When I arrived, Bahija, the chef and cooking teacher at Jnane Tamsna, met me wearing her chef's jacket, white apron and white head scarf . Full of enthusiasm and English words mixed with Berber and French, she apologized again and again for her English. I was the one who should be apologizing. My French is beyond rusty. Just getting off a week of teaching in Spain and my classes last year in Italy and Provence, my French had turned into a combination of languages I call Sfritalian.
Immediately I warmed to Bahija. How could I not? As she and I talked about the week, I knew we would end up being be friends.
"Class #1 will be chicken tagine," she said. The word tagine has two meanings,-- an aromatic stew and the conical terracotta vessel used for cooking the stew. I was excited.
For the next few hours as I unpacked and settled into my room that looked like a harem (and I say that in a good way), taxis stirred up dust in the driveway unloading my students and their luggage.
After everyone was settled into their rooms, we had an early dinner. It was a little different than my classes and the meals that I share with my students in Spain, Provence or Italy which can sometimes turn into a party. In a Muslim country like Morocco, though they make wine, wine and alcohol aren't so much of a focus. And you know, sometimes it's kind of nice to go to bed early and wake up the next day feeling good.
That next morning, after a breakfast of fresh mint tea, luscious fruit, fresh squeezed orange and grapefruit juice, and homemade wheat flatbread called khboz, we headed to the kitchen for our first cooking class.
Bahija was already in the kitchen with everything set out on a big marble table,--cutting boards, tons of spices, vegetables, dried fruit, almonds and a husky knife for everyone. And ofr the next couple hours, we concentrated on tagine basics, everyone making their own.
It was fun and the assortment of tagines, both sweet and savory were amazing. I stood back and let Bahija do the teaching. BTW there were no recipes. I decided the best thing I could do was to hand scratch the recipes with pen and paper and later transfer them to my iPad. Then we could print them for everyone.
It was tough for me though, I wanted to teach. I'm so used to it! A few times I bit my tongue when I wanted to teach a technique or trick. Can't I just show them how to peel ginger with the tip of a spoon or mince garlic with the back of a knife? It was everything I could do to keep my mouth shut. Instead I wrote...
When everyone had finished assembling their tagines, we brought them outside where we cooked them over individual braziers.
They didn't take long to cook. Maybe 30 minutes or so. When we brought them to the table and removed the covers, the aroma was intoxicating. One of my favorites was this one with grapes and raisins. Imagine the sweetness against the ginger, black pepper, saffron and turmeric.
Here is the recipe I wrote for the 20 or so tagines we made. And if you don't have a terracotta tagine, try using a stainless pot with a lid. It won't be same but when you smell the aromas of the tagine cooking in your kitchen, I promise you, the romance will take over and you'll think you're in Morocco.
CHICKEN TAGINE BASICS2 pieces of chicken with the skin
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Pinch of saffron
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 red onion, diced
In the tagine, place the chicken. Sprinkle with ginger, pepper, saffron, turmeric, olive oil and onion. Rub it into the chicken.
SAVORY TAGINE WITH PRESERVED LEMONS1/4 preserved lemon
1 tablespoon cilantro
1 clove garlicSeparate the skin from the flesh of the lemon. Chop the insides and thinly slice the peel. Top the chicken with the chopped flesh.
Mash the garlic and cilantro in a mortar and pestle. Top the chicken with the cilantro and garlic.
Finish with the various optional ingredients. Here are a few options.
1- Fennel and sunchokes
2- Green beans, carrots and oil-cured olives (optional but boil first)
3- Cherry tomatoes and baby zucchini
4-Tomato, quartered, peeled, carrots, green beans and zucchini
5-Artichokes with English peas
6- Fennel, artichokes and cherry tomatoes
7- Green beans, carrots, fennel, peas and cherry tomatoes
8- Carrots and sliced apples
9- Onions and tomatoes
10- Peppers, fennel, artichokes and carrots
Add 1 cup water, cover and cook on medium low heat until the chicken can be easily skewered.
Garnish with preserved lemons before serving.
SWEET TAGINE WITH HONEY
1 teaspoon ras el hanout
Optional ingredients;Dried apricots
Sliced Red onions
Sliced Dates pitted and stuffed with almonds
1 pear, peeled and quartered
Pineapple, peeled, quartered, 3/4- inch slice
Rub the cinnamon and ras el hanout onto the chicken.
Finish with various optional ingredients. Here are a few options:
1- Dried apricots and sultana raisins, toasted almonds and walnuts
2- Sliced tomatoes and sliced onions
3-Pitted dates stuffed with almonds, soaked sultana raisins, almonds and peeled and quartered pears
4- Pineapple 4 slices and dried apricots
5- Pear and apricot
6- Peeled and quartered apples and almonds
7- Apricots and prunes
8- Apricots and Walnuts
9- Dates stuffed with almonds and raisins
10- (Believe it or not, a Bahija invention) Bananas and dates
11- Raisins and grapes(I love this one)
Drizzle with honey just before serving.Serves 1