Secrets to Super Simple Meals 


Tunisian Stew, Moroccan Roast Chicken and Algerian Carrot Salad

5 Mins read

Michael and I cooked some impressive dinners for his parents and Kat’s parents, but we had to up the ante a bit for my family this winter. I’ve been cooking magazine meals with my parents for as long as I can remember. (I got my first subscription to Gourmet before I lost my first baby tooth. Not kidding.) So we decided to make a North African feast with lots of lamb, chicken and couscous.

I’ll say two words about this chicken: spice butter. Ok, I want to give you more words: Butter, cumin, coriander, paprika, cayenne and cinnamon. Rubbed all over. Now, I’m not normally a glutton for chicken skin, but spice butter. I ate everything but the bones.

And the dates and apricots in chicken jus? I didn’t even think I liked dates. (I tried one from the box the next day, and they’re nothing without being roasted in spice-buttered chicken jus. Just sayin.)

The stew was also great, even though we totally rushed the process. The Darwell family has too high of metabolism for slow food. Luckily the stew didn’t suffer. The broth was full of flavor and just barely spicy, even with a whole habanero. Though, I have to give credit to the Los Angeles grocery store and the country of Australia for the lamb, which managed to be fork-tender even though we lumped off probably an hour of cooking time.

We served the dishes with piles of couscous and a side of refreshing carrot and fennel slaw. For dessert, I kept the spice theme going by making dark chocolate tart with gingerbread crust a la Smitten Kitchen.

Play some Algerian music from Cheb Mami, Rachid Taha or Khaled. Samira Said from Morocco is good too. If you can recommend any Tunisian artists, let me know.

Tunisian Lamb Stew

Original recipe from Gourmet Magazine

Serves 8-10, active time 1 1/2 hours, total time 3 1/2 hours

  • 2 lb boneless lamb shoulder, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes (We bought loin and shoulder chops because it was the best the grocery store had.)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 large onions, thinly sliced
  • 8 large tomatoes (4 1/2 lb), peeled, quartered, and seeded (we used canned whole tomatoes)
  • 4 cups canned tomato juice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 fresh habanero, finely chopped (include seeds for more spice)
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 1 bay leaf (not California – this is according to the recipe. I’m not sure of the difference)
  • Pinch of saffron threads
  • 4 carrots, sliced 1/2 inch thick
  • 4 turnips, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch-wide wedges (we used 2 large ones)
  • 3 red or green bell peppers, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (we used orange and yellow)
  • 1 lb pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 1/2 lb zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced crosswise 1 1/2 inches thick
  • 1 (19-oz) can chickpeas (about 2 cups), rinsed, drained, and skins slipped off (we left these out because my sister is allergic to legumes of all kinds)

Pat lamb dry. Heat oil in a 7- to 8-quart heavy pot over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then brown lamb in 3 batches, transferring to a bowl.

Add onions to pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 10 minutes. Stir in lamb with any juices that have accumulated in bowl, tomatoes, tomato juice, salt, black pepper, chile, herbs, and saffron and simmer, covered, 1 1/2 hours. (Here’s where we got impatient and only cooked it for an hour.)

Stir in carrots, turnips, bell peppers, and pumpkin and simmer, covered, 30 minutes (We probably did only 20). Stir in zucchini and chickpeas and simmer, covered, until zucchini is tender, 20 minutes.

Serve with couscous cooked according to box directions. The magazine also offers a recipe for spicy tomato sauce, which we didn’t make, but then my dad ended up putting another kind of hot sauce on the stew. So if you have heat-cravers, you probably shouldn’t skip it:

Pour 1 cup broth from pot into a small heavy saucepan and add 2 tablespoons of tomato paste, whisking until smooth. Simmer, stirring, until thick, about 10 minutes, then stir in a 1/2 teaspoon of paprika and 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne.

Moroccan Roast Chicken

Original recipe from Food and Wine magazine

Serves 4, active time 30 minutes, total time 1 1/2 hours

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • One 4-pound chicken, at room temperature (we made a larger one so it cooked longer, but everything else stayed the same)
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 4 garlic cloves (we probably doubled this)
  • 12 pitted dates
  • 12 dried apricots
  • 1 lemon and a bay leaf (our additions)
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock or low-sodium broth

Preheat the oven to 425° and position a rack in the lower third of the oven. In a bowl, mix the butter with the cumin, coriander, sweet paprika, cayenne and cinnamon and season with salt and pepper.

Pat the chicken dry. Rub half of the spice butter under the skin and the rest over the chicken. This will be the best thing you ever do to a bird. Add more salt and pepper. We stuffed some garlic cloves inside the chicken cavity along with half a lemon, and put a bay leaf under the spice-buttered skin.

Set the chicken breast-side-up on a rack in a roasting pan. Scatter the onion, garlic cloves, dates and dried apricots and add 1/2 cup of water. Roast for 30 minutes, until the breast is firm and just beginning to brown in spots. Using tongs, turn the chicken breast-down and roast for 20 minutes longer, until the skin is lightly browned.

Using tongs, turn the chicken breast-side-up. Add another 1/2 cup of water. We moved the onions and fruit around so they got enough juices and water. Roast for about 20 minutes longer, until a thermometer inserted in the inner thigh registers 175° to 180°.

Remove the bay leaf, lemon and garlic. Tilt the chicken to drain the cavity juices into the pan; transfer the bird to a cutting board. Remove the rack from the pan and spoon off the fat. Set the pan over high heat. Add the stock and cook, scraping up any browned bits. Carve the chicken and pass the chunky jus at the table. Tell the non-date fans to try the dates, and make sure that sweet/spicy/crispy skin doesn’t go to waste.

Algerian Carrot and Fennel Slaw

Original recipe from Gourmet magazine

Serves 8 small portions

  • 1 medium fennel bulbs with fronds (This is less than the recipe calls for)
  • 8 carrots, coarsely grated (This is more than the original recipe)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/4 cup Spanish green olives, pitted and finely chopped (We didn’t add these, but served a dish of green olives for the two out of eight people at the table who liked them)
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried Aleppo chile or Espelette pepper flakes, or to taste (We didn’t add this)
  • 6 sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained and very thinly sliced (Left this out too)

Chop enough fennel fronds to measure 3 tablespoons and reserve. Discard remaining fronds and stalks. Cut bulbs into thin matchsticks and toss with carrots in a bowl.

Whisk together lemon juice, vinegar, oil, olives, Aleppo chile (if using), and salt to taste (use more salt if no olives or sun-dried tomatoes). Toss with vegetables. Chill, covered, at least 30 minutes (for flavors to develop).

Just before serving, stir in reserved fronds and sprinkle sun-dried tomatoes (if using) and parsley over slaw.

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