On the way to making Chicken Tagine

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I had been searching the markets for a jar of Preserved Lemon, one of the ingredients in Moroccan Chicken Tagine. Unable to locate any, I remembered the Jerusalem Market, and ran in. I scanned the shelves quickly, couldn’t locate any, and was about to dash out. The proprietor, a gentleman in white with a big smile, asked what I was looking for. When I told him, he shook his head, and said it came from Egypt, and he hadn’t been able to get anything from Egypt in a couple of years because of the troubles there. “Are you using it for cooking?” He walked over to a shelf and took down a plastic container. “Dried, Preserved Lemons.” He popped off the top, and let me look and smell. Yes, they smelled like the juicy jar of preserved lemons that I used in this recipe. Their aroma was salty, sharp and tart. “I’ll try them.” Now I was interested in this shop. 

“My shelves are really bare because of the end of Ramadan, I am so sorry. But I do have something I want to share with you.” He walked over to a display of fruit. Long elegant strands with tiny gold oblong fruit attached along its length, I had never seen anything like this before. “Have you ever had fresh dates? I only get them 3 weeks out of the year. Try one?” I agreed. He snapped one off and handed it to me. The flavor with the first bite was not special, but within moments, the sweet date flavor shone through, and it was wonderful!

This was turning out to be a wonderful little grocery store, tucked away behind a busy street. “I’ll take the lemons, and I want to look around for a moment.” Two kinds of lentils, some cumin and cardamom tea went into my basket. And I had to buy some of those special dates. As I went to the counter, the owner chatted some more. A woman working there, threw some candy into my bag. “You come in hungry, you leave full”, she said.

As I walked to my car, I felt a buoyancy that their friendly generosity imparted. Did I get what I came in for? Not exactly. But I got so much more.