is, at it must be, anthropomorphized, it rouses all the senses like spices and links us back to the Earth with ground powders of turmeric, ginger and cayenne. If you could hold all the heat and hearth of those spices in just one vessel, what would it be? It must be a tagine, the conical clay pot that cradles a stew swirling in steam, so fragrant, flavorful and fiery.

And so unforgettable, until last year when a tagine came to visit our home and became a member of the family. Scott and I had enjoyed many wedding gifts from our generous friends and family, so many beautiful things. And as is practical when giving to a couple who were combining mature households full of their own belongings and equipment, we did receive a number of envelopes and gift cards, for the couple who has everything….or almost…

It was never a question whether we would get a tagine or not. The more pressing issue was which one and what color? I Googled everywhere, collecting a dizzying array of choices as well as recipes. Finally the decision was rent from my hands by the simple fear that whatever I ordered would not safely make the journey from the warehouse to our condo. I got in the car and drove to Williams-Sonoma. I still had a choice to make, the break-your-toes weight of the Le Crueset in an assortment of hip party colors or the traditional earthen red Emile Henry. My hand went up for Henry.

The tagine, THE tagine, is now such an integral part of the household that I am repainting the kitchen walls exactly the same ruddled hue so that our hearth will feel the heat even when the oven isn’t on.

Chicken Tagine with Preserved Lemons (and Couscous*) - Adapted from A Big Slice and easier than the LATimes recipe linked above.
(The original recipe is ferociously hot. If you can stand the scalding tongue or have plenty of beer on hand, you have my blessing).


2 tablespoons olive oil
3 pounds chicken thighs (with or without skin or bone)
1 large onion, chopped
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 ½ teaspoons cayenne
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ cup water
½ cup kalamata olives, drained
½ preserved lemon, slivered, retaining pulp
1 handful golden seedless raisins
1 15 ½ oz. can chickpeas, undrained
1 handful fresh cilantro leaves, chopped


Preheat oven to 325°.

In a large, heavy skillet sauté the onion until golden and transparent. Add all the spices, stirring to mix. Add chicken thighs, turning frequently to evenly brown and coat with the spices. Arrange chicken thighs in the bottom of a tagine or ovenproof pot which has a well-fitting cover. Add the water to the skillet, scrapping to remove any remaining bits of spice mixture. Pour this water over the chicken pieces in the tagine. Evenly spread the olives, lemon slivers, raisins, and chickpeas in their water over the chicken pieces. Scatter with cilantro. Cover tagine, position in oven, and bake for approx. 40 minutes or until the juices in chicken run clear. It will not dry out if you bake it longer.

* Couscous can be found in Middle Eastern grocers, natural food stores, and in the rice and grain section of a larger supermarket. Couscous is a foolproof grain product and much easier than pasta to prepare. Just follow the directions on package. I used whole wheat and we were very satisfied with the results. --


  1. That looks great Susan! Even with the chickpeas ;) I've seen that tagine too at W-S and have yearned for it!!!

  2. Thanks, Dani. You'll get your authentic tagine some day, you'll see. From what I understand, some of them can be used on the stove burner just like a skillet. Nice to see you here.

  3. I use preserved lemon very often, I love them. As for tagine, I cook them quite often too and my favourite is chicken, dried apricots and honey.

  4. Hi, Anne. I love it, too, but use less than the recipe calls for b/c it is so potent & salty. Chicken, dried apricots and honey tagine sounds fantastic. I hope to be posting a recipe w/ dried apricots in the near future.

  5. I made this dish for my dad and husband, my two most picky eaters! It was really good and they enjoyed it. I was happy to find a recipe that actually uses a tagine pot not slow cooker.