Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Is it better to take the easy road?

My friend Vivian asked me recently whether I thought food that takes longer to cook is usually better. The Slow Food movement certainly thinks so. And everyone likes to believe that hard work pays off. Last night I tested two Moroccan chicken recipes -- an easy one made in class, the other challenging made at home. Both turned out delicious and if you weren't the one putting in the effort, you'd never know the first took half an hour, and the second hours (spread over a multi-day process). Though the recipes have similar spices, the finished dishes taste different. I recommend both, so take your pick depending on how ambitious (or not) you're feeling!

And I'm happy to report that chicken class went without incident. Evidently I have no poultry issues like I do with seafood... I even made an improv chicken liver pate from the less desirable parts most of the class didn't want to touch. Photos coming soon.

Recipe #1 (Easy): Braised Moroccan Chicken with Lemon Charmoula Sauce and Olives

This recipe takes approximately 30 minutes. Preserved lemons can be purchased at Middle Eastern markets, or can also be made at home (though they take a month to "preserve").


1 yellow onion, diced
¾ cup chopped parsley, and a little more for garnish
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp mild paprika
½ tsp ground cumin
⅛ tsp cayenne
½ tsp salt, more to taste
1 tsp agave nectar
3 Tbs olive oil
8 chicken pieces, bone-in, with skin
1 cup stock (chicken or vegetable), or water
1 tsp lemon zest
½ preserved lemon, skin only, finely chopped
½ lemon juiced
½ cup kalamata olives, pits in


1 Mix the onion, parsley, spices, salt and agave nectar in a medium bowl.

2 Heat 2 T of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the chicken in a single layer and cook 2-3 minutes on each side until slightly browned.

3 Add the stock and onion mixture. Bring the stock to a boil; reduce heat to low, cover and cook gently for 20 minutes, until the chicken is tender and no pink flesh remains.

4 Remove the chicken pieces to a platter. Turn the heat up to medium-high, add the preserved lemon and let the sauce simmer for 2-3 minutes until reduced slightly. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the lemon zest, lemon juice, and olives.

5 Spoon the sauce over the chicken. Drizzle with the remaining olive oil and garnish with the remaining parsley.

Author: Alison Anton, Natural Chef Instructor

Recipe #2 (Challenging): Chicken in parchment with Moroccan Aromatics and Lentils

Though this takes hours, it is nice for a dinner-party because you prepare the stew the night before, cook before serving, and then present dramatic looking parchment parcels (yes, revisiting the "en papillote" method).


½ cup French Puy lentils
½ medium onion
1 cinnamon stick
4 sprigs thyme
3 lbs chicken pieces on the bone
1 cup plain flour
1 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 lb potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4 inch dice
1/2 lb carrots, scraped and cut into 3/4-inch dice
2 tbsp chermoula (see separate recipe below)
1 can crushed tomatoes (14 ounces)
½ preserved lemon, skin only, finely chopped
1 qt chicken stock (I used less)
3/4 lb squash or pumpkin, peeled and cut into 3/4 inch dice
salt and pepper
2 tbsp honey
1/4 cup parsley leaves, finely chopped
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, finaly chopped (optional)
parchment paper
kitchen string


1 Place the lentils in three times their volume of cold water with the onoin half, cinnamon stick and thyme. Bring to a boil then lower heat and simmer uncovered 20 minutes, or until just tender. Straing.

2 Mix flour and paprika. Dust the chicken in the mixture. Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-based pan, add chicken pieces and saute until golden all over. Add onion, potatoes and carrots, mix well. Add the chermoula, coating all ingredients, then the tomatoes and preserved lemon, and the stock. Bring to a boil, then lower heat, cover and simmer for 8 minutes.

3 Add the lentils and squash and cook uncovered for a further 5 minutes, by which time the vegetables should all be just tender and the chicken just cooked. Remove the pan from the heat. Allow to cool and then refrigerate overnight.

4 To serve, preheat oven to 350F. Using baking parchment, cut four large circles. Adjust stew seasonings with salt, pepper, honey and additional charmoula if needed. Place each circle, one by one, into a deep bowl and heap in the chicken stew, ensuring even amounts of chicken, veggies and sauce. Sprinkle with lots of chopped herbs. Be careful not to overfill otherwise you will not be able to close. Gather the edges of the paper together above the mixture and tie with the kitchen string so you have a little bag. Place the parcels on a baking sheet and cover with foil (this stops the tops from getting crispy and the strong from burning).

5 Cook for half an hour and serve individual parcels for each person to open up and release the braise within. Serve with a grain such as couscous, quinoa or brown rice.

Note: You could simpify by cooking longer on the stove and not using the parchment bundles.


In addition to the stew above, chermoula is often used with fish dishes. Its chili-heat content can be varied to taste. This keeps for a month in the refrigerator; top with a little oil each time you use it.

3 tbsp cumin seeds, toasted and crushed
1tbsp coriander seeds, toasted and crushed
2tbsp sweet paprika
1 tbsp ground ginger
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 - 4 whole serrano chilis, deseeded, scraped, and roughly chopped
Juice of 2 lemons
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp salt

Put all ingredients into a blender or food processor and process until garlic and chilis have been ground to a paste.

Source: "Artichoke to Za'atar (Modern Middle Eastern Food)"


  1. Hi Shoshana, I love the idea of testing the fast recipe versus the more complex one! I have a question about preserved lemons... I actually have some in the fridge that have been there for a while --- after they're ready (in a month like you mentioned), how long are they good for? =) I'd hate to poison my husband if they are rotten, but don't know how to tell!
    Have a great week! Sara

  2. Hey Sara! That's cool you have some! They're like pickles, so they keep a loooong time. At least a year. You should be fine. Happy cooking! Shoshana