The first version I ever made of this Moroccan chicken tagine was for a stew cook-off. During my first year out of college, back when every dinner was an excuse to pack 20 people into my 4th floor walk-up, my friend Keith and I started going head to head with our culinary skills, forcing our friends to eat their dinner out of two plastic bowls, and then to choose sides. Much to my surprise and delight, this sweet and spicy chicken stew trounced Keith’s classic Beef Bourguignon.
My ego has clearly yet to recover 7 years later.
Because I am a secretly, but deeply, competitive person, this is now the first memory that comes to mind when I think of tagines in general. But all the ones before the stew cook-off have to do with my mother.
In addition to French specialties, including a beef stew that would have also undoubtedly dominated Keith’s, my mother served up a ton of Moroccan-influenced dishes when I was growing up. In her late twenties, she lived in the country for a year while working a novel. She would go back to Morocco to visit friends every now and again. But by the summer I graduated college, it had been 10 years since she had last set foot in Morocco.
So for my graduation gift, we decided to go together.
The trip had a rough start. I spent most of the first 24 hours in Fez curled up on the bathroom floor with violent food poisoning. By the next day I tried to rally so I wouldn’t miss the cooking class we signed up for, even though the idea of solid food was still slightly horrifying. If I hadn’t, I might have never won the cook-off trophy (a Solo cup of wine) and this Moroccan chicken tagine may have never made its way to you.
My stomach was on the fritz for most of the trip, and in retrospect, it’s never fully recovered. My going theory is that whatever virus or parasite I picked up en route to Morocco is what lit my immune system on fire. I was diagnosed with Hashimotos 6 months later.
But even knowing that now, I look back on the trip with the fondest of memories. If I hadn’t been too sick to make it through a hike, I wouldn’t have gotten to watch my mom negotiate in Moroccan Arabic with a farmer. And if that hadn’t happened, I would have never gotten to ride a donkey through the Atlas Mountains.
Without enough energy to weave my way through every city on foot, we pretty much spent the trip eating. And that left me with a deep love of the country and all its cumin-scented dishes.
Since I never get sick of it, I decided to tweak my old version of this award-winning Moroccan chicken tagine for Mother’s Day. Instead of wintery sweet potatoes, the stew is packed with kale and carrots. It’s a great dish if you’re thinking of trying out the Farmer’s Market Challenge, and will keep well for the weekend if you need a make-ahead dish for Sunday.
Happy early day to all you moms out there!
- 3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- Olive oil
- 2 small yellow onions, diced
- 1 pound carrots, peeled and halved lengthwise
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons ground turmeric
- 2 teaspoons ground ginger
- 1⁄2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
- 1 tablespoon salt
- One 15-ounce can diced tomatoes, with their juices
- 6 cups chicken stock
- One 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
- 1 bunch kale, stems removed, roughly chopped
- Juice of 1⁄2 lemon
- Parsley or cilantro leaves, for garnish
- Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper. In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat a thin layer of olive oil. Sear the chicken in batches over high heat, making sure not to crowd the pot, until golden-brown, about 4 minutes per side. Remove to a mixing bowl.
- Add the onions and sauté until translucent, making sure to scrape up any remaining drippings from the chicken, about 7 minutes.
- Stir in the carrots, garlic, cumin, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, cayenne, and salt. Cook until the spices are fully incorporated and aromatic, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook until thick, 5 minutes. Arrange the chicken on top of the vegetable mixture and cover with the stock.
- Bring to a simmer, turn the heat back down to low and cook, uncovered, for at least 2 hours, the longer the better.
- During the last 15 minutes of cooking, add the chickpeas, kale and lemon juice.
- Spoon the tagine into individual bowls and garnish with cilantro or parsley.