10.18.2011

Patience is a Virtue


It began with a pair of stockings. I was two years old, and, according to my grandmother, struggling to get the damned things on (and most likely on the verge of tears). She told me, "It will be easier if you are patient," to which I smartly replied through gritted teeth, "Patience is a virtue." Pause. "I do all the virtues."

Well, many moons (and un-virtuous moments) have passed since that bold acclamation, yet here I find myself plagued by another test of patience. This time I'm standing over a pot of simmering chicken tagine.

It is tantalizing my nostrils. But I have at least another 40 minutes to let it simmer before I indulge. I embarked upon this Moroccan-style one-pot wonder to quell a recent chili craving. The recipe: Chicken Tagine with Sweet Potatoes and Golden Raisins, from the talented quarter-life cook co-authors of In the Small Kitchen. The stew brings chicken, sweet potatoes, chickpeas and raisins together in a tomato broth perfumed with a host of aromatic spices -- cumin, turmeric, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon and a punch of cayenne.

Time is the critical invisible element in this multi-step production, as ingredients enter the pot at staggered paces. The chicken makes a quick entry to brown, then hops out so the onion can take a solo turn. Onion stays to welcome the spices and basks in aromatic solitude for a bit, until rejoined by the chicken, this time with chickpeas and diced tomatoes in tow. A deluge of chicken stock and the party is set to stew. Their bubble bath lasts two hours.

At this point I have hovered, stirred, walked away for a while, come back, stirred again, smelled, burned my mouth on a few eager taste-tests... and the sweet potatoes haven't even entered the scene yet. (They're holding out until the last 30 minutes of simmering).

After long-last, the sweet potatoes take a dunk, simmer til soft, and the raisins, freshly chopped cilantro and slivered almonds give the tagine its final touch. It's a one-pot wonder rich in spice and sweet complexity. Well worth the wait. A struggle at times, like the stockings, but this one I have patience for.

CHICKEN TAGINE WITH SWEET POTATOES AND GOLDEN RAISINS
[Adapted from In the Small Kitchen, by Cara Eisenpress and Phoebe Lapine]
Makes 10 servings

Ingredients:
3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, each halved
1 ½ tablespoons salt, plus more for seasoning chicken
Freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil
3 medium yellow onions, diced
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1 tablespoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon cayenne
One 28-ounce can diced tomatoes, with their juices
One 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
About 1 quart chicken stock
2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
½ cup golden raisins (I had to use regular raisins for lack of the golden variety...)
¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
Juice of ½ lemon
¼ cup slivered almonds, toasted in a 350 degree oven until fragrant and golden, keeping an eye on them so they don’t burn (optional)

Directions:
1. Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper. Coat a large pot or Dutch oven with a thin layer of olive oil. Heat it over high heat and brown the chicken, in batches, making sure not to crowd the pot. If the chicken sticks to the bottom, don’t worry — this will help develop the flavor of the sauce. Remove the browned chicken from the pot and set it aside in a mixing bowl.

2. Add the onions to the same pot, reduce the heat to medium-low, and sauté until translucent, making sure to scrape up any remaining drippings from the chicken, about 7 minutes.

3. Stir in the garlic, cumin, turmeric, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, cayenne, and salt. Cook until the spices are fully incorporated and aromatic, about 2 minutes. Return the chicken to the pot, and add the tomatoes and chickpeas. Toss to combine.

4. Pour in enough stock to submerge all the contents (this may be less than 1 quart, depending on the size of your pot) and bring to a summer. Turn the heat back down to low and cook, uncovered, for at least 2 hours, the longer the better. (Taste occasionally, adjusting seasonings to your liking). 

5. During the last 30 minutes or so of cooking, add the sweet potatoes, submerge them in the liquid, and cook until tender.

6. Add the raisins, half the cilantro, and the lemon juice. Simmer for 10 minutes.

7. Spoon the tagine into individual bowls. Garnish each bowl with some of the remaining cilantro, sprinkle with the almonds (if using), and serve.

Note: You can make the stew through step 5 and then refrigerate it overnight. Just reheat it for 30 minutes over medium-low heat before your guests are due to arrive, and continue with the remaining ingredients.

For a Vegetarian Squash Tagine: Omit the chicken, and substitute 3-4 diced zucchini or yellow squash. Double the chickpeas, and use vegetable stock instead of chicken.

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