My Father’s Flavors

My father was a man of strong appetites and emotions. He was born in 1922,  a Sephardic Jew in North Africa when it was occupied by the French.  He grew up speaking French, Arabic and some Hebrew and later mastered six other languages traveling the Mediterranean Sea as a merchant marine in his 20s and early 30s. He had a tough childhood, losing his mother when he was only a toddler, then got bullied, battered and molested by his alcoholic jail-keeper father. I don’t know much more about his early life, but I know it shaped him into a man who flew off into rages and landed physical and verbal brutal punches.

His hunger, for love, sex, food, control, respect, and complete dominance gobbled up my childhood innocence and spit out my often-tortured adult psyche. After a lifetime of introspection, seeking and picking away at the keloid scars being his daughter left me; after years of talk therapy and post-traumatic stress work, journaling, hypnosis, meditation and whatever else I found that could possibly give me a moment’s peace or let me have a normal, loving relationship with a man, I found that I could finally remember a time when I loved him. I could remember, dimly, being happy and loved and loving in his presence. I was maybe 5, or younger. After that, it was all “I hate you!” and self-guarding. It was all longing to be SOMEWHERE else, be SOMEONE else with a different, cleaner, prettier story. My life became about waiting to escape and I’m not sure it ever stopped being about that until now.

So why even try to remember the love? He was a dick, a child molester, and a bully, right? Why not let him live forever in the dickhead hall of fame! You can be sure that I didn’t start out doing all that work to cut HIM a break. I did it to free myself. At some point, I realized I had to do did it because I’m 50 percent HIM. I look in the mirror and I see his smooth olive skin and black hair. I laugh and see his shining white teeth lined up like Chicklets. I look through my eyes and see his dark, sometimes sorrowful ones. I look at the shape of my hips and ass and see his. I’ve felt anger shred through me and explode, making me cry with shame because it reminded me I have that in me too.

I can be proud of the fact that I broke the cycle of abuse in my life and became a loving mother who never raised a hand to her children or crossed an inappropriate boundary. I wasn’t a perfect parent, (who is?) but I fiercely loved, supported and spoiled my children to the best of my ability. Could I say the same thing about how I treated myself? Could I ever completely love myself as long as I categorically hated him?

I came to understand that my father was a man in great pain whose only perceived avenue of expression was to create more pain. If I was going to ever fully love myself, fully heal, I’d have to find a way to forgive the HIM in me. His own self-loathing created appetites and impulses that starved him even further. He was a man who was forever hungry. He died alone, a father whose five children were all lost to him.

This dish is for my father. It’s full of the flavor, color, charisma and warmth of North Africa that lived in him too. Exotic, spicy, sweet when you don’t expect sweet, comforting and filling. It’s simmered gently until the meat is tender and the flavors have melded into a happy co-existence. When my kitchen is filled with the aroma of this dish, when I taste it, I remember something, somewhere in time, that was very, very good.


Chicken and Chickpea Tagine
Adapted from Mark Bittman, NY Times Cooking


2 tablespoons olive oil
4 skinless chicken thighs
1 large onion, chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1 ½ teaspoons ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ cup chopped dried apricots
1 cup chopped tomato (fresh or canned or boxed, with juice)
2 cups cooked or canned chickpeas, drained
1 to 2 cups chicken stock, bean liquid or water, or more as needed
½ cup bulgur or quinoa
Freshly ground black pepper
½ cup chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

  • Put olive oil in a large, deep pot over medium-high heat. When oil is shimmering, add chicken and brown well on both sides; remove from pan and set aside. Reduce heat to medium, add onion to the pan and cook until soft, about 5 minutes; add garlic, ginger, coriander, cumin, cinnamon, dried apricots and tomato. Cook and stir just long enough to loosen any brown bits from bottom of pan.

  • Add chickpeas and 1 cup of stock to the pan and turn heat back to medium-high*. When mixture reaches a gentle bubble, return chicken to the pan. Cover pot, turn heat to low and cook, checking occasionally to make sure the mixture is bubbling GENTLY, for about 15 minutes or until tomatoes break down and flavors begin to meld. Stir in bulgur (or quinoa), adding more stock if necessary so that the mixture is covered with about an inch of liquid. Season with salt and pepper.

  • Cover and simmer until the chicken and bulgur are both done, about 10 to 15 minutes. Taste, adjust the seasonings and serve in bowls garnished with parsley.


    Special Diets: To make this gluten-free you can use quinoa instead of bulgur. To make it more Paleo or low carb, use half or no beans and add more vegetables like carrots, zucchini or other squash.

    To make this in an instant pot: use your instant pot to follow all the steps, (except adding the bulgur and chickpeas). Instead of simmering gently on stovetop, close and pressure cook for 12 minutes and allow it to release naturally. Open and add bulgur and chickpeas, mix thoroughly, adding additional stock, to cover mixture by a half inch or soand pressure cook again for another 5 minutes. Release naturally.