Project Food Blog Challenge #2: Discovering The Butter Man and Tagines

1:07 PM

First, a BIG thanks to all who voted for my blog in challenge #1! The competition was stiff and it is only going to get tougher as the pool of bloggers get whittled down to the best and most creative. Knives (and keyboards) are sharpened, ready for challenge #2:

Ready to tackle a classic dish from another culture? Pick an ethnic classic that is outside your comfort zone or are not as familiar with.

One of the key goals of this blog was to do just that – discover new dishes from other cultures with the hopes of expanding my family’s palate.  French and Italian cuisines are excluded (no-brainers). And for our home, that would also exclude Asian standards (something that typically appears as a weeknight meal). What to make? Hmmm…

Would it be an Indian dish? Filipino sounded intriguing. I’ve always wanted to try making Cornish Pasties. I decided to go with a classic Moroccan dish – a tagine. Named after the cooking vessel in which the dish is cooked (a wide shallow pan covered by a tall, conical lid), a tagine is a Moroccan stew usually consisting of meat, vegetables, dried fruit and spices. I’ve never tried a tagine, never mind try to make one. So what made me decide to make this dish?

The Butter Man

My boys love books. And finding food-related picture books we all love is especially pleasurable (helps when your kids ask you to read it twenty-times a day). We love to read Yum Yum Dim Sum by Amy Wilson Sanger before a trip to our favorite dim sum parlor. I like to read Big Jimmy’s Kum Kau Chinese Take Out by Ted Lewin to show them what its like to grow up in a Chinese restaurant. I wanted to find a children’s book about an ethnic cuisine to involve my boys in this challenge in a special way.

A Moroccan story of patience and hope

That’s when I found The Butter Man, by Elizabeth Alalou and Ali Alalou. It’s a story about a young girl, Nora, who has to wait hungrily for her mother to come home from work while her father is preparing a couscous meal. To pass the time, her father tells her about his childhood in Morocco and how he had a much longer and hungrier wait for his father to bring food for the family during a famine.

Reading about couscous

I love the lesson about patience (which my boys have so little of!) and hope, but I especially love how in this story a Saturday ritual of preparing a meal with your family can fill a home with amazing smells and memories. So it was after reading The Butter Man with my son that I decided to make a chicken tagine with couscous.

Follow along below to see how I tackled this dish along with some interesting facts I learned along the way.

Chicken and Chickpea Tagine with Apricots
Inspired by Gourmet (Feb 2008) & Cooking Know-How, by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarborough

  • 2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • A pinch of safron
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoons salt
  • 4 skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 medium red onion, halved, then sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 5 fresh cilantro
  • 5 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/2 cup chopped dried Turkish apricots
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 cup canned chickpeas
  • 1 medium carrot, sliced into ½ inch rounds
  • 1/3 cup whole blanched almonds (optional)


Step 1: Stir together ground coriander, cinnamon, ginger, cumin, safron, pepper, salt in a large bowl. Add chicken and turn to coat well.

Chicken thighs and other less-expensive cuts of meat are great for stews

Did you know? Like curry, there is no one Moroccan spice blend? (I went with a more standard, pantry-friendly blend. Adjust to your liking.) Before refrigeration, spices were added to meat to cover up the smell of bad meat. Adding the spice to the meat (rather than warming them later) infuses the meat with flavor.

Step 2: Heat butter and 1 tablespoon oil in base of tagine (or in a dutch oven in my case), uncovered, over moderate heat until hot but not smoking, then brown chicken, turning over once, 8 to 12 minutes. Transfer to a plate.

To brown or not to brown?

Did you know? Chicken and lamb are traditional meats in a tagine. You can also make a vegetarian tagine using root vegetables. Browning the meat is not traditional in a tagine. I have to agree with Weinstein and Scarborough however that browning is worth the compromise in authenticity in order to enrich the sauce and balance the flavors.

Step 3: Add onion and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt to tagine and cook, uncovered, stirring frequently, until soft, about 8 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, 3 minutes. 

(my son loves kitchen gadgets. use little hands to peel carrots or chop garlic thanks to chef'n)

Tie cilantro and parsley into a bundle with kitchen string and add to tagine along with 1/2 cup water or chicken broth, chicken, and any juices accumulated on plate. Stir in ½ cup dried Turkish apricots and tablespoon honey.

Now we wait

Step 4: Scatter chickpeas and carrots over the meat mixture. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, approximately 1 ½  hours.

Did you know? Laying the chickpeas and carrots over the top of the stew helps leach the flavors into the sauce and keep them from getting overpowered by the other ingredients.

Step 5: Discard herbs then serve chicken sprinkled with blanched almonds (optional) on top. Serve over couscous.

The aromas are out of this world

The Good:  An easy to make one-pot meal (minus the couscous). The smells are heavenly! The boys loved it (except the youngest picked out the chickpeas).

The Bad: This isn’t a quick weeknight meal. Because of the 2+ hours of prep and cooking time, this is best reserved for a weekend dish.

Grade: A+! The chicken was tender and fell off the bone. The spice combination with the chickpeas and carrots were uniquely flavorful. The apricots melted in your mouth. We’ll be practicing a little patience in our home next time we make this. 

What are some of your favorite food-related books? Do you have any weekend meals that have become a family tradition?

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