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moroccan chicken with preserved lemons and olives


This weekend, for the first time since I was in third grade (or, if I’m being brutally honest, high school), I was in a talent show.

The performances—there were two—were held at our local theater, and as I walked round the side of the building in search of the green room (a small tent atop a patch of Astro Turf) I wasn’t sure quite what to expect. Since we moved years ago I’ve spent hours each week at the coffee shop, the brewery, and our branch of the public library. But our home has always been in the hills, and apart from the close friend whose band I was playing in I don’t socialize much in town.

When I entered the tent the show was on-screen and under way. There was a 90-year-old high school teacher playing the harmonica. There was a Hawaiian Slack-key guitarist. There was a group of 8-year-old hip-hop dancers who sustained their opening crouch for 90 seconds while the right music was found, and a man with a pony tail, his mother, and Penny the Talking Dog, who spent most of the act wandering across the stage eating pieces of salami.

It took me a few days to figure out just why I loved the talent show so much, why I took the memento picture of all the performers and knew that I would keep it. The thing is, all those people—the angsty songwriter, the tall, flustered ballroom dancers, the percussionist who flailed determinedly at his bongos in a losing battle with the beat—weren’t there because people had asked them to be, or because it was their full-time job, or even because they were particularly good at what they did. They were there because something in them—possibly the deepest, truest part—told them they had to be, that their drive to do this thing in which they felt most themselves was sacred, strong, and uncompromising. Days got long, work got hard, people moved in and out of their lives. But this thing, this thing which probably didn’t bring them money, or fame, or even anything other than a few rolled eyes and polite applause, was there, and it wouldn’t go away.

What does this have to do with Moroccan chicken with preserved lemons and olives? Probably nothing. But it has a lot to do with why I’ll keep writing this blog, in one form or another, for as long as that true something tells me to.


Moroccan Chicken with Preserved Lemons and Olives

The following recipe was inspired by a lovely meal at my grandparents’ and is loosely adapted from Paula Wolfert’s Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco. (According to my parents the picture doesn’t do the meal justice – I seem not to have the knack for photographing stews!)

6 cloves garlic, crushed

1-inch piece of ginger, grated

1 tsp sweet paprika

1 tsp powdered cumin

ground black pepper, to taste

olive oil

4 large chicken breasts or 4-6 chicken thighs

2 large onions, chopped

2 preserved lemons, cut in quarters

4 Tbs fresh herbs like cilantro or parsley, chopped

¾ cup kalamata olives

Israeli or regular couscous, for serving

The night before you plan to serve your meal (or the morning of if, like me, you are forgetful), combine the first five ingredients with the olive oil to make a marinade. Massage onto your chicken pieces (you can cut into smaller bits, if desired) and place in a small dish. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, place the marinated chicken in a large pot and add the chopped onion and a cup of water. Bring to a boil, adding a bit more water if the sauce looks too thick, then cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Separate the pulp from the skin of the preserved lemons, roughly chop, and add both parts to the pot together with the herbs and olives. Cook until meat is tender, and serve with Israeli couscous.

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Making Preserved Lemons

Making preserved lemons takes time, but the result is truly worth the wait. My method of choice is outlined here, by Melissa Clark of the New York Times.

If you don’t have preserved lemons on hand and can’t wait to try the recipe above, never fear – Mourad Lahlou of San Francisco’s Aziza has a shortcut method in his fabulous book Mourad: New Moroccan. (Note for the Californians among us – this method is particularly rewarding with Meyer lemons). Simply slice your lemons very thinly, salt the slices, stack to re-form, wrap in cling-wrap and place in the freezer overnight. Thaw the lemons the next morning, shake off the salt, and pack the slices in a jar with olive oil to store and use.

spicy chicken curry with potatoes, carrots and tomatoes

I’ve been traveling again lately, for work. I know that doesn’t begin to cover my almost two-month hiatus from posting (in all honesty, it covered 10 days), but the weeks leading up to the trip were so consumed with preparations that at the day’s end all I wanted to do was sink into the bathtub with a magazine (I’d like to say the New Yorker, but usually it was an Anthropologie catalog).

When I traveled to Ethiopia earlier this year it was with high culinary expectations: I’d read chef Marcus Samuelsson’s recommendations in Food + Wine, and researched well-known eating spots in Addis Ababa. The food was incredible—fragrant, diverse, a departure from anything I’d tasted—and I came home inspired to track down berbere and ferment my own injera. Going to Tanzania for the African Green Revolution Forum, however, my expectations were somewhat modified. Free convention buffets rarely offer fare worth paying for, and vats of food lack transcendence by definition. I was expecting good coffee (the plantations are lush and widespread) and maybe a trip to Arusha one evening for an adventurous meal.

What I wasn’t expecting, however, was to have my beliefs about food provoked in a new and challenging way. Growing up in coastal region that exalts produce, in a family for whom celebration (even of the daily sort) revolves entirely around eating, I developed strong opinions about “good” and “bad” food at a young age. “Good food” was fresh, healthy, flavorful, and home-cooked or served in restaurants that cost more than your average trip to the grocery store (notable exceptions included “hole-in-the-wall” spots or anything trendy and ethnic).  Conversely, “bad food” was processed, generic, served in restaurants with more than one branch or delivered through a window. The definitions varied slightly (my friends and I went through a mercifully short phase when all “fat” and “sugar” were bad) but the dividing lines seemed fairly straightforward.

The problem is, “good food” and “bad food” only exist in places—or for people—fortunate enough to make the distinction. On a soil-testing field trip to a small Tanzanian farm, I opened my lunchbox and my appetite fell—and then my lunch fell, pried from my hands by a band of children who snatched the warm yogurt and cold fried chicken and left me sitting in the dirt. I suppose I could have felt annoyed, or unfazed since they clearly needed lunch far more than I did, but I was surprised by a stronger, somewhat more sinister response. You didn’t really want that, a voice whispered, it wasn’t “good food” anyway. There it was, exposed in a new light: an entire life philosophy—something I thought of simplistically as “eating well”—that felt silly and selfish in a place where eating itself isn’t guaranteed.

I suppose I could have rejected everything I believe about “good food” then and there, but that didn’t seem like the answer either. And then, on the last two nights of my trip, I witnessed an appreciation of food—both its growing and its preparation—that gave me more to think about. At Gibb’s Farm—an old coffee plantation perched on the Ngorongoro Crater—they grow everything from cucumbers to cauliflower to carrots, and the food they serve is both deliciously simple and far more nuanced than anything I’ve attempted. Sunday supper was a spread of traditional curries surrounded by homemade chutneys, salads, and pickled vegetables, and the aroma of freshly baked breads and rolls filled the modest dining room. Most importantly, everything was served with genuine warmth and pride.

Leaving Tanzania, I hadn’t reached a neat conclusion about what it means to eat well in a world that defies easy answers about anything. Still, there’s one thing I’ll try not to forget: whatever or however you eat, food is a necessity, a privilege, and a joy.

Spicy Chicken Curry with Potatoes, Carrots and Tomatoes

My South African family has been making weekly curries for as long as I can remember, and I recently graduated from the Nice N’ Spicy Masala packets to seasoning mine from scratch. Feel free to experiment with different meats and vegetables, and though roasting the chicken is an extra step I find it makes the meat much tastier and easier to shred.

2 large chicken breasts, or 3-4 thighs

2 tablespoons curry powder (hot or mild)

1 tablespoon Garam Masala

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

small pinch chili flakes

2 large onions, chopped

5 cloves garlic, crushed

1-inch chunk of fresh ginger, grated

2 large carrots, sliced into rounds

5-7 small potatoes, cut into small chunks

1 small zucchini, sliced into rounds

2-3 cups cherry tomatoes, or 1 14-oz can of crushed tomatoes

fresh cilantro

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Rub the chicken with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast for 20-30 minutes, until cooked through. Cool completely, then shred meat and set aside.

Combine spices and toast until fragrant over medium heat in a large pot. Add several tablespoons olive oil, then add chopped onions, crushed garlic and ginger. Saute over medium-high heat until onions are translucent, then add carrots, potatoes and zucchini. Cook vegetables until softened, 5-10 minutes, then add shredded chicken. Add tomatoes and enough water to barely cover the vegetables with liquid, then reduce heat, cover and simmer until vegetables are cooked through (you can simmer for as long as you need – I like to keep it on the stove until the liquid has reduced and the chicken really falls apart).

Serve with chopped fresh cilantro, chutney, and rice, pita, or toast.

“secret recipe” guacamole

And then, all of a sudden, I had a full-time job.

“You learn the value of wine when you work,” my mom whispered conspiratorially as she handed me a glass. I was at the stovetop preparing the third “work-week dinner” of my life, a stew of canned tomatoes, chickpeas, olives and farro. By the time I’d reached the end of my week I’d learned the value of quite a few things: sleep (hello, 6:30 a.m. conference calls!), well-packed lunches, thermoses that keep tea hot for more than 30 minutes, and cheese (which I now devour straight from the wax paper within 5 minutes of arriving home).

All in all I couldn’t be more thrilled to be working. My first week had me so engrossed I ate only one lunch a day instead of my customary three,  and when I did eat it was with a ravenous craving for comfort food. Of course comfort food carries slightly different connotations here in Southern California, and when the weekend arrived I was ready to make not macaroni or mashed potatoes, but guacamole.

Oddly enough, my South African family has a rich and varied history with guacamole. Sometime after my uncle traveled to Mexico we instituted guacamole competitions at our family reunions, and the culminating event took place last October at my mother’s 50th birthday celebration. While taco meat sizzled and margaritas circulated widely, relatives and friends thronged round the competition table, where each contestant set to work with their allotted 4 avocados. There were the regular ingredients—garlic, onion, lime, tomato—and then there were the heralds of innovation—sriracha, corn, curry powder and Parmesan. The winner enjoyed first pickings from the piñata, not to mention a brief moment of honor in which all the guests reverently (and irreverently) bestowed slaps on the back and applause.

My original recipe—avos from the garden and limes from a neighbor’s donation bucket, with a squeeze of crushed garlic and a bit of chopped tomato—is still a favorite, but I’ve recently adapted it to include a few secrets from past competition winners. Up to now I’ve only held second place, but when the next family gathering rolls around I plan to be ready…

Guacamole with Garlic, Cilantro, Cumin and Parmesan

I love adding cumin to my guacamole (a secret tip from my uncle) and if you’re feeling adventurous give the Parmesan a go as well, courtesy of our family friend Mark.

4 ripe avocados

juice of half a lime

2 cloves garlic, crushed

half a large ripe tomato, chopped

half a medium onion, chopped

handful cilantro, chopped

1 tsp. cumin

salt & pepper

freshly grated Parmesan (optional)

Peel and gently mash the four avocados. Add the lime juice, garlic, tomato, onion and cilantro and stir to combine. Add the cumin with the salt and pepper, then taste and season accordingly. Add the Parmesan if desired and enjoy with chips!

caramelized onion tart with parmesan

It was an exciting weekend here at Love Apple. The farm and Chef David Kinch of Manresa (the two-Michelin star restaurant for which we grow all our produce) are featured in the August issue of Bon Appetit, with a spread that includes photos of our veggies and garden terraces as well as recipes Chef Kinch has crafted based on what we harvest for him each week. I haven’t been to Manresa yet (it’s a tad above the farm apprentice budget), but I can’t wait to try the recipe for these roasted cucumber sandwiches—particularly because I watched Chef Kinch roast our farm cucumbers this past Sunday afternoon.

The monthly cooking classes taught by Chef Kinch and Pim  are events to anticipate—I was lucky enough to assist in the June class my first day as an apprentice, and since then I’ve been eagerly waiting for my next opportunity to watch Chef and Pim at work (while washing 100 or so dishes of course). This Sunday’s class did not disappoint: it was held outside on the sunny farm patio, and the menu included grilled rack of lamb with fresh herbs, a fregola salad with roasted squash, fennel, and cucumbers, and a fig and plum tart smeared with frangipane (my new favorite condiment: almonds, sugar, egg and butter). I did my best to listen closely while bustling around the patio chopping herbs and collecting utensils, and I was well-rewarded when Chef Kinch gave us some advice that I immediately filed in my mental favorites folder: “Good cooking is the judicious use of salt.” (Tip of the day: if you salt your dish at multiple stages during cooking—instead of throwing in several liberal pinches at the end, like I do—it results in an increased complexity of flavor from salt cooked for various lengths of time).

The class also ended up giving me a surprise chance to display my (non-existent) tart-making skills. While the students mingled with wine before their farm tour, Pim came up to me and, looping her arm conspiratorially through mine, declared that I would be in charge of duplicating her tart in the kitchen after she made one outside for the students. Eyes peeled I watched her every move, then I hurried inside and attempted to reenact her expert dough folds and arrangement of plums and figs. Unfortunately compared to hers (above), mine (below) looked decidedly rustic, but what it lacked in prettiness it made up for in almondy, figgy tastiness.

Fortunately for me, that was not the last of the tarts that entered my day—with Pim’s leftover dough from class, Zach and I set about making two more tarts for our nightly apprentices’ feast. One was the plum dessert from class, but the other was a throwback to my second night on the farm, when we made the onion tart Chef and Pim had cooked for the students in June. Flaky pastry, buttery sweet caramelized onions, toasty melted parmesan… need I say more? To top it off, our tarts baked alongside Phillip’s enchiladas and roasted potatoes. When every oven rack is filled, you know it’s a good night.

(p.s. A friend was curious about my soundtrack to the farm, and it would definitely have to be this. Enjoy!)

Caramelized Onion Tart with Parmesan

(Adapted from June’s Day Off Dinners with Chef Kinch and Pim)

There are two secrets to this easy tart, and they are Pim’s recipe for pastry dough, and caramelizing your onions for much longer than you would imagine.

1 round of dough made using Pim’s recipe, chilled

3-4 large onions, sliced into rounds

1-2 Tbsp butter

1 egg, beaten

fresh grated parmesan

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Roll out the dough on a well-floured surface, shaping roughly into a circle before transferring to a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. In a large saucepan, melt the butter and add the onions, stirring regularly until they are dark golden brown (about 45 or so minutes). Spread your caramelized onions on the dough, then fold in the edges and brush the dough with your beaten egg mixed with a little water. Finally, sprinkle your entire tart with the parmesan cheese and bake for 45 minutes.

the best pizza ever

It was 8pm on Thursday night, and Ross and I were hunched over the granite countertop in the classroom kitchen, surrounded by dough and toppings. “You’ve got to make love to it,” he said with husky reverence, rolling the dough so that it stretched into a thin layer that we lifted onto a metal sheet pan. Having been cooking for close to 12 hours I felt qualified to get intimate with a pizza—after our morning meeting Ross, Phillip and I had headed straight to the kitchen to marinade chicken, boil potatoes, and process three batches of dough in the KitchenAid. It was a cooking marathon comparable to Christmas, and for an equally worthy occasion—Zach’s 21st birthday party.

I’d never really had success with pizza. When the urge for a homemade pie struck I usually resorted to Trader Joe’s prepackaged dough, but unfortunately that route generally results in a lumpy crust and a soft, undercooked center. When we decided to do pizza for Zach’s party—Love Apple has a beautiful pizza oven in the center of their outdoor patio—I was tempted to go for premade dough again, but Costco had none to offer. So I put on a confident face for Cynthia and Zach, assured people I’d made pizza on several occasions, and grabbed my laptop to google “pizza dough.”

Fortunately the first thing that came up was a recipe from Heidi Swanson, creator of one of my favorite food blogs, 101 Cookbooks. I made the dough at 8am Thursday morning with fingers crossed, but I knew it had a lot to live up to—Ross’ toppings included his famous caramelized onions and mushrooms, and Phillip’s barbequed chicken and ribs are pretty incredible. Then there was the bounty from the garden to contend with—carrots that became shaved carrot salad with thyme, chard that paired with quinoa, apricots, and pine nuts, and eight kinds of greens that filled three salad bowls. To top it off we even made potato salad with blue cheese and egg salad with eggs from the chickens. (If you can imagine the fridge at this point you’ll understand why the Christmas comparison begged to be made).

By 8pm the pizza oven—fired up at noon—was finally ready, and Ross and I carried out a pizza topped with caramelized onions, mushrooms, and gorgonzola. I’d selected a small egg from the flat in the kitchen, and right before sliding our creation into the oven Ross cracked it gently over the top. After three minutes in the oven and a few of Ross’ skillful maneuvers with the pizza peel, our pizza emerged—looking like real pizza. It was perfect.  I don’t think I’ve ever been so giddily proud of something I’ve helped to make, but mostly it was just a wonderful moment—the pizza, the food, the people, my first month on the farm. Six pizzas later I still felt just as good.

Pizza with Caramelized Onions, Mushrooms, Gorgonzola and Egg

I followed the recipe from 101 Cookbooks as closely as I could, with the main exception being that I made the dough early in the morning instead of the night before.

1 ball of pizza dough


several medium onions, sliced

1 cup small brown mushrooms, sliced

1 medium wedge gorgonzola cheese, crumbled



fresh basil

In a large saucepan, melt a knob of butter and add the sliced onions. Caramelize over medium heat, stirring so the onions don’t stick and watching for them to turn a shade of dark golden brown. Saute the mushrooms separately, then mix in with the onions and set aside in a bowl. On a well-floured surface, roll your dough gently with a small rolling pin until it reaches about 12 inches in diameter. Transfer to a floured pan, or a pizza stone (or flipped-over cast iron pan) if you make your pizza at the highest temperature setting in a traditional oven. Smooth a scoop of the caramelized onions and mushrooms on the dough, then crumble gorgonzola on top. Right before cooking your pizza crack a small egg over the center, then slide into the oven and watch carefully for doneness (the crust should brown and crisp, the cheese should bubble, and the center should not be soft). Remove from the oven and sprinkle with salt and torn pieces of fresh basil.

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