North-African food culture is a strong part of my general education at home. I come from quite a mixed family, from ancient Spain and French Algeria to Eastern European and Slavic countries, and a small part of my extended family is now residing in Israel, so it comes with no surprise that lots of my relatives have brought all sorts of influences on the dinner table, all my life long. At home, we love gathering around “fam dins” and in that sense, dinner “with family” is never served for just 5 or 6 people; it’s more about getting 8 to 25 siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers together around a meal. An outstanding meal actually, it always is.
My paternal grandmother (born French in Algeria) often is the cook of our family dinners. She is doing it less and less by herself now that she’s 85 years old, but she still holds on pretty well to her reputation of “the one that knows how to get it done” when it comes to pleasing every single guest sitting around her table. At her age, when 25 or more people are coming over for dinner, she doesn’t just cook one main, but four of them, plus sides…! Therefore, she’s nailing it at quite some North-African dishes, and she’s been cooking the best Maghrebi tajines for us for like ages! Tajine is that common dish to Morocco and Algeria (but apparently not Tunisia), that consists of a slow-cooked savory stew of meat and spices over onions and sometimes dried fruits (such as dates, prunes, apricots…) for sweet and sour versions. Although I personally don’t relate to Moroccan and modern Algerian people nor culture, I do fancy lots of their flavorful dishes and I do find their cuisine amazingly appealing, especially because of all the spices as well as the sweet and savory combinations it offers in various ways. Today, African world food challenge it is, I am cooking a Moroccan Tajine, a fully savory one, the Olive and Lemon Chicken Tajine, with Couscous. Morocco, here we come! Someday, I’ll have to go and visit you for real, though…
Recently, my grandmother taught me how to up my game when it comes to steaming couscous with a twist, and how to turn it into a much more flavorsome semolina thanks to a smart combination of herbs. The only issue is to succeed in being provided with the right aromatics contained in it, so when I asked her where I’d be able to purchase them here in Nice, she innocently replied that she had no clue, that she always gets them from her Moroccan housekeeper who brings her a small plastic bag filled with the magical herbs when she goes back home over to Morocco for her annual vacation and returns months later to Nice for work. Please note my grandma has been living in France since 1962… Hum… I can’t believe she never found a local provider in our own town but always relied on her (super loyal) housekeeper! I mean, it’s been 55 years, can you believe it?! And I had no idea till a few weeks ago! Well, all of this to say that currently the housekeeper is back to Morocco, my grandma is out of herbs, and I’ve decided to try doing this super couscous by myself on that very week! Darn!! So, I guess I’ll just have to wait for the next opportunity to try her recipe, and in the meantime I’ll just make regular plain couscous – which I still love anyway. Hopefully, all will very soon get back to normality – meaning my grandma’s housekeeper coming back to work (with her now famous and hopefully full plastic bag) at the end of the Summer!
- 4 to 6 large chicken thighs
- 4 to 6 slices of preserved lemon, or 6 to 9 slices of fresh lemon
- A small bowl of spices composed of: 1 tbsp of ras-el-hanout, 1 tbsp of cumin, 1 tsp of ginger, 1/2 tsp of Cayenne hot pepper, 1/4 tsp of black pepper, 1/4 tsp of cinnamon, salt.
- About 30 unpit green olives
- 1 dehydrated cube of chicken stock (or your regular chicken stock)
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 4 cloves of garlic, minced
- For the couscous: 500 grams of semolina, 250 ml of water, salt (and more ingredients if you have a special recipe of your own, and do not need to wait for your grandma’s housekeeper to come back from Morocco with her secret aromatic herbs).
- The day before, start marinating the chicken thighs in a big bowl or bucket with a bit of coarse sea salt, preserved lemons and water to cover it all up. Reserve in the fridge overnight. Do not salt too much, otherwise the dish will be too salty after all liquids partially evaporate when cooking.
- On the day, grill the chicken thighs on both sides in a cast iron pan with high edges, with no additional oil – start skin down to take advantage of the natural grease from the chicken skin.
- While chicken is grilling, heat the marinade water and lemons in a separate pot, and prepare your stock with the dehydrated cube.
- When chicken is ready, take out of the pan.
- Immediately cook the onion, then 2 minutes later add the garlic, and immediately combine with the spices. Stir till fragrant, about a minute.
- Spread the onion mixture evenly all over the cast-iron pan, and put back the chicken thighs on it.
- Immediately cover with the lemon and stock liquids, put the lid on, and simmer for 2 hours on low heat.
- 45 minutes before the end, add the olives tot he pan.
- Prepare the couscous while the tajine is slowly simmering.
- Serve couscous in a hollow plate, and serve the tajine over it with a generous amount of sauce and juices.
Created and Written by Sophie Rebibo-Halimi. © 2017 All Rights Reserved.