I’ve recently been obsessing over boldly exotic foods and flavors. Smoky, aromatic Moroccan spice, harissa paste, preserved lemons and olives, and photos of colorful artisan tagine cooking vessels conjure visions of wildly vibrant bazaars filling the streets of Casablanca and Marrakech. However, since my wayfaring self has no current plans for exploring the tribal lands of Northern Africa, I recently decided to channel my inner nomad with a quintessential Moroccan meal of Chicken Tagine with Cauliflower & Harissa.
Chicken Tagine with Cauliflower & Harissa
Total Prep & Cooking Time: 1 hour 45 minutes
- 10 chicken thighs (bone-in, skin-on)
- 2 tablespoons Harissa Spice Mix
- Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 head of cauliflower, cut into small florets
- 4 roma tomatoes, each cored and scored with an ‘X’ on the bottom
- 1 large white onion, diced
- 4 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
- A pinch of saffron threads
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
- Rind of one lemon
- 1-2 lemons (rind removed), sliced
- 1 cup of pitted green olives
- 1/2 bunch of roughly chopped cilantro leaves, stems discarded
- Bulgur Wheat Pilaf (recipe follows)
Preheat your oven to 350F degrees. In a small bowl, blend the Harissa spice with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper. Using a pastry brush, spread the Harissa mixture evenly over the skin of the thighs.
Fill a large bowl with ice water and set it in your sink. Over high heat, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Boil the cauliflower florets in the water for about 3 minutes, then immediately submerge them in the ice water. Boil the tomatoes for 20-30 seconds, and add them to the ice water. When the cauliflower is cold, remove the florets and pat them dry. Peel the skin from the tomatoes and cut them into quarters. Remove the seeds and slice each tomato quarter in half lengthwise.
Over medium flame, heat the remaining olive oil in a large saucepan. Sear the chicken in batches, starting with skin-side down, until the thighs are brown and skin is beginning to crisp. Remove the thighs to a large dutch oven, cooking tagine, or a large, heavy-duty roasting pan.
Remove all but 2-3 tablespoons of fat from the skillet, return it to the heat and add the cauliflower. Turn the cauliflower frequently to brown on all sides, about 5 minutes, then remove to a bowl and set aside.
Reduce the heat to medium-low, and add the onion, garlic, ginger and saffron to the skillet. Sauté, stirring frequently, until the onion becomes soft and somewhat translucent, about 5 minutes.
Add the tomato paste, lemon rind and chicken stock, and simmer until reduced by a third, about 15 minutes.
Pour sauce over the chicken, cover the pan, and transfer to the oven for 30-40 minutes. Remove the chicken from the oven, and add the cauliflower, tomatoes, lemon slices and olives. Cover the pot again, and cook for an additional 30 minutes or until the chicken is cooked thoroughly. Ladle most of the pan’s au jus (cooking stock) into a pitcher or bowl.
Serve chicken tagine garnished with cilantro leaves, accompanied by the Bulgar Wheat Pilaf and au jus.
Bulgur Wheat Pilaf
- 1-1/2 cups quick-cooking bulgur wheat
- 1/2 cup cut vermicelli (Fideo) pasta
- 1/3 cup pine nuts
- 3-1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
In a large skillet over medium heat, toast the vermicelli pasta and pine nuts, stirring frequently until golden. Remove to a small bowl. Add the bulgur wheat to the skillet and toast, stirring frequently, for 7-8 minutes.
Add the chicken broth, pasta, bulgur wheat and pine nuts to a large saucepan and cover. Over medium-high heat, bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 15-18 minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed and pilaf is tender.
Cook’s Note: When I prepared this meal, I included lamb meatballs in the tagine. Although they were tasty, I don’t believe they were necessary. The richly exotic flavors of the harissa-spiced chicken, vegetables, broth, lemons and olives were incredibly delicious on their own. (In retrospect, I’d save the meatballs for another meal.)