the hinata diaries

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Moroccan memories and chicken couscous

This is a belated post on last Friday's dinner at home. Truth be told, Philippe and I rarely eat at home on consecutive evenings, let alone three nights in a row, but I guess a sofa and DVDs is really the best way to recover from Christmas excesses. Having been pretty excited about cooking the previous two nights, I was feeling decidedly lazy and unadventurous for the third, and after much humming and hawing finally reverted to the one cuisine that never fails to excite me: Moroccan.

My love affair with Moroccan food began when I was a college student in Philadelphia and subsisting on a diet of hoagies and Chinese food truck. Philadephia's South Street is home to a highly regarded Moroccan restaurant called Marrakesh, which served (and hopefully still serves) wonderful family style meals. You'd sit on the floor in a pile of lush cushions, have a server pour warm water over your hands to clean them, and then dig into course after course of exotic platters. Such luxury compared to eating out of a takeaway box in a moldy dorm room!

My Marrakesh memories lay dormant for a few years, until one day Philippe and I were talking about the general state of food in Singapore. Our conclusion was that you could find great food from more or less every cuisine... except Moroccan. And what we can't get, we suddenly must have. Shortly after, we were heading off for a short vacation in San Francisco, and when our host Shamayn asked us what we wanted to eat, the unexpected answer came back: Moroccan! We then proceeded to have a fantastic Moroccan meal at (restaurant whose name we've forgotten) that had us practically shedding tears of joy after.

Since then, I've proudly acquired Cooking Moroccan, a lovely picture filled cookbook by Murdoch Books, that's on the shelf of most Borders and Kinokuniya outlets. So far so good, and I'm gearing up to prepare the big family feasts of days gone past.

I'm still trying to figure out what it is about Moroccan food that captures me so and why, to me, it always seems like comfort food even though the flavours are far from familiar. End of the day, I think, it's the combination of sweet and savoury - the liberous use of spices, fruits, honey and sugar in even the most savoury of meats, the steaming hot gravies and the fact that most portions require a big family (or at least a small army of friends) to share in.

All of this is really a long preamble to say that I made couscous on Friday night. Happy me. Pic and recipe below (and yes, I will try to take more creative photos from now on).

Chicken couscous (adapted from Cooking Moroccan)
Serves 4 as a main dish/light dinner
  • 4 chicken drumsticks
  • 1 onion
  • Bit of butter
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 tablespoon turmeric
  • 1 cinammon stick
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, or 3 small tomatoes, chopped
  • Veggies: zucchini, eggplant (optional)
  • Chicken broth (optional)
  • 2 cups couscous

In large pot, sautee chicken and onion in butter until chicken is brown and onion is soft. Drain off excess butter if necessary. Add cumin, turmeric, cinammon, tomatoes and enough water for soup (if pressed for time, use/combine with chicken broth). Simmer over low heat for an hour, or longer if time permits. If adding optional veggies, add about 20 minutes before intended serving time to prevent veggies from getting too soggy.

Prepare couscous per instructions on box (typically: add equal amount of boiling water, leave covered for 5 minutes then fluff with butter). Ladle chicken stew with soup over couscous, serve immediately.


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