Chicken Tagine with Chickpeas, Chard, and Dried Figs
Three years ago I took a linguistics field methods class focusing on Tashlhiyt Berber (an indigenous language of Morocco).
My favorite part of the course? In the first two long stretches of speech that our speaker recorded for us, she explains in Tashlhiyt 1) how to make Moroccan Mint Tea, and 2) how to make Chicken Tagine.
We then worked with that data as a group twice a week for approximately ten weeks. I always left that class hungry.
For months I was thinking about, dreaming about, and writing linguistics papers about Chicken Tagine. I must have discussed it with my parents because they had the brilliant idea of buying me a tagine for my birthday; they commissioned an artist friend of theirs to create one.
The only reason this beautiful ceramic tagine hasn’t appeared on my blog earlier is because I just hadn’t found the right recipe to share with all of you… until now.
The word “tagine” refers to both the dish you eat (a Moroccan stew) and the conical clay plot that the dish is braised in.
I actually still haven’t tried out the exact chicken tagine recipe narrated to our class by our field methods Tashlhiyt speaker, Latifa, but I would like to. Her recipe calls for sliced up chicken along with peas, potatoes, tomatoes, olives, and “whatever vegetables you want” (except, you know, she said that part in Tashlhiyt Berber).
I was worried about the ingredients drying out on me (as in my first few failed attempts at tagine*), so I preferred to go with (the even easier-to-prep) chicken on the bone, and I used a good deal more braising liquid than she suggested.
I also added dried figs, in the delightful Mediterranean tradition of stewing chicken with dried fruit, like dates, figs, or apricots. (I remember the first time my Spanish host mother in Barcelona cooked me chicken with apricots, I was bowled over by the combination of the succulent apricots with the braised chicken on the bone… and I don’t even like dried fruit very much on its own; I find it too cloyingly sweet.)
This recipe is worth a try even if you have your doubts about the dried fruit + savory pairing. You don’t have to eat the figs, dates, or whatever you use (Paula didn’t), but– like the tablespoon of honey– they’ll infuse the dish with a sweet, aromatic backdrop to contrast with the jolt of fresh lemon juice squeezed over the whole dish just before serving. The bright lemony finish is another essential element in making the dish come together (and a little less involved than the four-week process that goes into making your own preserved lemons– though, believe me, that’s on my to-do list!).
Oh! And please don’t think you need a real tagine-shaped tagine in order to give this recipe a try; any oven-safe vessel with a lid, like a Dutch oven, will do. My tagine isn’t safe to use on the stovetop, so I sauteed the ingredients in a deep skillet before transferring them to the tagine to go into the oven.
I’ve included a photo where you can see that my tagine is emblazoned with an eggplant. It’s hard to believe, but I used to be even more obsessed with eggplants than I am with tomatoes. (I still love eggplants; they just make the roof of my mouth itch a bit.)
This recipe post is a (two year-)belated thank you to my parents for the wonderful tagine. I’m hoping it will last me for many more recipes to come.
* Last year– the first fall/winter I cooked with my tagine– I was obsessed with trying to cook up a mixture of kabocha, chickpeas, and kale. I stand by the original concept; that combination is always a good idea– I was just extremely lacking in the execution: I didn’t soften or cook the kabocha or kale (or onions!) first on the stovetop with any oil, broth, or heat, but rather stacked everything into the tagine (hoping some diced tomatoes would provide enough liquid) and stuck it in the oven. Bad idea. Everything came out under-cooked and under-seasoned (and yet, I was persistent, and tried nearly the same method several times!). The verdict? Stick with the method suggested here of briefly browning/sauteing your main ingredients on the stovetop before they finish slow-cooking in the oven.
Print this recipe. (PDF)
Chicken Tagine with Chickpeas, Chard, and Dried Figs
(Very roughly adapted from “More Best Recipes” by ATK/Cook’s Illustrated.)
~ 3-4 cloves garlic, minced (about 4 tsp.)
~ 1 tsp. paprika
~ ½ tsp. cumin
~ ¼ tsp. coriander
~ ¼ tsp. ground ginger
~ ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
~ ¼ tsp. cinnamon
~ 2 Tbsp. olive oil
~ 1½-2 lbs. bone-in chicken (2 chicken quarters or 6 drumsticks)
~ salt and black pepper
~ zest of 1 lemon, and 3-4 Tbsp. lemon juice (from ½-1 lemon)
~ ½ onion, sliced ¼ inch thick
~ ½-1 cup chicken broth (depending on how much you want for sopping up at the end; I used 1 cup)
~ 1 small bunch swiss chard (4-5 oz. after stems removed), de-stemmed and chopped
~ ½-¾ cup cooked (or canned) chickpeas
~ 1 Tbsp. honey
~ ½ cup figs (about 10 figs), stemmed and halved or cut in quarters
~ ⅛ cup fresh mint, chopped
~ ⅛ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
How to make it:
1. Set aside 1 tsp. of the minced garlic. Combine the other 3 tsp. of garlic with the paprika, cumin, coriander, ginger, cayenne, and cinnamon to form a spice paste. Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.
2. In a large skillet (or Dutch oven, or stovetop-safe tagine), heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels, then place in the skillet and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Brown the chicken on both sides, 5-7 minutes per side. Use tongs to remove browned chicken to a plate, but retain about 1 Tbsp. of the oil/fat in the skillet.
3. Add the onions and half of the lemon zest to the skillet, and cook over medium heat until onions are softened (5-7 minutes). Then stir in the garlic spice paste (from step #1) and fry for 30 seconds. Add a small amount of the chicken broth, and stir until the spice paste starts to dissolve in the liquid, then add the remaining chicken broth. Stir in the swiss chard and chickpeas, and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes.
4. Combine the reserved 1 tsp. of garlic with the remaining half of the lemon zest and the Tbsp. of honey. After the chard has cooked down, stir this honey-garlic paste into the mixture in the skillet. Then stir in the figs. If necessary, transfer the entire mixture to an oven-safe baking dish with a lid, then nestle the chicken back in among the other ingredients, cover, and bake for 35-50 minutes, or until the chicken thighs/drumsticks register 175 degrees on a thermometer. (If using chicken breasts bake for only 20 minutes, or add them in the last 20 minutes of baking.)
5. Allow the tagine to sit, covered, for an additional 5-10 minutes after you take it out of the oven. Then pour the 3-4 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice evenly over the entire dish. Season with salt and pepper, to taste, and optionally sprinkle with fresh chopped mint and cilantro. Serve warm with couscous or bread.
Print this recipe! (PDF)