During my 2012 summer break, I took up a volunteering program in which I taught basic cookery to people who had little experience of home-cooking. One thing I found, was that there really is a lack of knowing what to do with left-overs, or how to adapt the ingredients you have in your fridge to what you want to cook. Often, once my students started to learn a few new recipes, they would write down every single ingredient from each recipe and their food costs would skyrocket! I’m sure this is a problem for lots of people who wish they could ‘just cook with what they have in the cupboards’… which happens to be one of my favourite challenges!
When writing out my own recipes, I feel that once you see something broken down into basic steps, it’s easier to adapt it. Hopefully I can show you the essential components of this dish, which is a ‘tagine’ with Moroccan spices, and then you can adapt it, and make it your own!
Step 1, Meat:
- Heat some oil in a deep pan & brown some chicken. You could add some spices at this stage so that they soak into the meat (e.g. cumin, coriander, turmeric, or a ‘tagine-mix’ which I used).
- Use as much/as little chicken as you like (you can bulk it out with vegetables/lentils etc.) You can either cut the chicken into small chunks (like me) or have a pot of legs, thighs & large pieces of breast to make a meatier tagine. Once you have coloured the surface of the chicken (not cooked it all the way through – probably 5 minutes or so) take it out and keep it on a plate to one side.
- (V) You can cut out meat altogether if you prefer, just get lots of bulky veg (squash, sweet potatoes, aubergine, carrots) and adjust the cooking times (check the packaging of your veg if you’re not sure!).
Step 2, Add other ingredients:
- Fry 1 onion (sliced) with your preferred tagine spices (I have a ready-mix in a tin of Moroccan spices)
- Add any other ingredients you’re using, unless they need to go in right at the end (like fresh herbs or beans/peas that only need a few minutes), I used 100g lentil & dhal mix, 10 dried apricots, 1 sweet potato cut into chunks, and add the chicken back in if you’re using it. Mix everything up so it’s coated in the spices.
- Pour in 600ml hot chicken (or vegetable) stock, 2 tbsp red wine vinegar (optional) and a spoon of honey or brown sugar.
- Bring the tagine to the boil, and then either turn the heat down slightly so that it simmers and let it cook for about 30 minutes (until the chicken is cooked through – varies with the size of your chicken pieces)…
- Or put your tagine into the oven (hopefully you used an oven-proof casserole dish!) and cook for longer, more like 45 mins, again depending on the size of your chicken.
ADAPTING THE RECIPE:
Using a paste as a base. To get a thicker sauce, and if you are lucky enough to own a mini-chopper, you could create a “paste” as a base for you dish. For example, whiz up 100g tomatoes, 3 cloves of garlic, 100g grated fresh ginger, 1 small onion. Then add this just after you have fried the onions, when you add spices and other ingredients, just before adding stock.
Different dried fruits: I have seen this done with dried cherries too, and I’m personally a fan of raisins in things like couscous – it depends whether you like a sweet edge to dishes and how adventurous you are!
Other different contents: Alongside the main component (e.g. chicken), onions, and spices, the rest is up to you! You could opt for a can of mixed bean salad for a quick solution, your favourite vegetables like cauliflower or French beans, red onions, some chili, black-eyed beans… Ok I know I currently have an addiction to beans. But I’m sure that you can come up with some more creative ingredients too!
Serving: I like to have this with couscous, but I find that lots of people don’t like it that much, so try rice, mashed or jacket potato (if you haven’t got lots of potato in it already), or even a salad.