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Paula Wolfert's Moroccan Chicken Smothered in Olives

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I've got ants. There's no way to beat around the bush here. I've got a thin and irritating line of small, black ants marching their way in and out of my apartment and getting perilously close to my food supply. I know they're not dirty, like roaches, or pesky (and dirty) like mice, but I prefer my ants outside in nature, thank you very much, and not disturbing the gentleman's agreement we humans have with bugs: you stay outside in the field and we'll stay inside where it's warm and cozy. If we break the agreement, the ants have every right to march into our picnic baskets or even bite us, if they are of the angry, red variety. If they break the agreement, I reserve the right to annihilate them with every kind of spray, poison, and sheer brute force available to me (the palm of my hand being quite potent in these moments).

A result, obviously, of all this activity, is that being in the kitchen has become a bit less attractive as of late - I'm sick of seeing black specks moving about with impunity and I don't want to eat anything near the vaporous fumes I've unleashed on those little specks. Hence some of the... reticence around these parts. But this self-imposed (arguable!) exile had to come to an end eventually and so tonight, I made my way back to the stove again.

After our great success with exotically-spiced chicken thighs a few weekends ago, I was happy to find an old New York Times clipping for a dish from Paula Wolfert's Mediterranean Cooking in my tattered notebook. All it required was a pot filled with sliced onions, skinless chicken thighs laid on top, a generous dusting of cumin, sweet paprika, turmeric and ground ginger, and a chicken-broth bath. The pot simmered away quietly (while I had to boil olives, which seemed on par with the craziness of boiling bacon) until the gravy turned a rich, rusty red. The boiled olives and the juice of one lemon went in at the end to brighten the flavor of the sauce while it reduced.

We ate our parsley-strewn stew over plain white rice (and boiled peas). It made for a good enough Sunday dinner, but there was something missing from our plates. Was it salt? Not with all those luscious olives. We couldn't figure it out and anyway, the stew was tasty enough. It nourished us well and that's all that really mattered.

But when I got around to typing up this post, I found the original recipe online. Strangely enough, it was totally different from the one I was working from. Far more labor-intensive (grated onions! spice pastes! stove-top and oven time!), the recipe also called for different amounts of ingredients (two pounds of olives! two entire chickens!). With all these changes, it seemed rather obvious that the original version would have made for a more deeply-flavored result than The Times version.

Who knows why The Times changed the recipe for their publication? Who knows if Paula's original version would have tasted much differently? I leave you with all these questions and no answers. Because I think I see another ant I need to eliminate.

Paula Wolfert's Moroccan Chicken Smothered in Olives
Serves 4

8 skinless chicken thighs with bone
2 onions, peeled, halved and sliced
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 tablespoons Spanish sweet paprika
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
3/4 cup cilantro leaves, chopped (I used parsley, and only as a garnish)
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
11 ounces pitted green olives in brine
Juice of 1 lemon

1. In the bottom of a large, flameproof casserole, arrange onions and top with chicken pieces. Sprinkle with ginger, turmeric, cumin, paprika, garlic, and cilantro (if using). Pour chicken broth over all.

2. Place over high heat to bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes, turning once. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, combine olives with several cups of water and bring to a boil. Boil 2 minutes, drain well and set aside.

3. Add olives and lemon juice to chicken, and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. If desired, simmer for additional time to reduce and thicken sauce. Serve hot.

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