Sunday, June 25, 2017

A Moroccan Meal

While some people make lists of things to do during the summer, we make lists of things to cook during the summer. The items on our list may include a general type of cooking or a specific dish that we want to prepare. We will try to share some of our success stories with you along the way.

We decided to start our summer cooking adventures with a Moroccan themed meal. I find Morocco a very intriguing country and one I would like to visit some time. For those of you who are not familiar with its location, Morocco is a North African country which is just across the Strait of Gibraltar from Spain. For a little added perspective, the area of Morocco is roughly the size of the Appalachian region of the United States. My earliest recollections of learning anything about Morocco go back to when I was about six years old. I have memories of an article in a junior-type National Geographic magazine titled "The Faces of Fez." I really don't remember much else about this article.
Morocco is officially known as the Kingdom of Morocco. It has a very ethnically diverse culture and has interacted with many other people groups throughout history. The Phoenicians drew Morocco into trade among other Mediterranean countries and cultural groups. Its indigenous people are the Berbers, however, its modern culture has been influenced by Arabian, sub-Saharan African, Jewish, Spanish, Portuguese, and French cultures.
Atlas Mountains
Sahara Desert
Morocco's geography is also highly diverse and includes fertile coastal regions, portions of the Sahara desert, and the Atlas mountains. The picture below of the city of Fez pictures date palms.
Tourism is an important aspect of Morocco's economy. Among its most noted landmarks is the Koutoubia mosque in Marakesh. 

Morocco's cuisine is also as diverse as its history, culture, and geography. A tajine is a typical North African dish which shares its name with the earthenware pot in which it is cooked. The first mention of a tajine dates back to about the 9th century. A Moroccan tajine is typically a stew that includes meat, fish or poultry as well as vegetables and/or dried fruit. The dish is typically seasoned with ginger, cumin, turmeric, saffron, and cinnamon. The tajine is often served with couscous or rice and bread.
Here is the recipe we used for our Moroccan meal. I hope that you will enjoy it as well.

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
3 tbsp olive oil
2 onions - chop one and cut the other into large slices/chunks
1/4 - 1/2 cup chopped tomato
1-2 tbsp grated ginger (feel free to start with a smaller amount and add more to taste)
3 garlic cloves
1 large butternut squash peeled, de-seeded, and cut into chunks
1 quart of chicken stock (you may end up needing more)
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
Moroccan seasoning (I'm including a picture of the blend we used and will explain how we used it in this recipe. If possible, it's nice to have two people working on this recipe together. Some of the steps can occur simultaneously so the extra set of hands makes for more efficient work.
1. First we are going to cook the chicken. Heat about 2 tbsp of the oil in a large Dutch oven. Rub the chicken with the Moroccan seasoning and cook it in the oil until done. Remove the chicken from the Dutch oven, cut into bite size chunks, and set aside.
2. While the chicken is cooking, mix the chopped onion, tomatoes, ginger and garlic together in a food processor. Here is what our mixture looked like after processing.
3. By this point, your kitchen is smelling amazing, but, there is still plenty to do so let's move on to the next steps.
4. Back to the Dutch oven - pour in an additional tablespoon of oil and sauté the sliced onion. As I mentioned earlier, I made wide, chunky onion slices that would hold up through the cooking process. Sauté until they are softening up and stir in about a teaspoon or so of the Moroccan seasoning - you can always adjust and add more later. Stir in the tomato mixture and cook for about another minute or so until everything is nicely combined. 
5. Now it's time to stir in the chicken stock and add in the squash, brown sugar, and vinegar. Cook for about 30 minutes or so until the squash is fork tender. Here's a picture of the sizes of the squash chunks.
6. Stir the cooked chicken into the mixture and adjust seasonings as needed. Depending on your preferences, you could also add in the individual spices that are part of the Moroccan seasoning mix. Here's the finished tajine.
7. Now, we're going to put together a garnish to sprinkle over the top of the individual bowls. Mix together some feta cheese, very finely minced red onion, some sprinkles of lemon zest and a few chopped mint leaves. Use whatever proportions you like. Here's what our mixture looked like.
8. Serve over couscous or rice. We also made some naan bread to go with ours. You could also try a more traditional Moroccan khobz flatbread.
Happy eating!