The key to any tagine is to start cooking it early and let it cook down until the sauce is thick. If it finishes earlier than you need it to, knock the temperature down to 200 and let it stay warm until dinnertime.
2 large onions
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp turmeric
2 lbs chicken pieces (bone in/out, skin on/off – personal preference)
1 inch ginger, finely chopped (or 2 tsp powdered ginger)
1/4 tsp saffron (optional)
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
Handful assorted olives (red, purple, black, pink, etc)
2 large raw jalapeños , halved
12 oz fingerling potatoes
1/4 cup olive or argon oil
1 tbsp butter
Slice one onion into thick rounds and line the bottom of a tagine or heavy bottomed pot.
Grate the other onion. Combine it in a large bowl with the garlic, chicken pieces, spices, olives and water. Mix well. Tip into cooking vessel.
Lay halved jalapeños and potatoes over mixture.
Cover with oil and top with butter.
Place lid on cooking vessel and put into a cold oven. Turn heat to 300* for two hours. After two hours, increase the heat to 325*. For the final two hours, increase the heat to 350*.
Serve with Moroccan bread, couscous, or whatever grain you have around.
The bleat of the sheep standing outside of a packed earth home sounds urgent to my anthropomorphic ears. A young Berber man has invited both me and my husband to his home to celebrate Eid Al-Adha, a holy festival of sacrifice to the Muslim prophet Abraham. “Do you want to come for the sheep slaughter?” he had asked. As I now stare at said sheep, I question both my stomach and my resolve.
In the previous days, I had seen hundreds of the animals crowded into Moroccan medinas, being poked and prodded by potential buyers before being whisked away. Winding through the steep passes of the High Atlas mountains, solemn eyes of sheep stared back at me from their strapped down position on trucks and motorbikes, their frames relaxed as they rode to their fate.
Throughout the extensive Kasbah, our arrival has quickly become known to the rest of the residents. As we await the start of festivities, steaming cups of highly sweetened mint tea is poured from tall sterling pots. Friends and family stop by to share in the novelty of having a blonde-haired, blue-eyed stranger shake up their annual ritual. Dates are passed around on gleaming silver platters as the effectual town mayor pops over to make my acquaintance. He speaks of his time visiting my land and that most holy of U.S. shrines, Hollywood. Palm trees and sunshine reflect in his eyes as he regales us with his dreams of the similarly landscaped Cali-forn-i-a.
I have come bearing hard cones of sugar, tightly wrapped in printed paper. As the festivities get underway, we set off on foot to the home of those most in need. My host tells me about his duties to the poor of his Kasbah on this holy day, ensuring that no home is without a sacrificial sheep. As he announces our presence, an old man appears outside and ushers us through the dark mud walls of his home into a center room. A beam of light pours in from a single upstairs window, casting a perfect ray onto the body of a skinned sheep, delivered earlier in the day and now hanging from the ceiling.
Three women, the man’s sisters, sit on the bare floor. I present the cones of sugar to them while their grateful and heavily charcoaled eyes peer out from the empty space left by their niqabs. Motioning for me to join them on the dirt floor, I accept yet another round of Moroccan hospitality. We drink endless cups of tea and eat dates directly from a large stockpile in a corner.
Language barriers are broken via pantomime. Soon our group is roaring with laughter over the seemingly universal right of wives to nag their husbands. The old man slaps my husband on the leg and shrugs his shoulders. Wives…What can you do?
One by one, the sisters relax. In a quick motion, the youngest reaches up and removes the veil covering her face. She looks at her two sisters, communicating with nothing but her eyes. One repeats the ritual in turn. The eldest sister remains motionless, concerned over this act of intimacy with strangers.
More laughter is had before the eldest catches my eye. Holding my gaze, she reaches up to slowly unhook her veil. Pulling it aside, she breaks out into a toothless grin. As I share a look with my husband, my heart flutters with both privilege and understanding. While we started as strangers, we end as an extension of the tribe.
I strain my ears to listen as the lions are at the far boundary of our mobile safari camp.
As dinner comes to a close and the siren song of sleep rings loud, the roars increase in decibels. The lions are coming closer. Our guide, Lovemore, loads his rife to walk us back to our tent. As we walk, he tells us of the two males making the sounds and the pride that they govern.
“You must sleep with your tent flaps down, please. Lionesses came to my tent, five of them. I had slept with my tent flaps up and woke to them breathing against my tent screens.
I made noises to let them know that I was there. I couldn’t move, not a bit. It would only trigger their predatory instinct.
They left but then came back a bit later with three more lionesses. The tent was now surrounded by eight of them. I knew I had to call my wife immediately. Very slowly, I picked up my cell phone. When she answered, I told her that I was surrounded, I loved her, and that I didn’t know what would happen next.
Costa then heard me talking and shouted ‘Lovemore, is everything okay’?
No man! Everything is not okay! I’m surrounded by lions.
Costa grabbed a rifle and started the safari vehicle, driving fast to my tent and chasing the lions out of camp.
So, please, it’s not safe. You must sleep with your flaps down.”
Excited about the story, I ask “How long ago did that happen, Lovemore?”
“Five days ago”, he replies.
My husband and I exchange looks of restrained terror.
By the time we finish our short walk to the tent, their presence is clear. As I prepare for nighttime, the roaring begins to rattle me to the core.
“I can’t do this. Should we be doing this? I don’t know if I can do this,” I nervously announce to my husband.
The calls reach their peak as the lions move in even closer. A cacophony of grunts, roars, and growls fill the blank space of night.
(Listen to a similar recording of lions here:)
My muscles tighten as my “fight or flight” triggers instinctually take over, although there is no fight, only flight. I have no misconceptions about my true place in this food chain.
“What was I thinking? These are wild African lions. I can’t do this? Why am I doing this?” I continue, my fear all-consuming.
The lions sound as if they have us surrounded. With roars seemingly coming from all directions, we continue our bedtime routine. Toothbrush in hand, I unzip the back of the tent and step out into our fenced-in restroom under the stars. As the water starts to flow from the outdoor bucket shower, I assess the two foot gap between the canvas fence and the ground. I think of my Siamese cat back home. He sees any small gap as an opportunity to stick his paws through to see what he can find. I imagine a lion, crouched on his stomach on the other side of the fence, waiting for the perfect moment to put his own paw under to swipe my ankle. Could a lion pull me under the fence and into the night? I curse my imagination for presenting each possible scenario in vivid, rapid-fire imagery.
By the time the shampoo is in my hair, I am petrified and non-sensical. As I repeat “I can’t” and “I’m so scared” in every single sentence, my husband does the only thing he can think of. Pulling me close and running his fingers through my wet hair, he holds me like a father would hold a scared child. “I’m scared too,” he says. “But I know it’s going to be all right.” Despite being in nerve-racking situations together in the past, David has always maintained his cool, hiding his own fears to comfort mine. This shocking revelation of his fear somehow settles down my own.
As he smooths his hands over my back, the lions wander off, looking for better things to do. Tracking the lions the next morning, I’m surprised to find that they had remained a half mile away from our tents. They had sounded so close.
We never do see the brothers, only hear them roaring nearby. By our last night, I know that they are ghosts in the darkness. There is no need to sleep with the tent flaps down. With abundant game nearby, I’m confident that they have better prey to pursue. I open up every flap in the tent, looking forward to catching a cool breeze on a sweltering night.
The following morning, as we gather for our final breakfast with our guide, my father speaks up.
“I heard the lions last night. They walked right between our tents.”
Our guide’s eyes widen as he lets out a small chuckle. “You heard that?” he asks of my father.