I am an obsessive cookbook reader. I have often said that my perfect career would be to edit cookbooks because then I could spend my days reading them. As it is, I spend many evenings that way. I know many people (certainly not anyone reading this blog, I am sure) would think I am crazy for pouring over recipes when most people would rather be reading a novel or watching TV. Don't get me wrong. I love to read other types of material as well, but there is something about a cookbook that has the power to transport a person to the very country or region from which its recipes hail. I can read a cookbook and suddenly I am in France, Italy, India, or Morocco. I especially love cookbooks filled with information and stories from around the world.
For the past few weeks, I have been completely obsessed with the recipes of North Africa and the Middle East. I have read several cookbooks I already owned on Morocco, and I have visited the library for more interesting finds. On Saturday I visited a Lebanese grocery where I live, Cedar Land, and in it found many treasures, some of which I had never heard of before. I came home with spices, tea, marinated olives, preserved lemons (I am currently making my own, but will use these in the meantime), pita, Armenian string cheese coated in spices and chiles, sardines, and labneh (a thick yogurt "cheese").
I spent the weekend trying out several recipes, some of which I had eated in restaurants, and some from cookbooks I have owned and never got around to using. This particular recipe comes from The French Slow Cooker by Michele Scicolone, and while this recipe is not necessarily authentic, it does contain the flavors I was craving. A sauce made savory with paprika, ginger, and cumin and sweetened with dried apricots bathes a piece of boneless, skinless chicken breast as it cooks in the crock pot for several hours. It was perfect for a busy Saturday afternoon and could just as easily be done on a weekday. It could also be made with bone in chicken breasts if you are at work and need to cook it for a longer period of time.
Serve this chicken topped with toasted almonds, chopped cilantro, and with a side of couscous seasoned with mint.
Moroccan Spiced Chicken with Apricots and Almonds- serves 4
adapted from The French Slow Cooker by Michele Scicolone
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 Tbsp flour
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 cup chicken broth
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp honey
1/2 cup dried apricot halves, quartered
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp sliced almonds, toasted
1 Tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil on medium heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent and tender, 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute more. Add the flour, paprika, ginger, and cumin and cook 1 minute until fragrant. Whisk the broth, lemon juice, and honey into the spice mixture being careful to eliminate any lumps. Simmer until slightly thickened, 3-5 minutes. Stir in the apricots, and remove the sauce from the heat.
Season the chicken breast halves with salt and pepper. Pour 1/2 the sauce into the bottom of a slow cooker. Lay the chicken breast halves on top of the sauce, overlapping a little if necessary. Pour the remaining sauce over the top of the chicken. Place the lid on the slow cooker and cook on low for approximately 3 hours until the chicken is tender and cooked through.
Serve the chicken topped with toasted almonds and chopped cilantro.