The kind of tajine I decided to prepare is a chicken tajine (djaj mqualli) with dried fruits. It is the recipe that my friend Yasmina and I decided to prepare for this past Sunday’s Moroccan cooking class that we hosted together. A cooking class that was a major hit and was sold out only a week after we opened the registrations!
This is the second tajine that we are featuring on 196 flavors. The first one was an Algerian tajine with veal, potatoes, artichokes and carrots.
There are really two main categories of tagines in Morocco. Mhammer and mqalli tajines.
In mhammer tajines, the meat may be pre-cooked over the stove, but it is always eventually roasted in the oven with saman (clarified butter). In mqalli tajines, the meat is simmered on the stove with oil, and it is served with the sauce.
There are a number of meats that can go in a tajine. Beside chicken, a tagine can feature other types of poultry like squab or quail, as well as veal, lamb, fish, potatoes, or legumes like chickpeas or lentils.
The word tajine or tagine (الطاجين in Arabic) is not only the word for this North African dish but also for the earthenware pot in which the dish is actually cooked.
The iconic conical lid (try to say that fast!) of the tagine is what helps to keep the steam that builds during the cooking inside the pot. As water is a precious resource in dry climate North Africa, the tagine allows for the dish to cook with minimal additional water, and mainly use the water contained in the ingredients, including the onions.
The earliest records about the concept of cooking in a tajine appear in 1001 Arabian Nights (Alf layla wa layla), the famous collection of Arabic folk tales from the 9th century. Tajine may have already been popular amongst the nomadic Bedouin people of the Arabian Peninsula before they migrated to the Maghreb. They added dried fruits including dates, apricots and plums to give tajine its unique sweet and savory taste.
Tagine pots were originally placed over the coals of a wood fire, allowing the dishes to gently cook for several hours. Nowadays, North African people often cook the dish in a Dutch oven on a stove and only present the tajine in the earthenware pot, in order to save time.
Contrary to popular belief, tajines are generally served with bread and not couscous. This is exactly how Yasmina and I served our djaj mqualli with dried fruits to our 30 students last week, as our tajine was accompanied by taktouka and zaalouk.
A delicious feast indeed!
Recipe of Djaj Mqualli (Chicken Tajine) with Dried Fruits
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 1 hour 10 minutes
Ingredients (for 6 people)
- 2 lb chicken (cut in pieces)
2 large onions, grated
5 oz pitted prunes
5 oz dried apricots
6 oz whole almonds, blanched and peeled
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads, diluted in 2 teaspoons hot water
1 cinnamon stick
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon orange blossom water
1 teaspoon ginger
In a large pot, on medium/high heat, add 3 tablespoons of oil, the onions, salt, pepper, diluted saffron, ginger, cinnamon stick and the chicken. Cook for 10 minutes uncovered.
Add 1/4 cup of water. Cover and cook until chicken is tender and cooked all the way through, about 30 to 40 minutes.
Take the chicken out and put aside.
In the same pot, add the prunes and apricots and cook on medium heat for 10 minutes, then add the orange blossom water and the honey. Reduce on low heat until you get a thick sauce.
Add the chicken back to the pot.
Deep fry the almonds in a bath of vegetable oil on medium heat until golden, about 2 to 3 minutes.
Before serving, reheat the chicken and dress on a plate with the prunes and apricots. Add the sauce and the almonds on top.