chicken, preserved lemon & olive tagine


at long last, here’s a recipe my sister requested probably at least a month ago. though now she’s on a business trip in germany, so this really won’t do her much good. to be fair, many of the tagine ingredients (e.g. preserved lemons, canned olives, sad onions at the back of my crisper drawer) are fairly non-perishable – at least, I hope they are! – so I’ve been just letting them sit around, but late last week, the thanksgiving leftovers finally ran out and it was time to cook something new.

“tagine” refers to both the dish and the earthenware pot in which it is cooked. it originated in north africa and supposedly, its large, lidded structure was meant to create a mini-oven on top of a stove since most households did not have ovens and its conical shape returned condensation to the stew while it slow-cooked over a low fire so that less water (a prized commodity in the desert climate) would be required to make the stew. it’s fascinating to me that this flavorful stew (which often features ambrosial dried fruits, another non-perishable ingredient) emerged from innovation in the face of necessity.

reading up on tagines reminded me of a conversation I once had with a friend who did her peace corps assignment in tanzania. if her host family wanted bread, they made the dough at their home then carried it through the village to the one house that had an oven. sometimes, they would have to wait for it to be available and that one loaf of bread could consume the whole day.

a avid baker like me could not imagine living in a home without an oven, and in fact, even the dingiest tiny studios I’ve lived in have had at least a tiny oven. but while living and serving in a non-westernized, developing part of the world, my friend learned to live with not only no oven, but also weak and often unreliable refrigeration and unreliable electricity in general. much of the world still lives without the modern luxuries that we in the u.s. take for granted, and they still have rich and happy lives. she was reminded daily of how grateful she was for the things she had grown up with – but also that she ultimately did not need all these things.

anyways, right now life is a little miserable, but there is much to be grateful for – I was lucky enough to spend thanksgiving with twenty loving and supportive family members, now have a really nice tagine to enjoy for the next few days, and I know that in a bit, I’ll have come out on the other side.


makes 4-6 servings

olive oil
50g (~4 tbsp) butter
2 large onions, roughly diced
4 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground ginger
6 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
pinch of saffron threads
2 tsp boiling water
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
170g (~3/4 cup) green olives, pitted
3 preserved lemons, halved or sliced
flat leaf parsley, for garnish

sabrina ghayour. persiana: recipes from the middle east and beyond. london: mitchell beazley. 2014.

1 in a large tagine, dutch oven, or lidded heavy-bottomed pot, heat a generous drizzle of olive oil with butter in a large saucepan set of medium heat. add onions and fry until translucent but not brown (3-4 minutes), then mix in garlic slices, coriander, and ginger, and cook until fragrant (~1 minute).
2 lightly season chicken thighs with salt and pepper, then add to tagine skin side-down, and cook until lightly browned (~5 minutes on each side).
3 while chicken cooks, crumble saffron threads between your fingers into a small bowl, then add boiling water. infuse for a few minutes, then pour over the chicken.
4 pour in just enough water to almost cover thighs, cover pan with a lid, and simmer for 2 hours.
5 after 2 hours, stir in olives and preserved lemon slices. simmer – partially covered for a more concentrated stew or completely covered for a more soupy stew – for another 15 minutes, stirring once or twice to prevent bottom from burning.
6 remove tagine from heat, garnish with roughly chopped parsley, and serve. (suggested: accompaniments: couscous, rice, potatoes, or bread)

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