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Ras El Hanout Chicken in Paan Leaf

Vanya Pandey from India

Serves
5
Preparation
30 minutes
Cooks in
60 minutes
Country of origin
Morocco

As we get through life,we soak in the world around us in all its senses -the visuals,the touch, sound,taste and smell.Food is perhaps then, the greatest metaphor. It is both ritualistic and exotic, sensual and nourishing. And one of the greatest levelers.
My story comes from these metaphors and influences -the Moroccan part is not from my own travels there,but my boyfriend’s -the Indian part is my own.Some years back, as a 24year old, my boyfriend spent 2years living in and exploring Morocco. Around the same time, I was exploring the MiddleEast, having grown up over there,now rediscovering it. As it was,we happened to board the same Emirates flight from Delhi,heading in different directions,unknown to each other.With a layover in Qatar,we ended up going out for an Indian meal together(as we soon had discovered, we both were part of AIESEC).My boyfriend,then living in Morocco,craved for good ol Indian food every now &again (you can take a boy out of Delhi, but..),convinced me thus to share a nice Indian meal in Qatar with him (Morocco having very few Indian restaurants and Qatar having plenty). After the meal,we headed for paan. It would’ve been something out of Before Midnight,except this was the age of Facebook &mutual connections. We headed our own ways then,only to come together late -but thats another story 🙂 Once I got to my destination, Kuwait,I headed straight to the spice market,thinking of the boy with the black hair who had made me laugh and told me tales of Marrakech. I bought some Moroccan spice blend, because of course I wanted to experience this strange place through its food, and because I wanted to make the meal stranger still, I added some paan leaves to it on a whim. I invited my friends over, and we shared a meal that brought together India, Morocco and Kuwait together in a strange blend of tastes and textures and stories. And now, every time I cook this hybrid dish thats sweet and sour, tart and salty, I think of how similar cooking & love are.

Ingredients

  • Chicken breasts (with skin, preferably) – 5 large pieces
  • Potatoes – 3, large, roughly chopped (quartered)
  • Onions – 3, medium, finely chopped
  • Figs – 6-7 pieces, whole
  • Whole olives – 10-12 pieces (with preserving liquid)
  • Walnuts – 6-7 pieces, roughly chopped
  • Paan (betel) leaf – 1, finely chopped
  • Lemon – 1 large, juice + rind, separated
  • Orange (fresh) – half, juice + rind (2 tablespoons if using packaged)
  • Preserved whole lemons/lemon pickle (Indian/Arabic) – 4 pieces (or 1 tablespoon of pickle)
  • Ras El Hanout* spice blend – 2 tablespoons
  • Honey – 3 tablespoons
  • Fresh black pepper – 2 tablespoons
  • Cumin – 1/2 tablespoon
  • Paprika – 2 tablespoons
  • Mint – 2-3 leaves, fresh/1/2 teaspoon, dry
  • Rosemary – 1 sprig, fresh/1/2 teaspoon, dry
  • Ginger – 1 large knob
  • Fresh cream – 1 large cup
  • Yogurt – 1/2 cup
  • Olive oil – 1 large cup
  • Water – 3 cups
  • Salt, to taste
  • Grapes – a few, optional
  • Parsley/Cilantro – a handful
  • Almonds/Pine nuts – optional, to garnish
  • Heavy bottomed vessel/tagine – 1
  • Patience 🙂

Method

  • Make a thick marinade of the following ingredients –
  • Fresh black pepper – 1 tablespoon, honey – 1 tablespoon, lemon juice – 1 tablespoon, paprika – 1 tablespoon, cumin – 1/2 teaspoon, mint – 1/2 teaspoon, olive oil – 1 tablespoon
  • Making large slits in the chicken breast pieces, marinate it for 15 minutes
  • In a heavy bottom vessel, dry roast the potatoes and onions, on a low flame, till they are lightly brown. Remove from vessel and keep aside.
  • In the same vessel, pour in half the olive oil, let it come to heat on a medium flame, but not boiling.
  • Once the oil is sufficiently hot, add the chicken pieces, gently frying it for 5 minutes on each side.
  • Now add the potatoes and onions, the Ras El Hanout, preserved lemons/lemon pickle, olives, 2 tablespoons of honey, orange juice and zest, juice and zest of half the lemon, the remaining paprika, cumin and mint, as well as the figs, walnuts, ginger and rosemary, and a cup of water. Top with the remaining olive oil
  • Let it all cook for 45 minutes on a low flame (check for water levels in the pan after every 15 minutes, if its getting dry, add some more – it should have a thick gravy by the end of the cooking process)
  • Now make a paste of the paan (betel) leaf in the yogurt, add this to the vessel
  • After 10 minutes, add the the fresh cream, grapes and almonds/pine nuts
  • Let it all cook for another 5-10 minutes
  • Garnish with parsley/cilantro and a squeeze of lemon juice
  • Serve hot, over plain white rice or with breads such as khubbus or naan.
  • Enjoy 🙂

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