I Will Not Go Date Crazy: Moroccan Chicken and Orange-Cinnamon-Date Salad

When I first moved out of my mom’s house and came to Virginia for graduate school, I went to a terrible big-box appliance store called BrandsMart USA and bought myself a toaster and a slow cooker. These seemed like two staple items that any person living on their own should have, so I braved the garish signs and loud TVs that played in seemingly every corner of the store; I braced myself for the sensory overload that is BrandsMart USA in the interest of low prices, and I bought my little toaster and very basic, small slow cooker.

The first dish I tried in my slow cooker was orange chicken. I came home after the chicken had been cooking for about six hours to find a pot full of burnt, black char. The sugar (probably honey) from the orange chicken had burned, and the chicken was barely recognizable. I threw the mess in the trash can and never used that “slow” cooker again.

My bowl of Moroccan chicken, garnished with cilantro. Up close and Instagrammed.

But recently, I’ve fallen back in love with the slow cooker, and thanks to a cookbook that Amanda owns, Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook, I have found a few full-proof slow cooking recipes that I really like. We made this one a couple months ago, and yesterday, I made it again for dinner. This dish, Moroccan Chicken Thighs with Chickpeas and Cumin, incorporates a few of my favorite things:  cumin (the smell! the taste!), bell pepper (calls for red, but I used yellow yesterday), peanut butter, and cilantro. And this recipe was a revelation of sorts; it calls for golden raisins. During the course of cooking over 6-7 hours, the raisins rehydrate, and when you eat them, they look a bit like chickpeas. But then you bite down, and they release their sweet juices, and that sweetness, amid the hearty, smoky flavor of cumin, red onion, pepper, and a little cayenne, is a burst of glorious freshness. I like it so much that I doubled the amount of raisins called for in the recipe. Check out the recipe below.

It’s summer, and it’s officially hot here in Virginia (actually, it was officially hot about a week and a half ago, but a few rain storms have kept the heat mercifully at bay for a few days, so it’s easy to forget it). But yesterday, it was hot. And as I stirred my Moroccan chicken, I just thought, Oh no, what if it’s too hot for this dish? The cookbook suggests serving the chicken with a salad of sliced fresh oranges and radishes, but I have an anti-radish stance that I can’t get past. But the oranges had promise.

So pretty, so delicious, and dates are amazing!

Google to the rescue. There’s a lovely WordPress blog, the taste space, that boasts lots of fresh recipes, including one for Moroccan Cinnamon Orange Salad. Cinnamon? Oranges? Game on. This recipe called for a garnish of fresh mint (which is 20 minutes away at my girlfriend’s house), sliced almonds (which we don’t have), or dates. Well, I was running to the store for oranges anyway. I had been meaning to try dates for a good while. I gave it a whirl. I found the dates with the organic fruits, picked out two with the adorable wooden tongs provided, and was elated to find that two dates cost $0.64. That’s a garnish I can get behind! And I was pleased to find that dates remind me a bit of figs, sweet and soft and oh-so-sugary. I must eat sparingly. I must not go date crazy.

The result was fantastic. I didn’t have orange blossom water, so I just left it out. I went with a ratio on the fresh orange juice; I used four oranges in the salad, so I used the juice of one orange for the dressing. That worked well; there was some left in the bottom of the dish, but not so much as to make it soupy or unattractively drenched. The cinnamon is a perfect counter to the tang of the oranges. And since I didn’t have agave nectar, but didn’t want any of the grainy effects of sugar, I just used a small spoonful of local honey. It worked perfectly. This salad was a total surprise. It’s simple, beautiful, surprising in how good it is, and so easy to make.

Moroccan Chicken Thighs with Chickpeas and Cumin

For this recipe, use a medium or large round or oval slow cooker. Serves 4-6 people.

INGREDIENTS

Two 16-ounce cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained

One 15-ounce can whole plum tomatoes, drained and cut into roughly one-inch pieces

1 large red bell pepper (yellow is fine, too), seeded and cut into 1-inch squares

1 medium-sized red onion, chopped

1/4 cup golden raisins (or for the Dana version:  1/2 cup in the pot, plus a handful to eat right then and there)

2 tablespoons tomato paste

2 tablespoons water

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

Pinch of paprika

Pinch of cayenne pepper

4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch cubes (cut away and discard particularly fatty pieces; some fat is okay, but you don’t want pieces that are all fat going in – or, at least, I don’t)

2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter, almond butter, or cashew butter

FOR SERVING

Hot cooked couscous or brown rice

3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

DIRECTIONS

1. Put the chickpeas, tomatoes, bell pepper, onion, raisins, tomato paste, water, cumin, paprika, and cayenne in the slow cooker; stir well. Scatter the chicken on top. Cover and cook on LOW until the chicken is tender and cooked through 6-7 hours (check yours after 5 hours; mine was done then).

2. Stir in nut butter just before serving. Serve hot over couscous/rice, garnished with cilantro.

Orange-Cinnamon-Date Salad

I adjusted the recipe from the original so I could serve four people and accommodate my lack of certain ingredients. The original recipe is linked here.

INGREDIENTS

4 navel oranges

Juice of one orange

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon honey

Cinnamon, fresh mint, sliced almonds, or sliced dates to garnish

1. Cut the skin off the oranges, making sure none of the pitch remains (the pith is bitter and muddles the taste). Next, slice the oranges into approximately 1cm slices (not super thin, but not thick either). Arrange slices in a serving dish.

2. In a bowl, whisk together orange juice, cinnamon, and honey. Whisk until honey is well-combined into juice.

3. With a light hand, drizzle the juice mixture over the orange slices, making sure each slice gets a little splash of juice. If you have leftover juice, that’s fine.

4. I garnished with dates. To get the pit out, hold the date in one hand and cut a slit in the top and down the sides. Peel apart the sides and fish the pit out. I went ahead and just sliced the date all the way in half, cutting half-moon slices to sprinkle around the perimeter of the serving dish. If you have leftover juice, drizzle a little of that over the dates. Dust the whole thing with a bit more cinnamon and serve.

I will not go date crazy. I will not go date crazy. The fact that I want to eat all of the leftover salad right now while muttering this mantra should not concern anyone. Happy eating!


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