There was a small Moroccan restaurant in the East Village of New York City that my husband and I went to several times before he was actually my husband. It is the only Moroccan restaurant I have ever eaten in to this day, but I have never forgotten the deliciousness of the famous “tagine.” (tuhJEEN).
A tagine is a small clay pot used to cook these flavorful dishes, which I do not have. However, you can create the smells and aromas of the famed north African cuisine with a few easy to stock pantry staples. Dried fruit, nuts, cinnamon, and honey are a good base.
Since we haven’t gone to the grocery store for this week’s produce yet, I wasn’t sure what to make with what we had on hand for dinner tonight. I always have packages of organic chicken thighs in the freezer. Always organic, always thighs. It’s more affordable to buy thighs, they are more tender and juicier, and the extra fat is really not of a huge concern. So I always suggest to forget the dried out chicken breast, and embrace the thigh!
I had made a batch of white rice (brown and wild rices do not agree with my GI tract so much), just to have on hand for multiple purposes, earlier in the afternoon. And with barely enough time to defrost the chicken thighs, I thought about what I had in the pantry I could use to make boring things- like chicken and white rice- come to life.
The best thing about this “recipe” is that it is adjustable to what you might have on hand if it differs than what I had. I’ll show you what I did, then tell you what you might do if you have some different things. Everybody wins.
This is what I dug up for my ingredients:
- 1 lb package of frozen organic chicken thighs
- 1 cup cooked white rice
- 1/2 can garbanzo beans, drained
- a few tablespoons each of fig jam and orange marmalade
- 1-2 teaspoons (adjust to taste) of cinnamon
- 1 tsp cumin
- splash of dry white wine
- 1/2 red onion, sliced
- 1 cup frozen peas
- 1 clementine or mandarine orange
- 1 Tbsp coconut oil
- sea salt (always sea salt!)
For my dish, I had some left over fig jam from Trader Joe’s that was just not getting used up, and when I think Moroccan, I always think dried fruit, orange and cinnamon, so I was glad I also had a jar of Seville orange marmalade in the pantry, too.
Here’s what to do, should you make the exact same thing!
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Defrost the chicken just enough to separate the thighs, and heated up a cast iron skillet with the coconut oil. (Of course, the chicken doesn’t HAVE to be frozen. It will spend less time in the oven if it’s not!)
Then, pan sear the tops and bottoms of the chicken, season with salt, pepper, cumin and some of the cinnamon and spread fig jam on top of the thighs.
Place the onions all around and in between the chicken, and place in the oven. To be honest, I didn’t fully pay attention to how long these cooked for. They were still frozen in the middle so I left them in there longer than I would have. A meat thermometer will help if you have one! I cooked these babies in their pan in the oven for about a half an hour.
Then bring the pan back onto the stove top and deglaze with a mixture of wine and orange marmalade. Don’t be afraid to use too much. I don’t measure, because only baked goods are ruined when you don’t measure. A heavy splash of wine and a couple tablespoons of the marmalade should do ya. You could of course use water if you don’t have a bottle of wine already cracked.
Remove the chicken thighs, and add the white rice and garbanzo beans and frozen peas (if you want something green in there) to the pan and toss with a touch more cinnamon and salt, so they soak up all that flavor.
When the peas and rice are heated through, place in a serving bowl, and top with the chicken and orange slices. In place of a traditional harissa, a few shakes of fiery hot sauce would not be out of place here, either!
And there you have it. Chicken and rice and tons of flavor.
NOW…here are a few things you could do to create a Moroccan flavor profile even if you don’t have those same things on hand:
- Add nuts! I would have added pine nuts or sliced almonds, but didn’t have any.
- Use orange juice as your deglazing juice, or even cook the chicken thighs in orange juice.
- Add honey and orange juice and wine or water.
- Cook the chicken all the way through on the stove top if you don’t have an oven safe pan.
- Add raisins, chopped prunes or dried apricots and honey to the rice mixture instead of the jams.
- Wilt arugula or spinach into the dish to add some green nutrition. We are all out in our house tonight, unfortunately. (That has nothing to do with the Moroccan flavor, I realize, but it would be a healthy thing to do!)
- Sub the rice for quinoa (or traditional couscous if you’re a gluten lover!)
- Go vegetarian and leave the chicken out all together! The garbanzo beans and a heavy sprinkle of nuts should give you the protein boost you’re looking for. Quinoa, being a complete protein, would be the ideal base for a vegetarian version of this dish.
The best thing about meals like these are the endless possible ways to get flavor into them. As long as you don’t burn the food, and you aren’t afraid to add enough seasoning to spice them up, they should turn out great!