If you’ve ever had the privilege of tasting Rachel’s Olive Chicken, you already know that it is lemony fresh and truly flavorful. Olive Chicken is a traditional Moroccan dish that is slowly simmered in a ceramic tagine. But since most of us don’t have tagines, Rachel has adapted the recipe with cooking techniques for the modern kitchen.
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Her recipe retains the bright flavor of the preserved lemons, the salty brine of the olives, and the sharp tang of the Dijon mustard, all melding together with the sweet earthiness of the saffron to make the most delectable chicken.
THIS RECIPE RETAINS THE BRIGHT FLAVOR OF THE PRESERVED LEMONS, THE SALTY BRINE OF THE OLIVES, AND THE SHARP TANG OF THE DIJON MUSTARD.
I, of course, have had the privilege of eating Rachel’s Olive Chicken at many a Friday night dinner, as well as other Moroccan dishes that feature cooked olives. I’ve often wondered why my Iraqi family never cooked with olives. Don’t get me wrong, we love olives. My grandmother brined her own olives, my mother is constantly making olive tapenade, my mother always has those huge metal vats of olive oil in her kitchen and we always have a bowl of olives on the table for our Shabbat meals. But we don’t cook with olives.
This past Friday night, the mystery was solved.
My girls were noshing on olives.
I admonished them: “Stop eating olives! You won’t have room left for dinner!”
My father piped up. “Let me tell you a story about my father.”
There aren’t a lot of stories about my paternal grandfather, Rafi. I know that he was a very kind and generous man, who ran a very successful wholesale food business in Baghdad. My grandmother Rosa was intelligent, tall, blue-eyed and beautiful and they were happily married. They had nine children, with my father smack in the middle of the siblings.
Their eldest son, my uncle Moshe, studied accounting in University and was a member of the T’nuah, the Zionist movement, which was punishable by death. He brought my young father into the group, which caused my grandmother great distress.
My uncles Moshe and Shlomo and my aunt Victoria (Toya) illegally left Iraq and made Aliyah to Israel. My father and his younger brother Naim and a group of youth from the T’nuah, also escaped Iraq over the border with Iran, where they were housed in tents in a Jewish cemetery until they had enough escapees to fill a plane. The family was reunited in Israel through Operation Ezra and Nechemiah in 1951. My grandfather passed away too young, before my parents were married.
My father continued: “One day, my father decided to take the bus to Jerusalem. When he got off the bus, he saw an Arab youth selling fruit. He bought a bag thinking it must be like dates and carried on his business. On the bus ride back to Tel Aviv, he remembered the fruit. He took one bite, then quickly spat it out. He had bought olives freshly picked from the tree!”
That is how I discovered that olives don’t grow in Baghdad and most of Iraq and that is why olives don’t feature in the Babylonian kitchen.
Olives grow in the Mediterranean region—Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Morocco, Israel and the Levant.
The canned pitted green olives from Israel are perfect for this recipe. Preserved lemons add umami saltiness and a real depth of flavor to the dish, but fresh lemons can work too. Don’t be intimidated by the idea of preserving your own lemons—they are very simple to make and they last a long time in the refrigerator. You can find Rachel’s recipe on our Instagram page @sephardicspicegirls and on our Facebook page, Sephardic Spice SEC Food. Cilantro, onions and garlic make this dish even healthier. And we promise that your chicken will be moist, tender and delicious. Mmmmmmmmmm!
Lemon Olive Chicken
1 small red onion
½ preserved lemon, flesh and skin
1 bunch cilantro, cleaned and stems cut off
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup saffron water
½ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
1 3-4 pound chicken, cut in pieces
10 whole garlic cloves
1 cup pitted green olives
Preheat oven to 350°F.
In a blender or food processor, mix the onion, preserved lemon, cilantro, mustard, olive oil, saffron water, salt and pepper until the mixture resembles a dressing.
Place chicken pieces in an oven pan.
Place garlic cloves between the chicken pieces.
Place olives on top and around the chicken.
Spoon dressing over the chicken.
Cover the pan and bake at 350 for 45 minutes.
Turn up heat to 425°F.
Remove the cover from chicken and bake another 20-30 minutes, until golden.