Sunday, February 24, 2008

Babes in Ireland

Oh it feels good to be home!

I am one of the very lucky people who has homes scattered across the globe. Not actual homes, of course, but the sense of home – the people who want me back, the streets my feet know how to walk. Call it a place where I feel like myself. St. Paul, New Orleans, New York, and Dublin: they each represent a different part of me, and if I had my dithers I wouldn’t go a year without spending time in each one.

Dublin is where I feel heady, invincible, and sexy. It’s where I first wore black leggings and tucked my jeans into boots, nine months before the American girls caught on. It’s where I can tease the grooviest magazine editor in town about his plastic surgery. It’s where my friends are creative, mad troubadours of the night. To put it tongue in cheek: it’s where I’m on the list.

Clearly, I just about howled at the chance to come back for a whirlwind visit in honor of the wedding of two bright Dublin stars.

The night before the wedding, I whipped up a Moroccan meal: chicken cooked in butter and water with ginger, saffron, and turmeric, chickpeas with raisins, couscous, and a salad of my own invention (more on that below).

Djej Bil Hamus (Chicken Tagine with Chickpeas) is a 1973 dish that the inimitable Molly O’Neill deigned to include in The Anthology (as I’ve come to think of American Food Writing). And, unfortunately, I can say little more about it, not even who published it and in what book. I had a photocopy of the recipe but I think I left it in the produce aisle of a supermarket. I had already typed up the recipe, thank goodness, but I didn’t include any citations. So I will fill in the blanks when I get home.

For now, suffice to say that it came to American shores in the disco, dance-dance years, was probably served at dinner parties filled with madcap young things, and seemed the perfect dish to take The Great American Cooking Project abroad.

It all came off quite well, except I had zero success cooking the sauce down to the consistency of “thick gravy.” After munching through a sultan’s spread of chili-oil olives, tapenade, and excellent lemony hummus from my new favorite shop, Fallon & Byrne (modeled by Grace at right), my girls were getting hungry for the main event. After about 30 minutes of cooking down the sauce, I gave up on getting to gravy and just went with something more like an Indian curry, perfect for ladling over couscous. The combination of turmeric and saffron made a fantastic vibrant yellow color.

The salad was inspired by a zany head of frisée lettuce spotted in Fallon & Byrne. I mean, how could I pass up something so delightfully Muppet-esque? I whipped up a lemon, Dijon mustard, and olive oil dressing (light on the mustard), added toasted almonds and insanely good feta cheese (again from Fallon & Byrne – the only place worth dropping my meager dollars-for-euros), and the segments of two Clementines.
Not Moroccan per se, but it hit the right notes, with a hint of a warm climate (citrus), the Mediterranean (feta, olive oil), and the fertile crescent (almonds).

NOTE: I'm back in Brooklyn and it's time to fill in those blanks. The recipe is from Paula Wolfert's Couscous and Other Foods of Morocco. Writes Molly O'Neill: "A cook's cook, Paula Wolfert has proven herself willing to travel anywhere to find the best recipe." Not unlike myself! But once again this is the case of being born at least a generation too late ... don't you ever get the feeling like you missed out on the best times? Man, do I.

Chicken Tagine with Chickpeas (Djej Bil Hamus)

6 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts
1 pound dried chickpeas
5 cloves garlic, peeled
1 teaspoon ground ginger
Plenty of freshly ground pepper (about 1 teaspoon)
Pinch of pulverized saffron
1 teaspoon turmeric
¼ cup finely chopped parsley
1 cinnamon stick
½ cup chopped scallions, white part only
5 tablespoons butter
1 Spanish onion, sliced very thin
½ cup black raisins

1. The day before, soak the chickpeas in plenty of water. Wash the chicken in salted water and drain. Pound 4 cloves of garlic and 2 tablespoons salt into a paste. Rub the paste into the cavity and flesh, at the same time removing any excess fat from the poultry. Rinse the poultry well until it no longer smells of garlic. Drain well.

2. To prepare the flavor rub, blend 1 teaspoon salt, the ginger, pepper, and the remaining clove of garlic, crushed, with 2 tablespoons water and rub into the flesh of the chicken pieces. Place in a large bowl and refrigerate overnight.

3. The next day, drain chickpeas and boil in salted water until tender, about 1 hour. Transfer the chicken and any juices in the bowl to a large casserole. Add a pinch of saffron, turmeric, parsley, cinnamon stick, scallions, and butter. Pour in 5 cups of water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 1 hour, turning the chicken pieces frequently in the sauce. When the chicken pieces are very tender, remove and keep warm.

4. Add the finely sliced onions and raisins to the sauce and cook until the onions are very soft and the sauce has reduced to a thick gravy. This will take at least 45 minutes. After about 20 minutes, add the chickpeas. When done cooking, add the chicken pieces to the sauce and reheat. Taste the sauce for salt and add a good pinch of saffron for a lovely yellow color.

5. To serve, place chicken pieces in a deep serving dish, forming them into a mound. Spoon over the sauce. Serve with Moroccan bread or pita.

Serves 6.


Dave, 'LunaPierCook' said...

I love the salad based on the "Muppet-esque" frisée lettuce! I've always enjoyed when I can find some, and yes, it does make me feel like having fun with my (and others!) food. Great post as always!

srhcb said...


Just to let you know that you secured a spot on the list here on the Minnesota Iron Range just by showing up for less than 24 hrs!

Of course, this not being Dublin, New Orleans, New York, or even St Paul, (okay, it's not that much unlike St Paul), you share top billing with an 80-ish strudel-making grandma and her 95 year-old CW guitar playing BF, a former go-go dancing wife and mother of a combined 3 chiropractors and #1 fan of the Queen Mum, and a megalomaniacal outlaw in the teddy bear, womens apparel and dog treat business.

SB (noticed the boots)

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