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Stewing over cold weather with tangine

Leah Eskin

Home on the Range

2:26 PM EST, February 14, 2014

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Cold demands remedy: itchy sweater, bright fire, steaming stew.

Challenges, all. In extra-cold, I rely on my extra-itchy sweater. It was made in Ireland, long ago, by a sheep handy with the cableknit. I stuff myself in, do up the leather buttons and feel hogtied and sheepish. Then I take it off, and feel cold.

I try fire. I stuff the latest Amazon box with twigs, flick in a match and marvel at the orange conflagration, one soon collapsed to cold hiss.

I stew. I'm fond of Moroccan tagine, which is to say stew. Tagine can be cooked in a point-topped pot called a tagine. Or served in a point-topped dish called a tagine. Or simmered in a standard saucepan by a cook tied into a point-topped cap and still called tagine. In the savory/sweet tradition, mine pairs chicken with sweet potato. It's apricot sticky, ginger bright, cayenne spiced.

I serve it scorching hot, a welcome rejoinder to a day spent in the company of scratchy sheep and damp twigs.

Chicken tagine

Prep: 20 minutes

Cook: 1 hour

Serves: 4

8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 2 pounds), cut in half

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

¼ cup olive oil

2 onions, halved and thinly sliced crosswise

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground cayenne

1 bay leaf

3 tablespoons tomato paste

2 tablespoons apricot preserves or jam

2 cups chicken broth

1 pound sweet potatoes, cut into 2-inch chunks

½ cup plump dried apricots, cut in half

Prepared couscous, for serving

Harissa*, for serving

1. Season: Toss chicken with salt and pepper. Set aside.

2. Soften: If you have an actual stove-top tagine, use that. Otherwise, a Dutch oven or other large heavy pot will do. Heat oil over medium-low. Add onions and cook, stirring now and then, until very soft and lightly tanned, about 20 minutes. Add garlic and ginger; stir 1 minute.

3. Simmer: Stir in cinnamon, cayenne, bay leaf, tomato paste, apricot preserves and broth. Bring to a boil. Nestle in reserved chicken, sweet potatoes and apricots, making sure everything is submerged. Lower to a gentle simmer, cover and let cook, 45 minutes, no peeking.

4. Serve: Uncover, poke chicken and potatoes with a fork to make sure they are tender (if not, cover and cook a little longer). Pull out and discard bay leaf. Scoop prepared couscous into serving bowls, ladle on stew. Serve with harissa, for a little spicy kick.

*The spicy North African tomato and pepper condiment can often be found next to the hummus.

Leah Eskin is a Tribune Newspapers special contributor. Email her at leahreskin@aol.com.

Twitter @leaheskin