Friday, August 3, 2012

my papa's djej emshermel

for as beautiful as the pacific northwest is, my heart is in michigan.

sometimes when i’m riding my bike to work early in the morning, past big old houses with wisteria wrapped around the porches, and artichoke plants lining the sidewalks, i think of home. i push the wheels back and forth and back and forth, and in my mind, i spot a downy woodpecker on the huron river, i watch the lilac bloom on the shore, i see the maples turn golden.

nostalgia is comforting.

because i’m all the way out here, i try to embrace all of the wonders of this place – the explosive produce, the wild rosemary bushes, the lavendar, the snowy mountain sides, the mossy hikes, the bald eagles along the columbia.

but sometimes, no matter what i do, i can’t help but think of home.

i think about the smells of my parents kitchen:

boiling tomatoes
mint tea
orange zest
toasted almonds

besides a good old midwestern casserole, my favourite comfort food is my fathers chicken and olive tagine.

my father is one of the best people i know. he also happens to be one of the best cooks i know, too. he’s always calm in his kitchen. rolling almond cookies, stirring applesauce, chopping cilantro, washing peaches, listening to npr.

my father is from morocco, and i can imagine that although he has made a nice life for himself across the ocean, he too, gets homesick.

so whenever i’m feeling a little blue, and nostalgia just isn’t enough, i pull out his scribbled and stained recipes.

this one in particular always does the trick:

papa’s djej emshermel

you'll need:

1 4 lb chicken – unless you have a cleaver, ask the butcher to quarter the bird
*make sure you get the livers, too!
4 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp sweet paprika
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground black pepper
1 yellow onion, minced
¼ tsp pulverized saffron
½ cup chopped cilantro and parsley (mixed)
½ cup green olives
2 preserved lemons
1 fresh lemon

rinse meat in cold water, set aside

over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter with ¼ cup olive oil. when butter melts, sauté onions and garlic for a few minutes. add chopped herbs and spices, mixing with a wooden smooth until evenly dispersed.  place chicken and livers in casserole, add water to cover.

bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for about thirty minutes.

turn meat in sauce, giving it a good stir. now for my favourite – and probably the most important part - remove livers from casserole. mash with a mortar and pestle, and return to sauce. this adds a certain richness, a creaminess to the sauce that makes the dish.


add water, if necessary, and continue to cook the meat for another 30 minutes.

meanwhile, rinse your preserved lemons and quarter them. you can discard the pulp if you prefer, i usually leave it.

after the chicken has cooked in it’s sauce for about an hour, or an hour and a half, add the olives and preserved lemons. continue to cook another 5 or 10 minutes.

at this point, turn your oven to 325. place chicken on a baking sheet - or a cast iron skillet, as shown below - spreading out evenly. 

when the oven is ready, bake the chicken, briefly, for about 5 minutes. while it is in the oven, turn the heat up on your sauce, stirring it, scraping the bottom to reduce the sauce to half.

remove the chicken from the oven and place it on a platter, pour our sauce over top.

serve immediately with fresh bread 

now here's the thing: moroccan food is not to be eaten alone

there is a lot to say about moroccan food, and morocco in general. it is difficult to summarize a culture, a history, a people, a cuisine. although for the sake of a greater understanding here is what i can say - from what i have learned from my family, my father, and my visits to north africa, i have gathered this: moroccan culture is a mirror of it’s food - rich, multi-faceted, colourful, wholesome, complex, thoughtful. it is a culture of hospitality, of giving. 

so whenever i make moroccan food, i do so for people i love. this time, dinner was a gift for my new roommate, jasmín, and her friend gregor.

i guess you could say, it was my little moroccan-american way of fending off homesickness, and saying: 

marhaba, jass!


  1. Excellent and such a pretty blog. Needed a reason to use preserved lemon again and this looks just right!

  2. Oman I can't wait to make this!!! :)