Mellahs are Jewish quarters located in the old, walled part of most major Moroccan cities. The first Mellah was established in Fes in the 15th century where a large Jewish community settled. Fes was the center of many Judeo-Islamic exchanges throughout the centuries. It is a culturally rich city partly because of these and other exchanges. Many Moroccan Jews from Fes have the last name El Fassi (the one from Fes). Many Muslims from Fes have the last name Cohen or Guessous (a variation of Kessous). Many of the dishes both communities enjoyed are practically one and the same, sometimes having a different name, sometimes simply a different pronunciation (Moroccan Jews pronounce the “s” like an “sh” as in “sheffa” instead of “seffa”), or a couple of letters different (as in “tchermela” for “chermoula”).
This chicken with tomatoes and honey is one that is common to both communities in Fes. It is made in other parts of the country as well but is primarily known as a Fassi dish. My rendition of it is with chicken, tomatoes, and honey cooked together instead of the tomatoes caramelized separately and topped on the chicken at serving.
Bon appétit! Bessaha! Bete’Avon!
Chicken with Tomatoes, Honey and Sesame Seeds
6 small servings
6 skinless chicken thighs
1 small onion, peeled and minced
2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Sea salt, to taste
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon turmeric powder
3 large tomatoes, peeled and diced
3 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons white sesame seeds, lightly toasted
Place the chicken, onion, garlic, olive oil, butter, salt, pepper, ginger, and turmeric (first 9 ingredients) in a medium pot over medium heat. Sauté until the onions are translucent, 5 to 7 minutes.
Add the tomatoes and honey, cover and cook until the chicken is cooked and the sauce reduced 40 to 45 minutes.
Plate the chicken, top it with sauce and sprinkle it with sesame seeds.
Serve with rice or bread.