It started so innocently. My sis, Jules, is on bedrest until her due date at the end of May, so her house has become the social hub for family and friends. Last week, we realized that we were going to have a full house on Sunday, so I decided to make dinner. Something easy. Chicken is easy. We started thumbing through Jules' cookbooks, but didn't find anything we liked by Jamie Oliver or Donna Hay. Then Jules found a recipe in a Moroccan cookbook for classic Moroccan chicken. "This one sounds good," she said. It sounded so-so to me, but I didn't say so. When a pregnant lady on bedrest finds something appetizing, you make it for her!
Back at my apartment, I got out my copy of Claudia Roden's Arabesque to see if I could find any good side dishes. First thing I found was that same chicken recipe. This seemed like a good sign. Then I stuck Post-it notes on more than a dozen delicious sounding recipes and narrowed it down to two: Orange, Olive and Onion Salad and Roast Pepper, Tomato and Apple Salad. I was starting to get excited. It had been a while since I'd made a big meal, and ages since I'd tried anything new and really different.
Sunday morning came around, and I hit the city for ingredients. The most unusual on my list was preserved lemon---lemon that has been preserved in salt. First I went to Jon's, a low-budget chain that I'd heard had a good ethnic section. Indeed, they had an entire aisle labeled "international." There I found pomegranate syrup and orange blossom water, but no preserved lemons. I bought the syrup and water because they had both showed up in recipes I wanted to try at a later date, and then headed for the Farmer's Market at Third and Fairfax, where I bought my veggies, popped into Cost Plus for some spices, and tried the little French specialty shop for the elusive lemon. There I found a jar of preserved lemon in olive oil. It just looked too oily, but the nice clerk suggested I try Whole Foods across the street. Lo and behold, there in the olive bar was a little bin of preserved whole lemons, not to mention the olives. It was one of those lucky days where I found every single ingredient that I needed.
A few hours later my friend Jenny picked me up and we headed over to Jules and Clive's, where we spent a pleasant afternoon cooking. Jenny took on the Roast Pepper, Tomato and Apple Salad, as well as a phyllo dessert she found on good ole reliable Epicurious. Because Jules can't even sit up at the table right now, we ate around the living room, plates propped on knees, along with our friend Sarah, my cousin Jeanne, and her son Connor.
The meal was gasp-worthy. My brother-in-law even mentioned it in an email to me ... Sunday's meal was the best you have ever done and is the best meal I can remember. I take that as high praise (though I am well aware that kudos also go to Claudia Roden, as well as my partner-in-cooking crime, Jenny). The chicken was tender and vibrant with the lemon, olives, and spices. The orange salad was astounding. I have never tasted anything like it, and plan to make it over and over all summer long. And the peppers with apple (such a subtle combination) were the perfect straight man for the other two more flavorful dishes. As for dessert, it was stickily sweet and cool and refreshing all at the same time.
Another great thing about this meal is that I made it right in the middle of doing a cleanse: no sugar, no wheat, no dairy, no alcohol, no nothing! And other than the dessert, I could eat all three dishes. In fact, altogether they have only 9 tablespoons of olive oil, and the rest is all chicken, veggies, herbs, and spices.
To keep this post from being overly long, I have put each recipe in its own post, with the link below.
Moroccan Feast for 8:
Tagine of Chicken with Preserved Lemon and Olives
Orange, Olive and Onion Salad
Roast Pepper, Tomato and Apple Salad
Date and Walnut Phyllo Rolls with Greek Yogurt and Honey