roast chicken with couscous.
I looked up a few recipes for a Moroccan-style chicken and that’s what happened! To what extent does it resemble Moroccan cuisine? Not much probably.
I used ingredients commonly used in Morocco: paprika powder, ground cumin, lemons, roasted peppers, fresh mint. The result? Very nice meal!
It makes you think, though. In the increasingly interconnected, interdependent and globalising world, we find ourselves craving things which are different, ‘exotic’, not a part of the everyday we are so used to. we search for new things, re-imagine them to fit our own reality and give them a whole new meaning, relevant possibly only to us.
the foods we consume in countless Chinese, Italian, Moroccan or other restaurants have often very little to do with authentic cuisines of those countries. What are we consuming then? Does the notion of authenticity still matter or do we prefer to eat foreign foods already adjusted to our taste preferences?
I remember my trip to Thailand, over a year ago. we first went to Krabi, a small town in Southern Thailand. we booked a small hut – which turned out to be – not accessible by land, by a small beach. it took us ages to even get there (bus from the airport, followed by a 20-min boat trip and then 30min walk), but it was so beautiful when we finally got there, we quickly forgot about all the difficulties. I was not very familiar with Thai cuisine before my first encounter. I expected fresh flavours, coco-nutty curries, crispy vegetables and fragrant rice. I did not expect spiciness which makes one cry.
There was a small local bar/restaurant by our ‘hotel’, which catered to both, tourists and locals. we decided to eat there on our first night, since it seemed the most authentic (and cheaper than the restaurants by the beach). the food was stunning. we ordered green curry and massaman curry, with jasmine rice. my green curry was so spicy, I thought it was going to burn my lips and throat. but it was a different kind of spicy, different to anything I have tasted before. it wasn’t an obvious spiciness of hot jalapeños, or the explosive spiciness of Korean dishes. it was hotness broke down by the sweetness of coconut milk and delicateness of fragrant rice. the dish was nicely satisfying and comforting, like a warm welcome to Thailand.
We stayed in Krabi for a few days. i cried when the time to leave had come. we had become regulars at this restaurant, we really liked our little hut, even though one needed to climb countless stairs in order to get there. there was no hot water in the bathroom and we had lizards there, too. cute, little creatures, lizards are. the ‘hotel’ breakfast was great: freshly cut tropical fruit, black coffee and banana or pineapple pancakes. we did not want to go. our next stop was Phuket, a town in which English is heard more than Thai. hundreds of young backpackers everywhere: streets, markets, beaches, restaurants. it felt as if we transferred ourselves to a beach in California, it could have been anywhere in the world, really. the only thing reminding us of the fact, that we were still in Thailand, were the Thai restaurants, neatly lined up parallel to the beach. but the food? we had to walk for half an hour, to get out of the town centre and find a restaurant serving authentic Thai food, not its softer version – for the tourist, whose palates are possibly too delicate for the Thai spiciness.
same story in Bangkok. at least in the areas known for being tourist destination. we visited Khao San Road, which is known for being a backpackers’ haven. restaurants, bars and Thai massage shops were everywhere, filled with tourists from possibly every corner of the world. we sat in one of the restaurants and ordered some of our favourites: green curry, phanang curry, chicken satay and some rice. if i had closed my eyes and ate, the dishes would have been almost indistinguishable. everything tasted bland and uninteresting. the crispiness, freshness and an element of surprise, characteristic to Thai cuisine – were gone. we were served a set of dishes based on coconut milk, and that was the main ingredient we were able to properly taste. we left the restaurant deeply saddened, that it was our last meal in Bangkok, before we proceeded to Burma.
why I am telling this story? it links to my own experience with ‘Moroccan cooking’. as much as I was imagining how does the Moroccan food taste like, having not been there, the Thai chefs in the tourist-heavy areas are probably imagining the preferences of their consumers, toning down the rich and spicy Thai flavours, to be more suited for their European or American clientele, possibly not as used to spicy foods. is it safe to trust our imagined judgements and predictions? to what extent can we ignore the notion of authenticity when either introducing our own cuisine to someone or preparing another cuisine at home and introducing it as Spanish, Thai or Moroccan? many countries (if not all) take a great pride in their national cuisine, seeing it as something what underlines one’s national identity, one’s belonging and something what one can call ‘a taste of home’. Mellissa Caldwell in her article on natural foods in Russia points out an important role the soil plays out in identifying foods as ‘ours’, ‘natural’, ‘healthy’ in the Russian context. She says that ‘Russians look to the land as the caretaker of society’, claiming that people in Russia have a special, almost intimate relationship with nature, as the one which provides for and feeds people. Similarly, Yuson Jung in her article on organic foods in postsocialist Bulgaria points out that the food grown domestically, in a traditional, natural way is considered to have ‘real’ flavour; one of the Jung’s interviewees said: ‘In my father’s village, the peppers are just fantastic – they are real. They have flavour.’
I am not saying that everyone should stop cooking food which is not a part of one’s national cuisine. i am just wondering, what emotions would it evoke in me if i saw, say, pierogi (Polish dumplings) being introduced by someone on Instagram or on a blog, knowing that the recipe being introduced has nothing in common with an authentic Polish dish. would I be upset? would I comment on that? or would I be amused and happy, that someone is taking interest in my country’s food? in my case, probably the latter. but i think it usually plays out on an individual level. and as much as there is no harm in cooking ‘Mexican’ or ‘Polish’ foods for friends and calling it ‘Mexican’ or ‘Polish’ (even if they don’t resemble the authentic cuisines at all), i think that the problem begins when the restaurants or celebrity chefs start to serve food which has nothing to do with its authentic version. in my humble opinion, it does matter how the food is prepared, with what ingredients and what methods; it does matter how it’s traditionally served. there is a story behind every dish, every ingredient and each cuisine can tell its own.
my “Moroccan-style’ chicken is an answer to my longing to visit Morocco. i have been thinking about visiting Morocco for years now, and this dish is a way of awaking my imagination: to try to imagine the tastes, the flavours and the textures of Moroccan cuisine. It has probably nothing to do with authentic Moroccan food; what I did was, I looked up traditional spices herbs and other ingredients widely used in Moroccan cuisine and created something out of it. i am not claiming this is an authentic Moroccan dish, because it’s not. it’s simply my imagination gone wild.
MOROCCAN-STYLE ROAST CHICKEN WITH COUSCOUS
~1,5kg whole chicken
2 medium red onions
bunch of fresh mint
1tsp ground cumin
1tsp smoked paprika powder
1tbsp ground coriander
200g roasted red peppers (I used ones from a jar)
HOW TO MAKE?
1. Preheat oven to 190 degrees Celsius. Wash the chicken thoroughly and pat dry with kitchen roll. Place the chicken on a board. Halve the lemon and place it inside the chicken. Rub the chicken with salt, pepper, cumin and olive oil, making sure the skin is covered with spices. Move the chicken to the roasting tray, add a small splash of olive oil and place in the oven.
2. Prepare the veg. Peel the carrots and cut them into big chunks. Peel and quarter the onions. When the chicken has been cooking for about 20 minutes, take it out of the oven, add carrots and onions to the tray. return the tray to the oven, reducing the heat to 175-180 degrees Celsius. Let it roast for about an hour, until the chicken is cooked and the skin is golden brown.
3. When the meat is cooked, remove it from the tray and transfer onto a plate. Cover with tin foil to keep it warm. Add about 500ml boiling water into the tray with couscous and veg, stir well and return to the oven, reducing the heat to about 150 degrees.
4. Drain the roasted peppers and chop them. When the couscous has absorbed almost all the water, add chopped peppers, with smoked paprika, coriander and a pinch of salt to the tray with couscous. Stir thoroughly. You can squeeze some lemon juice over the tray. Return to the oven for about 5 minutes or until the couscous has absorbed all the water.
5. Pick some mint leaves from the stalks and chop them finely. When the couscous is done, sprinkle it with chopped mint and mix well.
6. Cut the chicken into pieces and serve over couscous. You can decorate each plate with a few mint leaves. Great dish to impress your friends ^^