There is a street in Granada known as Little Morocco. Leaning into the hillside not far from the Plaza Nueva, it is a narrow, jagged alleyway lined with Arabic tea houses and Moroccan shops. Colorful garments hang over the ally like the banners of a street fair, and from the open fronted shops hookahs overflow like octopi, bulbous glass tentacle-clad with coils of tubing. Tiny painted glasses jostle for space with elegant tea pots and the air is redolent of mint and something faintly smoky.
Little Morocco is where I found myself in the afternoons, hot and sweaty after a morning of flamenco. Replete with a pot of mint tea or thick coffee scented with cardamom I’d while away the hot hours with a book or some friends, idly nibbling on pastries made of honey and almonds and taking the occasional drag from a gently gurgling hookah.
From Little Morocco to the magnificent Alhambra, Granada is a conspicuous reminder of the influence North Africa had over Spain’s landscape and culture. Yet far from a remote fact of history, this influence is alive throughout Spain. You can find it in the shape of buildings and etched into walls, in the rice dishes that typify Spain’s cuisine and in turrón, one the nation’s favorite sweets. Today the two countries share many key ingredients, from olives and olive oil to saffron and citrus. They also share, along with much of the Mediterranean, a tradition of clay pot cooking. And in Morocco, nothing epitomizes this tradition like the tagine. Cooked and served in the iconic cone-shaped pot of the same name, the tagine has infinite incarnations: from fish with onions and tomato to lamb with prunes and cinnamon there is a tagine for every taste and occasion.
Here is a classic and one of my favorites. Serve it with saffron scented couscous (below). Serves 4-6.
Chicken Tagine with preserved lemon & olives
4 large garlic cloves, minced
a few sprigs of flat-leaf parsley
¼ cup chopped, loosely packed cilantro
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground coriander
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground Aleppo pepper
½ tsp black pepper
pinch of nutmeg
½ cup good olive oil
1 medium chicken, cut into 8 pieces
2 onions, sliced
juice of 2 lemons
1 preserved lemon
1 cup whole mixed green and black olives
1. Place the chicken pieces in a large bowl with half the olive oil, the garlic, cilantro, and all the ground spices. Mix well and leave in fridge for a few hours or preferably overnight.
2. Heat your tagine over a medium-low flame and add the remaining olive oil. Cook the onions until soft and golden; remove them with a slotted spoon and set aside.
3. Remove chicken from bowl and, working in batches if necessary, place in a single layer in the tagine over a medium heat; brown nicely on all sides. Return the onions to the pan with any remaining marinade, lemon juice, a pinch of salt and enough water to just cover the chicken. Bring to a boil and then immediately lower to a simmer and cook, covered, for 1 hour.
4. Halve the preserved lemon and then scoop out and discard the flesh and seeds. Finely chop the peel and add it to the tagine along with the olives. Stir well and simmer, uncovered, for about 15 minutes, until the sauce has thickened and chicken is tender; season as necessary with salt. During the last fifteen minutes, make the couscous.
5. Garnish with sprigs of parsley and serve.
Saffron scented couscous
I am sure instant couscous would be considered a sacrilege to any self-respecting Moroccan cook. But this is quick, easy, and delicious, so there you have it.
1 ½ cups plain instant couscous
2 cups water
1 tbsp butter
a small pinch of saffron threads, lightly toasted
1. Crumble the saffron threads and place in a little bowl. Pour a couple tablespoons of boiling water over saffron and allow it to infuse for 10 minutes.
2. Place the water and butter in a pot and bring to boil. When the butter has melted add the saffron water and couscous. Stir briefly, remove from heat and cover for five minute. Fluff with a fork and serve.
– Rachel Adams