It was the night before & Alex & I were getting ready to leave for Egypt. I was stuck in the bathroom all night, sick as, thinking I’m going to have to call my sis & tell her she has to take my place & start packing her bags. The news was on in the background & rioting in Egypt had heightened. The Australian Government strongly recommended against travelling there, but we took our chances & I decided to pack an extra first aid kit, like that would do anything!
When we stepped out of the plane onto the tarmac all I could envision was Aladdin. I was obsessed with the story when I was younger & the Arabian Desert fascinated me. The air was thick with sand & exotic palm trees could be seen off in the distance – my fantasy was becoming a reality! I was then brought back down to earth when we walked out of the airport; there were only men in sight. It was confronting & intimidating at first, but they were just as curious about me as I was about them.
Our hotel was right on the Nile River, which was filled with party boats blasting Arabic disco-disco music until the wee hours of the morning…actually it was more like 24/7.
We made our way down the Nile, from Alexandria to Cairo & Luxor. The food changed with each city we visited, but spices & ghee always played a part in the dishes. I was surprised at how fertile Egypt was. I was expecting to see only desert, but the fresh produce was amazing & as you traveled outside the city, vibrant green fields could be seen miles away from the river. Pomegranates, potatoes, oranges and eggplants were in abundance & there is nothing like seeing your chicken killed right there on the spot!
Being able to see the pyramids & climb inside them would have to be the highlight of the trip. I was secretly hoping to stumble over a large rock that would unearth an undiscovered tomb… ah well, it’s free to dream. The history & mythology lure you in & while walking up the steps of Queen Hatshepsut’s Temple near Valley of the Kings, my imagination lit up like wildfire. At one point I was strutting down a walkway and Alex heard me say, “If I was queen historians would write about my beauty”.
The Bazaar in Cairo, Khan El Khalili, was brilliant. It was filled with handmade crafts, gorgeous materials draped from the tops of stalls, copper & metal trinkets, & street food being sold left, right & centre. Salesmen dropped pieces of bread all over the street & quickly picked them up & put them back in their baskets, no worries. You had your men smoking shishas & sipping Turkish coffee, all the while watching passers-by, talking about god-knows-what.
The Egyptian culture & its people are amazing & the food has left me with a constant craving of sweet mint tea, hummus and flatbread. A chicken, preserved lemon & olive tagine had me raving on about Egypt for months. It glistened in the moonlight as there was so much ghee in there it would stop your heart!
This Chicken & Olive tagine will take you to Egypt all in the comfort of your own home. I recommend having friends or family over when cooking this dish & they will love you for it, it’s absolutely delicious.
Chicken & Olive Tagine (MIM style)
What you need
1 large chicken, jointed
good glug of extra virgin olive oil
good heaped tbsp of ghee or butter
2 cups organic chicken stock
4 garlic cloves, grated
1 brown onion, diced
1 tsp of cumin, cayenne pepper, paprika & coriander seeds
bunch of coriander stalks, finely chopped
1 large fennel bulb, diced
6 preserved lemons
½ cup cooked chickpeas
juice of 1 lemon
400g canned chopped tomatoes
pinch of saffron threads
handful green olives
handful chopped parsley leaves
sea salt & pepper (to taste)
Go for it..
Over a medium heat, pour a good glug of oil in a tagine or heavy casserole dish & heaped tablespoon of ghee. Season the chicken with salt & pepper, pop into the tagine for the skin to become golden brown – about 10 minutes. Take the browned chicken out, pop on a plate & set aside.
Add the onion, garlic, fennel into the tagine, along with the chicken juices & sauté until softened. Then throw in the spices, saffron & chopped stalks of the coriander, stir for a couple of minutes until the spices are cooked (add a little more ghee if you want to).
Add the tomatoes, chicken stock & then place the browned chicken pieces back in. Place the lid on & simmer for 20 minutes. Throw in the preserved lemons, olives, chickpeas, juice of 1 lemon, season with sea salt & pepper, cook for another 20 minutes.
The chicken should be falling off the bone. When ready to serve, sprinkle some fresh, chopped parsley on top & serve with some cous cous.
Tastes even better the next day, as all the flavours infuse.