PPS: North-African Spiced Chicken with Spring Vegetables

This dish is featured as part of my Passover Prep Series – a collection of recipes to enjoy whether you celebrate Passover or not! If this is your first time visiting Cara’s Cravings during the PPS, click here to read more about it.People often ask me why I don’t make food my career. Of course I’ve thought about it many times, and maybe I will actually do it someday. But I confess to one fear I have around that: what if the hobby I enjoy so much becomes a burden instead? What happens when your creative outlet becomes your job, and you’re forced to produce to someone else’s tastes and timeline?

For now, I just do a bit of catering on the side. But fortunately, I’m also learning that food-as-work can help me improve my own skills add new recipes to my repertoire. Working with my friend Vanessa, we often come up with ingredients or methods that we haven’t had a chance to work with yet, and it’s a chance to learn something new. And, we’re more likely to seek perfection when delivering the dish to someone else instead of just making it for ourselves. This recipe didn’t start out as something I planned to make for myself, but rather for a catering job.
For this event, we wanted to create a chicken dish that highlighted seasonal Spring ingredients and the spices of the Mediterranean. Unfortunately, what we originally had in our heads didn’t work out quite so well (good thing we practiced first!) The dish consisted of chicken breasts which were pan-seared and then braised with a mixture of orange juice and chicken broth, with onions, fennel, and rosemary. Olives and orange segments were added at the end. It turned out that there were many areas for improvement:
  • some thought the chicken was dry and lacked flavor
  • overall monochromatic presentation
  • orange segments and fennel had wilted down into mush
  • overcooked fennel lost it’s characteristic flavor (and as someone who isn’t completely sure I “know” fennel, I personally really wanted to be able to taste it)
  • a strong citrus flavor that didn’t seem to tie in
Thank goodness my friends have such discerning palettes to pick up on all of this! A learning opportunity arose.
Vanessa and I agreed to each do some homework before the party. I went over what was wrong with the dish and came up with ideas for improvement: chicken thighs instead of breasts, use of more spices but less citrus, more vegetables to add color and variety, adding the vegetables to dish later on in order to preserve some crisp texture.

After a lot of searching, clicking, and saving, Epicuriousdelivered an intriguing recipe that I could work with. A Moroccan-style tagine that combined artichokes and carrots along with fennel – perfect. A hearty spice mixture and citrus zest instead of juice – wonderful. Just a few changes needed to be made:

  • Adding the vegetables later in the process to reduce cooking time (I didn’t want a repeat of that veggie-mush-mess!)
  • Swapping out individual spices for my homemade ras al hanout
  • Adding olives, because we all loved those last time
  • Reducing the amount of oil – the amount called for was just unnecessary

Finally, I decided to ditch the word “tagine” since we wouldn’t actually be using one.

Are you still wondering how this is going to tie into Passover? Well, for the trial run of this new dish, I invited my parents over for dinner. I served the braised chicken and vegetables along with a spiced-raisin quinoa. The chicken thighs were tender and full of flavor and well-complimented by the crisp-tender vegetables and spices. My father may have even discovered a new favorite vegetable in fennel. And my mother quickly decided that this dish should most definitely appear at her Seder instead of her typical turkey. So there you have it – a meal which started as a catering job, turned into a learning opportunity, and will soon end up as a new family favorite.

North-African Spiced Chicken with Spring Vegetables
Adapted from Chicken Tagine with Spring Vegetables, Bon Appetit
Makes 4 Servings

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 medium onion, sliced (about 100gm)
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons grated lemon peel (from about 2 lemons)
1 1/2 tablespoons ras al hanout
4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
4 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed
about 3 cups fat free, reduced sodium chicken broth
3 medium-sized fresh artichokes*
1 large fresh fennel bulb
4 small carrots(about 7oz)

1/4 lb green olives, sliced in half

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a dutch oven. When hot, add the onions and cook for about 8 minutes, until softened and lightly browned. Add the garlic, lemon zest, ras al hanout, and 3 tablespoons each of the parsley and mint (save the rest for garnishing.) Cook, stirring, 1 minute more. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl.

Add 1/2 tablespoon olive oil to the pan. Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper. Add 4 of them to the pan and cook for about 4 minutes per side, until lightly browned. Transfer to the bowl with the onion mixture. Cook remaining chicken thighs in the same way, with remaining 1/2 tablespoon olive oil, and transfer to bowl.

Add chicken broth to the dutch oven, increase heat, and scrape with a wooden spoon to loosen all of the browned bits. Return chicken and onion mixture to pan. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat. Simmer for about 20 minutes while you prepare the remaining vegetables.

To prepare the artichokes, first set out a bowl of water and squeeze lemon juice into it. Working with one artichoke at a time, trim the base to 1/2 an inch. Peel off all of the tough, darker green leaves to expose the more tender, lighter leaves inside. Trim about 1 inch from the top. Halve the artichoke lengthwise, and scoop out the hairy choke and discard. Cut in each half in half lengthwise again, and transfer to the bowl of water.

Trim the fennel bulb. Cut in quarters and slice the core away, then thinly slice the fennel. Peel the carrots and dice them.

Note: To prepare this dish ahead of time, follow the recipe through to this point, simmering your chicken until cooked through. You can chop all of the vegetables too, just make sure to leave the cut artichokes in a bowl of water with some lemon juice in the refrigerator. Let the dutch oven cool down and transfer to the refrigerator. When you are ready to serve, place the dutch oven back on the stove top, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and continue with adding the vegetables and simmering.

Add the vegetables to the dutch oven. Cook, covered, about 10 minutes. Add the olives and continue cooking for another 10 minutes or so. The artichokes should be tender and the fennel will still be slightly crisp.

Serve garnished with the reserved mint and parsley.

Nutritional Info
Servings Per Recipe: 4
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 539.4
Total Fat: 31.7 g
Cholesterol: 180.0 mg
Sodium: 1,182.3 mg
Total Carbs: 26.7 g
Dietary Fiber: 11.5 g
Protein: 44.2 g

* A note about the artichokes: Make sure you really remove all of the dark outer leaves. If they are cooked in the dish, they will remain tough, although the center heart will still be tender and tasty so you can just pick the them away. If you can find baby artichokes, they would be perfect in this meal. They lack the whole inner choke, so they are much quicker to prepare, and more tender. And if you don’t want to deal with fresh artichokes at all, canned artichoke hearts would be perfectly acceptable too.
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9 Responses to “PPS: North-African Spiced Chicken with Spring Vegetables”

  1. 1

    yumventures — March 22, 2010 @ 1:26 pm Reply

    This looks amazing and delicious! First, I love the flavors. I have been wanting to make a "tangine" for ages! While I love the traditional sweet and savory tangine (often with apricots or currants and olives) your unique flavors bring a wonderful twist to it! I love fennel! I have never actually cooked an artichoke so it would be a new challenge, but man, this looks amazing! Can I come over next time you make it? 🙂

  2. 2

    Dawn — March 22, 2010 @ 1:49 pm Reply

    That's what I'm afraid of too. In fact when I had a friend ask if I would cater their party I just couldn't do it while I'm working full time too. Having a small child under two makes it really tough to have a side job!

  3. 3

    Kerstin — March 22, 2010 @ 7:03 pm Reply

    Yay for perfecting the dish! It sounds so flavorful and perfect for spring with those artichokes in it!

  4. 4

    Maria — March 22, 2010 @ 8:28 pm Reply

    I am so excited for spring veggies. Love this dish!

  5. 5

    Averie (LoveVeggiesAndYoga) — March 22, 2010 @ 9:43 pm Reply

    your veggies look great, love the seasonings you used!and i relaly like your new(ish) layout! it's very clean and crips and i like the white and the 3 columns. it's clean but not stark or boring. I want to change mine to white but every white i see is blah…love yours though!

  6. 6

    *Naomi* — March 22, 2010 @ 10:03 pm Reply

    i LOVE Artichokes! this dish looks aawesome! i want to be at your seder !

  7. 7

    唱歌 — March 23, 2010 @ 8:10 am Reply

    This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

  8. 8

    grace — March 24, 2010 @ 10:28 am Reply

    i love how you handled all the constructive criticism and made a dish worthy of praise! moroccan flavors are something i'm really enjoying these days. what is included in your homemade ras al hanout?

  9. 9

    Cara — March 24, 2010 @ 11:18 am Reply

    Thanks Grace! You remind me that I meant to include a link to my stuffed eggplant recipe – the ras al hanout mixture is at the bottom of that recipe 🙂 http://carascravings.blogspot.com/2010/03/passover-prep-series-moroccan-style.html

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