My Kitchen Groove
Have you ever lost your groove in the kitchen? Felt like cooking (and cleaning up after) was such a pain in the butt? Maybe there are those amongst us that feel this way all the time but for a food blogger this kind of mood is…odd.
My latest trip into the dinner doldrums stemmed from an empty nest. With our youngest playing football away in another city for the season, it was just the two of us. It was our first taste of ‘freedom’ but I had mixed feelings about not having the kids to cook for. Apparently my husband doesn’t count!
New Toys Bring a New Perspective
One way to cure this culinary mood is to introduce a new toy or cooking method in the kitchen. It’s a great way to get those creative juices flowing!
This is a long story but let me just tell you that I waited a long time for a new stove. I had issues with the old oven racks collapsing because they didn’t fit in the oven properly. It kept me from cooking with really heavy or breakable vessel, like a tajine.
What is a Tajine?
A tajine is basically a braising vessel. It has a conical lid that sits over top of a shallow earthernware dish and is primarily used in North Africa and the Middle East (where it is called a Maraq/Marqa). The unique shape of the lid traps condensation during cooking and recirculates it back into the food. This low liquid method of cooking is particularly useful in countries where water is scarce.
A Tajine Within a Tajine
Strangely enough, the stew cooked within a tajine is also called a tajine. This Butternut Squash Chicken Tajine contains several elements of a classic tajine. I used chicken as my main protein but goat, lamb, fish, or even pulses and legumes are popular options. Along with the proteins, other common ingredients are vegetables, nuts, dates, eggs, dried fruits and spices.
Ras el Hanout
Speaking of spices, there are quite a few featured in this tajine but don’t let that deter you from trying this recipe. Just think of all the spices together as a mix. The common spices that make up this mix are usually referred to as ‘ras el hanout‘.
The blend I made contained cinnamon, ground cumin, ground coriander, pepper, salt, turmeric, allspice, ginger, and cloves but there are many other spices that could be used. I also added saffron and cardamom so that brings my blend up to eleven spices.
Such Brilliant Flavours
Ras el hanout contains many spices that are referred to as ‘warming’. Their flavours meld into the dish and play off the other flavours usually present. Preserved lemon or olives add a touch of saltiness while dates or dried fruits add a touch of sweet. In this tajine, sweet butternut squash contributes the sweet notes.
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Winning Chicken Dinners from Dish ‘n’ the Kitchen
Butternut Squash Chicken Tajine
Butternut Squash Chicken Tagine
- 8 chicken thighs
- olive oil
- 1 small butternut squash
- 1 onion; peeled and sliced
- 1 medium tomato; seeded and diced
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley or 2 tbsp dried
- 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
- 4 whole cardamom pods; slightly smashed
- 4-5 whole cloves
- pinch of saffron (optional)
- 8-10 whole coriander seeds
- salt and pepper as needed
- Moroccan spice mix (ras el hanout)
- 1 cup cracked green olives
- 2 preserved lemons; julienned
- Begin by adding olive oil to a pan. Season the chicken thighs and sear each side in the pan until browned. Remove from pan.
- Prepare the squash by peeling it, de-seeding it, and slicing into 2 cm cubes.
- Add a bit more oil and the sliced onions to the pan. Add half of the ras el hanout spice mixture.
- Sauté onions until softened, add the squash cubes. Sauté another 5 minutes.
- Add diced tomatoes, olives (if using) and chicken stock. Bring up to a boil.
- Add parsley and cilantro, cardamom pods, cloves, coriander seeds and saffron, if using.
- Transfer to a tajine (or ovensafe lidded pot like a Dutch oven) and bake in a 350 F oven for 45 minutes.
- Add julienned preserved lemon and cook 15-20 longer or until the chicken is tender.
- Cover and simmer until chicken is tender. Add preserved lemon and cook another 15 minutes.