Monday, January 24, 2011

Uses for Lemons - Lemony Chicken Tagine

Bare limbs of pecan trees were about as close as we could possibly get to winter fruit trees when I lived in Texas.  Fruit trees in general were not part of life since I grew up in the suburbs of Dallas where most trees were planted as twigs by development contractors and were generic non fruit-bearing varietals.  So, here in California, I have yet to be jaded against the beauty of citrus trees fully fruiting in the middle of the coldest months.

Dark green leafy trees covered with the brightest orbs of yellow and orange.  They are everywhere.  Friends bring us lemons by the bagful.  Our farm brings us 5 lbs of oranges and Satsuma mandarins every week.  Kyle went to a local tree on open land and collected a giant bag of the most refreshing sweet-tart oranges I’ve ever had.  There are varieties of citrus I never knew before: Calamansis – green skin with yellow flesh, Sour Oranges – tiny oranges with green flesh and very tart juice, Meyer Lemons – cross between lemon and tangerine, juice that is tart but sweet enough to avoid a pucker, mini lemons – just what they sound like.

With all this citrus, I’ve learned to preserve them in a myriad of ways.  I’ve made marmalades, frozen the juice, made limoncello, and lots of lemon curd.  The more exotic method of preservation is to brine them and make Preserved Lemons. I did this with lemons in the Fall and finally had the chance to use them when I received turnips and carrots in our Veggie Box.  Morrocan cuisine uses preserved lemons regularly so a chicken tagine (with quinoa instead of the more traditional couscous) became dinner.

No preserved lemons, no problem.  Just use lemon juice.  No baby turnips, use celery.  Got lots of winter squash, use it or any squash for that matter.  Add garbanzo beans for extra protein.  It’s mostly about the lemon and warm spices with the chicken so the vegetables can be varied based on what you have or is in season.. For the pilaf, use quinoa, couscous or brown rice (if using rice, start before chicken because it cooks longer) and any fruits and nuts you may have. 

CWYG Stats
CWYG List Items – onions, garlic, chicken, chicken broth, cinnamon, cumin, turmeric, quinoa, dried apricots, raisins, sliced almonds, green olives, preserved lemons
Veggie Box Items – baby turnips, carrots, leeks
Fresh Items to Buy – cilantro, harissa or chili garlic sauce, seasonal vegetables (if no veggie box)

Lemony Chicken Tagine with Quinoa Pilaf
2 tsp each cinnamon, ginger and turmeric
1 tbsp cumin
1 ½ tsp kosher salt
2 large chicken breasts, cut into 1” chunks
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped (reserve ½ cup for pilaf)
4 cloves garlic, minced (reserve ¼ of the minced garlic for pilaf)
1 leek, thinly sliced and rinsed well, optional (use more onions if you don’t have any leeks)
2 small turnips cut into 1” chunks
3 carrots cut into 1” chunks
½ cup good quality green olives
2 tbsp rinsed and chopped preserved lemons or 3 tbsp lemon juice
3 cups chicken broth
Quinoa Pilaf (recipe follows)
Chopped cilantro for garnish

Mix the spices and salt in a small bowl or ramekin.  Using half of the mixture season the chicken liberally.

Heat the oil in a large skillet and brown the chicken well.  Add the onion and garlic and sauté until softened.  Add leeks, turnips and carrots.  Stir for a minute or so, then add remaining spice mix and olive.  Stir to slightly toast spices, then add preserved lemons (or lemon juice) and chicken broth. Taste for salt and add to taste.  Simmer for 30 minutes.

Serve over Pilaf of your choice and top with chopped cilantro.  Serve harissa or chili garlic at table for everyone to season to taste.

Quinoa Pilaf (or coucous or brown rice)
1 tbsp olive oil
Reserved garlic and onion
2 cups well rinsed quinoa (or use whole wheat coucous or brown rice)
¼ cup raisins, optional
4 dried apricots, chopped, optional
1 ¾ cups water (3 ¼ for rice)
½ cup toasted sliced almonds, optional

In a large saucepan, heat olive oil.  Sauté garlic and onion until the onion is soft.  Add the quinoa (or other grains) and and dried fruits.  Sauté to coat the grains with the oil. Add the water and cook for 15-20 minutes for quinoa or couscous (45 minutes for brown rice).  Do not remove the lid, but take off the heat and let stand for 10 minutes. 

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