When the first real showers of the Mumbai monsoon finally strike, I go into one-dish-meal mode. I cannot, cannot, cannot bring myself to make or eat the everyday Indian meal of chappatis, vegetables, salads, lentils, and rice. I need something that can be eaten from a bowl. Or something that needs little attention. Something that is warm in temperature and flavor. Something that will calm you down as you eat alone, watching the rain wash your potted plans playfully.

One such afternoon, I was inspired to make a tagine because it met all the above-mentioned needs. And because I love the shape of the tagine pot. I’ve been looking around for one for several months but perhaps I’m looking in the wrong places. What I do have, however, is my very trusty meen chetti, or Kerala-style clay pot. It’s a shallow, unglazed cooking utensil that is commonly used in Malayali households for everyday fish curries. I make a lot of my curries in this, and I can tell you the earthy aroma of the clay can do wonders to your dish and to you. It worked beautifully with the flavors of the tagine, yielding a fragrant and rich stew of chicken and root vegetables. Paired with a simple saffron couscous, it made for a very satisfying and faux-exotic lunch.

I enjoyed the mushiness of the root vegetables against the fall-off-the-bone tender chicken, the sweetness of the dried fruit, and the warmth of the spices. The smoothness of the couscous provided an apt bed for the stew, as well.

Here’s how I made it:

Ingredients for the tagine-inspired chicken:

  • 1 chicken breast (preferably on the bone)
  • 1 medium-sized onion, sliced
  • 1 small carrot, cubed
  • 1 small potato, cubed
  • 1 small sweet potato, cubed
  • 3 dried apricot, chopped
  • 1 tbsp. golden raisins or sultanas
  • 1 and ½ tsp. cumin seed powder
  • 1 tbsp. paprika
  • ½ tsp. ground ginger
  • ¼ tsp. powdered cinnamon
  • ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 tbsp. cilantro, chopped
  • 1 cup of stock or water
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • Salt to taste

Method for tagine-inspired chicken:

  1. Heat a tagine pot, clay pot, or other vessel of choice.
  2. Meanwhile, score the chicken breast slightly and rub with pinches of cumin seed powder, paprika, and salt.
  3. When smoking hot, add the oil, and sear the chicken breast on both sides until lightly browned.
  4. Now, turn down the heat down to low, and add all the other ingredients, except the stock. Turn until the vegetables are well-coated and fragrant. Check for seasoning.
  5. Add the stock and cover. Cook on medium to low heat until the chicken is tender and the vegetables are cooked through.
  6. Serve piping hot with couscous.

Ingredients for the saffron couscous:

  • ½ cup organic couscous
  • A little over a cup of water
  • 1 tsp. saffron strands
  • Salt to taste
  • ½ tsp. olive oil

Method for saffron couscous:

  1. Bring the water to a boil with the salt and olive oil.
  2. Turn off when it comes to a healthy boil, and add the saffron strands. Turn off the heat.
  3. Pause for a moment to enjoy the sunset come alive in your pot.
  4. Tip in the couscous and stir.
  5. Cover and leave to stand for about 10-15 minutes until all the water is absorbed and the couscous is soft, plump, and double in volume.
  6. Fork up and serve hot with the chicken tagine.

By the way, what do you think of my new header? My mum designed it for me!