One of my favorite spots to visit when I’m back in Minnesota is Mears Park in St. Paul. A short walk away from my mother’s condo, the park is frequented by lunch breakers, dog walkers, and children blowing off steam during the warm spring and summer months. At the center of the park sits a piano that often results in impromptu live music and performances.
Quite possibly the best part of Mears Park, however, is the wonderful restaurant selection that surrounds it on all sides. One, called Faces, is unique for the area because it features rotating tagines on its menu. It was in this restaurant that my mom came up with the title of this very blog the night before I headed off to Pennsylvania. As such, I like to think of Faces as the nourishment for the original ideas that became Appeasing a Food Geek.
Unfortunately, I was not able to visit Faces or Mears Park when I was in MN over the Christmas weekend, but I’ve been thinking about those special tagines lately. Possibly that’s because I have been appreciating this blog space as a constant in my life amidst some personal and professional changes over the past few months. Or maybe because the winter months make me homesick for the Minnesota snowdrifts. (Guys Long Island is going to be mid-40s for the foreseeable future. Insert eye-roll emoji) In any case, I had a serious craving for some tagine comfort.
I do not have a tagine cooking vessel myself, but after understanding the purpose of them, I was able to create a great version using my Dutch oven. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Some of you out there are probably like “what the heck is a tagine?”
A tagine is a type of cooking vessel that hails from North African cuisine and is used to create the dish of the same name (often a type of stew). It features a wide, shallow bottom with a tight-fitting, tall, conical lid. The shape and size of the lid has a specific purpose. While the food is being cooked in the bottom dish, steam escapes and climbs up the cone. As it does this, the steam cools slightly and condenses back on the side of the conical lid. The condensed water droplets roll back down into the food keeping the food moist and very hot.
In a Dutch oven, we have something similar. The heavy lid prevents steam from escaping into the environment as the food cooks. Instead, it hits the bottom of the lid and condenses as it slides to the cooler edges of the bottom of the lid. That condensed water runs back into the food, and voila! We have a similar cooking style.
You might have an even better style of Dutch oven like me that this works well for. Some Dutch ovens have small cones extending from the top of the lid all over the bottom. These cones encourage steam to condense and run down the cones rather than the sides so that you maintain a moist environment in the center of a larger dish as well as the sides.
The Dutch oven actually gives us an extra perk. The cast iron material holds onto heat extremely well. That means these dishes that benefit from moist heat cook more quickly and evenly.
So there you have it! I have a recipe here for a chicken tagine using Turkish influences like olives and apricots. Feel free to personalize it to your own tastes and cravings! Maximum comfort and ease.
Chicken “Tagine” with Apricots and Olives
Adapted from The Kitchy Kitchen
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
A generous pinch of cayenne pepper
3 tablespoons plus ¼ cup olive oil
6 boneless chicken thighs, patted dry
1 medium red onion, chopped into thin half-moons
5 garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup honey
1 cinnamon stick
½ cup dried apricots
¼ cup pitted olives (see note)
¼ cup capers with a tablespoon of juice
¼ cup roughly chopped parsley
Bread, for serving
Chopped pistachios, for serving
- In a large, shallow bowl, stir together the ginger, cumin, pepper, salt, and cayenne with a fork. Add the oil and stir to combine. Add the chicken and turn to coat well with mixture.
- Heat ¼ cup oil in a Dutch oven or a large, heavy, high-sided pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add half of the chicken to the oil to brown, about 4 minutes each side. Transfer to a plate. Repeat with the remaining chicken.
- Once the chicken is removed from the pan, add the onion. Stir frequently to soften, using a wooden spoon so scrape up any bits from the chicken. After about 8 minutes, add the garlic and cook until fragrant. About 3 minutes.
- Add ½ cup water to the pan followed by the cooked chicken and any juices accumulated on the plate. Bring to a simmer and reduce heat to low. Cover and cook for about 45 minutes.
- In a medium saucepan, bring the honey, 1 cup of water, cinnamon stick, and apricots to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, and let cook, uncovered, until the apricots are very tender. If the liquid gets low, add a couple tablespoons of water.
- Once the apricots are very tender, about 25-30 minutes, increase the heat to reduce the liquid to a relatively thick glaze, about 5 minutes.
- The chicken should be around 10 minutes from being done now. Add the apricot mixture, olives, capers, and parsley to the chicken, discarding the cinnamon stick. Stir to combine. Put the lid back on and continue to simmer for the final 10 minutes.
- When finished cooking, turn the heat off on the chicken. To serve, put a toasted piece of bread on the bottom of a plate/bowl. Spoon the chicken mixture including the sauce on top. Add a tablespoon or so of chopped pistachios and enjoy!
*Olive selection is kind of personal preference. I used a relatively mild green olive (Castelvetrano) that has enough brininess to cut through the sweetness of the apricot.