The Indian within me has taken control in the past two years, instilling within me a craving for spice. He slowly boiled away my obsession with pasta: which began at the age of eight when I was convinced that an entire jar of tomato paste equalled the perfect sauce for my spaghetti, and continued to a pilgrim-esque adventure to the heart of cucinaitalia – Bologna.
Upon my return to Oz, what started with the addition of sliced red chilli to make an arrabiata, was followed by the inclusion of cinnamon, cumin, and garam masala to my soups and casseroles. Before I knew it my experiments had evolved into pungent curries and tagines, which I harmonised by balancing the sacred six tastes that are essential to these cuisines: sweet, salty, spicy, sour, umami (savoury) and bitter. Moroccan cooking, I’ve found, best encapsulates this ideal with the combination of meat, vegetables, onions, spices and surprisingly, fruit; the latter of which adds both sweetness, and zing, mostly from the prized preserved citrus.
I hope I can inspire you to give spices a chance with my twist on the good old-fashioned “Aussie” Dish, Apricot Chicken. To the titular ingredients I’ve added cumin, cinnamon and chilli, balancing it with the zest of a lemon and combining the savoury mushiness of chickpeas. The thing with spices though is that you’ve got to play around with them according to your personal tastes, so use my recommendations and a guide and add more cinnamon for sweetness, cumin for savouriness or chilli for piquancy. Who knows, perhaps you too will sprinkle through a spoonful of spices in your dinnertime dishes more often!
Prep time minutes | Cooking Time minutes | Serves 4-6
- Olive oil
- 1 medium red onion, peeled, finely sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2 tsp cinnamon powder
- 2 tsp cumin powder
- 2 tsp chilli powder
- 400g chicken thigh fillets, thinly sliced
- 150g dried apricots
- 425g can chickpeas, drained, rinsed
- 400g can chopped tomatoes
- 2 tsp thyme leaves
- Small handful parsley, washed and chopped
- 200g cous cous
- 50g pine nuts
Toast the spices by heating 1 tbsp olive oil in a tagine, or stainless-steel pot with a tight-fitting glass lid, over a low heat. Add the onion, garlic, cinnamon, cumin and chilli and cook stirring for 5 minutes until the spices are fragrant.
Add the chicken and brown over a medium heat. Sprinkle the apricots over the chicken mixture, adding the chickpeas, tomatoes, thyme leave and 100mL cold water and stir. Cover the tagine with its lid, or use the glass lid for the pot and cook for 10-15 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. If you don’t have one of these simply scrunch up a piece of baking paper large enough to cover the tagine, unroll and carefully place into the mixture. This will provide the same effect as the tagine lid, allowing the mixture to cook in its own juices.
While the tagine cooks place the cous cous in a glass or ceramic bowl, add 1tsp olive oil and black pepper. Cover with boiled water and stir. The safest way to do this is to use the same volume of water to cous cous so for 200g use about 200mL. Cover with a plate and leave to steam. This is probably the easiest way to cook cous cous.
Toast the pine nuts by heating a small frying pan over a medium heat. Toss the nuts into the dry pan for 1-2 minutes, or until golden.
When the tagine has cooked serve with the cous cous and sprinkle with pine nuts.
Writer’s note: A version of this article was first published in Grapeshot Magazine Issue 4|Volume 6| March 2014: Black and White.
Happy Cooking and Keep Smiling,