Friday, 12 January 2007
It is literally ripping up trees outside up here in these parts, not very nice at all. The house is whistling like an old kettle as it howls around it and the roof feels as though it is about to be torn away. It is nights like this that dreams of far off places help you through the miserable coldness. Exotic places, the kind where the sun often shines, where beaches are vast. Where the food is as colourful as the people. Morocco comes to mind. A country seeping with mystery and guise and, for me, boasting probably the best street food in the world. Walk around a Moroccan market and you are hit with a myriad of nasal sensations from lemons to saffron to roasted pistachios to sizzling chicken on the spit to warm freshly baked flatbreads, the perfect food wrap when you are walking around sampling the atmosphere. Everywhere you look are rainbows of spices adorning the stalls. The buzz in the air is intense, filled with bartering and energy. A million miles away from the frozen North in January, I can tell you.
In the not so sunny North East it is difficult to conjure up these feelings, especially when the house appears to be getting ripped apart by the conditions outside. But a rendition of this Moroccan style dish gives you a good head start. Sweet and spicy, hot and alluring, it cheered us up no end. It is incredibly simple, as the best food really is, with a hint of saffron the key rather than a blast of this most expensive of spices. I do find that it can be an overpowering spice and a pinch too much can endure a dish almost sickly. But used carefully, it ensures a spark of magic. The addition of honey soothes the kick of the cayenne and a generous sprinkling of toasted almonds and pistachios provides crunch and nuttiness, a beautiful texture to compliment perfectly. Please track down orange blossom honey, the hint of orange makes it even more exotic and relevant.
If you have the time, make a basic flatbread recipe, you will never look back. It will probably convince you that bought in breads of this nature simply do not compete as freshness and heat from a recently vacated oven makes any flatbread an absolute must. Then, when you finally sit down with your loved one in a cold Tyneside house or wherever for that matter, try and block out the freezing howling winds whilst devouring this amazing dish and dream, dream, dream......
To Serve 4
4 chicken breasts cut into pieces (I actually use the thighs with the bone in and skin on, much tastier. But for people who prefer no fuss, if you insist, use the breast)
2 cloves of garlic
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tins of chopped tomatoes (or 600g fresh, skinned and chopped)
4tbsp orange blossom honey
Toasted flaked almonds
1 - Soak the saffron in 250ml boiling water.
2 - Heat the olive oil in a large pan and brown the chicken. Finely chop the onion, remove the chicken with a slotted spoon and soften the onion. Add finely sliced garlic, cinnamon, ginger and cayenne pepper and stir for 1 minute.
3 - Add the tomatoes, saffron infused water and chicken. Bring to the boil and simmer for 30-35 minutes.
4 - Pour in the honey and raise the heat for 5 minutes until the sauce thickens. Taste for seasoning.
5 - Sprinkle with fresh coriander, toasted flaked almonds and serve with plain cous cous and warm flatbreads.