My first Moroccan Stew recipe, out of Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant, was essentially a tomato-rich vegetable stew with a handful of black olives and a squeeze of lemon. It was full of potato cubes, artichoke hearts and green beans, with no real spice to speak of.
Later on, I discovered that lamb was a fairly traditional component of Moroccan Stew, though lots of cooks used chicken. Cinnamon, apricots and cured olives seemed to be common ingredients. Some ingredient lists included orange sections or apricot pieces, while some suggested only strips of orange zest or squeeze of fresh lemon at the end. Some cooks insisted on a couscous accompaniment. Some only mentioned couscous in passing.
The majority of Moroccan Stew recipes seemed to bear about as much resemblance to each other as individual members in a fleet of Elvis impersonators. I mean, you know they're all striving for basically the same thing, but...
I'm convinced there must be hundreds of variations, and I used to be intimidated by that breadth of options. Which one was the right one? Which was most authentic?
Lately I've come to see all those variants as empowering rather than confounding. Why? A million methods means you can't really mess it up. Your ideal Moroccan Stew is for you to determine. Don't eat meat? Don't use it. Fresh out of olives or apricots? Skip 'em. Love chickpeas? Go crazy.
As for me, I use Moroccan Stew recipes as more like suggestions than prescriptions. Just use some good ingredients and cook 'em gentle and slow. It'll come out nice-like.
When everything's tender, taste it and season to taste with salt, pepper and some lemon and fresh herbs. Dish it up with couscous or some toasted pita or maybe just a day-old hunk of baguette.
It'll be fine. I'm betting it'll even be tasty. Maybe it'll be a work of art your guests will remember with fondness for the rest of their lives.
That's why there's a million recipes for Moroccan Stew. No matter how you do it, you're almost guaranteed to get it right.
Moroccan Stew for a Cold Winter's Night
2 Tbsp olive oil
4 skin-on chicken thighs OR 1 1/2 lb lamb cubes (optional)
1-2 medium onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 tsp dried thyme
1-2 cinnamon sticks
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
1-2 tsp Aleppo pepper (optional)
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 15oz can chickpeas, drained
2 cups cubed tomatoes, chopped (or 1 14oz can diced tomatoes)
3-4 cups stock, (vegetable or chicken)
1/2 cup flavorful olives, pitted
1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley or cilantro and/or chopped mint
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
In a heavy-bottomed stockpot or a dutch oven, heat olive oil until it shimmers. Add the meat of your choice (if using) and sear until it acquires some color. Remove the meat and sauté the onions, bell pepper and garlic in the same pan until the onions are translucent.
Add thyme, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, Aleppo pepper, tomatoes, chickpeas, olives, apricot pieces and stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 60 to 90 minutes, or until meat and vegetables are fork-tender.
Stir in lemon juice and fresh herbs. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately with couscous or toasted pita, or store overnight and reheat the next day, when the flavor will be all the better.