If you're planning to head to Joan Nathan's talk at the Central Library this Saturday, you could do worse than spend the days prior to the event cooking. Specifically, cooking one of the dishes from Nathan's book Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France, about which she'll be speaking.

This is a lovely chicken recipe — turn the page — from the book, in which a whole chicken is disassembled, rubbed in ras al hanout, and then simmered with whole olives and preserved lemons.

It's easy enough to find all the ingredients these days, and if you have never preserved your own lemons, you might consider it. No, they won't be ready for a few weeks, but it's fun and worth the minimal effort, and they keep for months and months in your refrigerator — and you'll have them handy for the next time Nathan comes to town.

Ras al hanout, good olives and jars of preserved lemons are available at Middle Eastern markets and many culinary outposts. You can make your own spice mixture, and of course your own preserved lemons. You can find lemons anywhere, really, even in your backyard — blown there, perhaps, by recent winds — but Meyer lemons make truly awesome preserved lemons. Just wash and quarter them, pack them in kosher salt and lemon juice, and let them sit in your refrigerator for a month or so. (They make great DIY holiday gifts, with or without somebody's wrapped cookbook.)

Moroccan Chicken with Olives and Preserved Lemons

From: Joan Nathan's Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France.

Note: As Nathan writes in her book:

When Celine Benitah cooks the dish, she blanches the olives for a minute to get rid of the bitterness, a step that I never bother with. If you keep the pits in, just warn your guests in order to avoid any broken teeth! Céline also uses the marvelous Moroccan spice mixture ras el hanout, which includes, among thirty other spices, cinnamon, cumin, cardamom, cloves, and paprika. You can find it at Middle Eastern markets or through the Internet, or you can use equal amounts of the above spices or others that you like. To make my life easier, I assemble the spice rub the day before and marinate the chicken overnight. The next day, before my guests arrive, I fry the chicken and simmer it.

Yield: 4-6 servings

4 large cloves garlic, mashed

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 to 2 tablespoons ras el hanout

1 bunch of fresh cilantro, chopped

4 tablespoons olive oil

One 3½- to- 4- pound chicken, cut into 8 pieces

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1 cup black Moroccan dry-cured olives, pitted

Diced rind of 2 preserved lemons

1. Mix the mashed garlic with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste, the turmeric, the ras el hanout, half the cilantro, and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Rub the surface of the chicken pieces with this spice mixture, put them in a dish, and marinate in the refrigerator, covered, overnight.

2. The next day, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large pan. Sauté the spice- rubbed chicken until golden brown on each side.

3. Stir the cornstarch into 1 cup water, and pour over the chicken. Bring to a boil, and simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes.

4. Add the olives, and continue cooking for another 20 minutes. Sprinkle on the preserved lemon, and continue cooking for another 5 minutes. Garnish with the remaining cilantro. Serve with rice or couscous.

LA Weekly