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Exploring the Salads of Morocco


My one trip to Morocco lasted for only a day, but it was packed full of memories. To get there, we took a boat from Spain in the morning and returned by nightfall. In the meantime, we packed in plenty of fun and food, including a bountiful meal laden with buttery couscous and roasted lamb, which we ate with our hands in traditional style.

Grilled Red Pepper Salad

Grilled Red Pepper Salad

I’ve always wanted to return to that country and lounge on the patio of some Tangier hotel where author Paul Bowles once lived or visit the real Casablanca. That will have to wait, but I can still explore the foods of that North African country. I took the chance recently when friends hosted a Moroccan dinner party, filled with tagines, duck bastilla and couscous with plenty of peas and pine nuts.

I offered to do the salad course and turned to my Moroccan cookbooks for inspiration. I barely narrowed my choices to six when I found out that a friend from the dance studio I go to is from Morocco.

So I asked her for some guidance.

Moroccan foods use several ingredients in abundance, namely orange blossom or orange flower water, ground cumin and rose water, she said.

That was a bit of a drawback for me, because each of those flavors in abundance sounds like excess — and not in a good way.

Then I ran my list of options by her. Several were unknown to her, which crossed them off my list in an attempt to be as authentic as possible. But she immediately convinced me that I had to make a Grilled Red Pepper Salad. Her grandmother made it, and the blending of flavors — including tomatoes garlic and cumin in addition to roasted peppers — always made her homesick. It was a wise choice, and it disappeared before the evening’s end.

food of moroccoShe also approved of the Sweet Carrot Salad with its cinnamon and lemon juice creating a sweet-tart balance. Being a radish fanatic, I decided that the third choice would combine grated radishes with oranges and plenty of orange flower water.

The recipes for all three can be found in Paula Wolfert’s authoritative “The Food of Morocco” (Ecco, $45), and they are all worth making again and again. As the author explains, “Moroccan salads are not like ours, mixtures of greens doused with dressings. They’re closer to Italian antipasti, served at the beginning of a meal to inspire the appetite and excite the palate: spice or sweetened, cooked or raw, or pickled or stewed vegetables, as well as cubed and grilled meat or fish.”

Morocco is a largely Islamic country, which doesn’t allow alcohol. But you’ll find Moroccan wines and cocktails, including a drink aptly named the Moroccan Cocktail. It’s a simple but effective mixture that features equal parts of gin and Cointreau. Add a splash of curacao. Stir with ice and strain into a coupe or martini glass. Add a couple of dashes of orange bitters and garnish with a lemon twist.

After two of those, you won’t matter how far San Antonio is from Morocco. But you’ll enjoy the ride.

Grilled Red Pepper Salad

Salted rolls of roasted red peppers

Salted rolls of roasted red peppers

“Grilled red peppers are wonderful by themselves, but the addition of a small amount of tomato and cumin enhances their flavor,” Wolffert writes.

2 large red bell peppers (1 pound), grilled or broiled, peeled, seeded and quartered
2 teaspoons coarse sea salt
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided use
3 tablespoons peeled, seeded and diced fresh or canned tomato
1 garlic clove, crushed to a paste with 1/4 teaspoon salt
Pinch of ground cumin, preferably Moroccan
1 teaspoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Place the pepper quarters on paper towels and cover with more paper towels. Press down gently to remove excess moisture. Flip each quarter over, sprinkle with the seal salt, and roll up like a rug. Let stand for about 1 hour at room temperature.

Unroll the peppers and press to remove excess moisture. Warm 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a medium skillet. Add the peppers and gently saute for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the tomato, garlic, cumin and parsley and saute for an instant. Tilt the pan so you can scoop out the oil and discard it. Toss the peppers and tomatoes with the remaining tablespoon of oil. Serve at room temperature, or refrigerate for up to 3 days.

Makes 4 to 6 salad servings.

From “The Food of Morocco” by Paula Wolfert

Sweet Carrot Salad

Sweet Carrot Salad

Sweet Carrot Salad

1 pound (6 to 8 medium) carrots, trimmed and peeled
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
3 heaping tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground Ceylon cinnamon
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
Scant 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin, preferably Moroccan
1/4 teaspoon sweet paprika
Pinch of salt

Steam the carrots over boiling water until just tender, 10 to 15 minutes.

Dice the carrots and put in a bowl. Mix all the other ingredients, and pour over the carrots. Serve cool.

Makes 4 to 6 salad servings.

From “The Food of Morocco” by Paula Wolfert

Orange and Grated Radish Salad with Orange Flower Water

Orange and Grated Radish Salad with Orange Flower Water

Orange and Grated Radish Salad with Orange Flower Water

“Please don’t dress the grated radishes too far in advance, or they will lose their texture,” Wolfert says.

1 to 2 bunches red radishes (approximately 8 ounces), trimmed
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
2 navel or temple oranges

Dressing:
2 tablespoons reserved orange juice
2 to 3 teaspoons orange flower water (found at Middle Eastern markets)
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or more to taste
Salt
Pinch of ground Ceylon cinnamon or 3 to 4 sprigs spearmint leaves, slivered, for garnish

Using the fine shredding disk, shred the radishes in a food processor; sprinkle with the sugar and let sit for 15 minutes (you should have about 1 cup).

Drain the excess liquid from the radishes. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled.

Peel the oranges using a small knife, employing a seesaw motion to remove the peel and the white pith. Cut away all the white pith. Cut into slices. Squeeze any juice from the reminder of the orange in the peel and reserve for the dressing. Wrap the orange slices and chill.

For the dressing, mix the reserved orange juice with orange flower water, lemon juice and salt to taste in a serving bowl. Unwrap the radishes, add to the bowl and toss. Sharpen the flavor with more lemon juice and correct the salt, if necessary. Arrange the orange slices around the edges of the bowl and sprinkle with the cinnamon or mint leaves. Serve at once.

Makes 4 to 6 salad servings.

From “The Food of Morocco” by Paula Wolfert

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Tagine: Morocco’s Sumptuous, Spicy Dish


How many exotic ingredients can go into a Moroccan stew called tagine? As many as you might want — tagine recipes probably number in the thousands, especially counting those not written down.

A couple of Sundays ago we set up shop in Saundra Winokur’s kitchen for a day-into-evening cooking party. Scents of saffron and cinnamon, braised beef, preserved lemon, fresh ginger, coriander and cumin mingled with the sound of wine glasses clinking — and plenty of chatter.

Tagines and other Moroccan cooking implements from Saundra Winokur.

Tagines and other Moroccan cooking implements from Saundra Winokur.

Tagine also refers to the earthenware (clay or terracotta) cooking implement that funnels the steam through a hole at the tip of the conical top while the food slow-cooks to tenderness in the bottom of the dish.

My own glossy black tagine was new, a Christmas gift from fellow foodie and SavorSA partner John Griffin. He found this one (see photo at bottom) from Ten Thousand Villages at the Pearl. Up to this point, it held down a place of honor atop the fireplace mantel, where it looked quite exotic, full of promise yet unfulfilled. Now was the time to put it to use.

While I’d made Moroccan-style stews before, this was the first time using an actual tagine — and yes, there was a learning curve! First, it had to seasoned or cured. Fortunately, I’d read about this with enough time to spare that I was able to do the soaking, seasoning, heating, cooling and so for that was required for using the glossy dark pot.  (The information that came with my pot was not as detailed as this information on curing the tagine that is on about.com.)

Tagine Recipes:

What I also learned — it takes more time to do a stew in this clay pot when it’s done in the oven as the pot can only handle up to about 350 degrees, according to the information that came with it. Fortunately, I was making chicken, not lamb or beef, which would have taken longer to cook to tenderness. The bright side of long cooking, too, is that the incredible aromas have that much more time to perfume the whole house.

Beef tagine with finishing touches.

Beef tagine with finishing touches.

While I made Chicken with Cracked Green Olives and Preserved Lemon, John assembled a savory stew of Beef Short Ribs with Cauliflower. My husband, David, prepared couscous with help from guests Linda Perez and Kathleen Kelly. Two cats and a dog sniffed around for treats, but we’re pretty sure the powerful spice aromas didn’t appeal as much to them as they did to us.

Sandy, who owns Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard in Elmendorf, had put together her tagine the day before. That dish of beef with pumpkin (or in this case squash) had had time to rest overnight. “The flavors really were so much better the next day,” Sandy said.

She had also added honey, white raisins (which she prefers for the most flavor) and currants to add a touch of sweetness. Since this was party among friends, not a tagine cook-off, we didn’t need to decide whose was best. And in fact, we all agreed later that it was pretty much a draw — and each dish was enjoyed on its own merits.

Chicken with Cracked Green Olives and Preserved Lemon Tagine

Chicken with Cracked Green Olives and Preserved Lemon Tagine

The flavors of the beef and pumpkin were spicy, but really offered a comforting umami from well-blended flavors and tender beef. The chicken and green olives was a bit more spiky than sweet, with the preserved lemon and salty olives (though they were soaked in water for awhile which toned down the salt).

The tagine pot imparted a mild, earthy flavor all its own, which is an expected part of the flavor profile.

Beef short ribs are always delicious — add chopped fresh tomato and warm toasted cauliflower, along with the chopped fresh herbs and you have one great stew. John mentions that Paula Wolfert’s “The Foods of Morocco” offers several dozen recipes for tagine, including one that is demanding to be made next — Lamb Tagine with Pears and Green Apple. A look around the Internet brought some interesting options, too. One, Camel Tagine, we doubt we’ll make any time soon.

Couscous, the tiny, grainlike semolina pasta, is good with this dish as is rice. Sandy also mentions that cauliflower, too, can be processed and steamed to make a couscous-like side dish. Take your time with tagine. Whether you get the pot with the same name, or use a Dutch oven, the reward will be one of the most delicious stews you’ve ever made.

Brown the beef in turmeric, spices and herbs.

Beef browning in turmeric, spices and herbs.

 

Beef with Pumpkin Tagine

We don’t have a recipe as such for Sandy’s dish, as she put the dish together after combing through a number of recipes. It could be easily duplicated, she says.

Braise 3 pounds of beef, cut into chunks; brown/sauté chopped onion, garlic and three peeled and cut up carrots with a blend of Moroccan spices (ground cumin, cinnamon and ginger). Add to the ingredients a peeled and seeded 1-2 cups of diced squash, honey (perhaps a tablespoonful) as well as a handful of white raisins and currants. Add beef stock to cover and simmer until the beef is tender.

Tagine my pot cropped

 

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Beef Tagine with Roasted Cauliflower


You don’t need a conical tagine dish to make tagine in your own home. You can use a Dutch oven, which is what I did when trying this recipe of Paula Wolfert’s from her fascinating “The Food of Morocco”  (HarperCollins, $45).

Once the beef is ready, add the cauliflower and tomato.

Once the beef is ready, add the cauliflower and tomato.

“Beef tagines can be very good indeed,” she writes. “After hours of slow simmering, the meat comes out buttery and soft, and the sauce acquires excellent flavor. The spicing in this dish follows the Marrakech style, while the sauce acquires excellent flavor.”

She goes on to praise the beef dishes: “These highly aromatic tagines, flavored with paprika and cumin, are sturdy dishes, nourishing and thick, especially good in winter — satisfying to wary travelers and men who have done hard physical work, or to folk who have just come off the ski slopes an hour outside Marrakech. Though they are not among he most elegant of dishes, these hearty stews are truly toothsome.”

When making the dish, follow the instructions carefully on how to handle the cauliflower. I cut it up too soon, so it was hard to turn during the roasting. The original recipe calls for the last half of the herbs to be stirred into the dish and cooked for a few minutes; I preferred to garnish the dish for an even fresher flavor.

Beef Tagine with Roasted Cauliflower

Coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided use
3 pounds beef short ribs or 2 pounds bone-in beef shoulder, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1- to 1 1/4-inch chunks
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin, preferably Moroccan
1 medium white or red onion, grated
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro, divided use
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley, divided use
1 (2-pound) cauliflower
Pinch of red pepper flakes or cayenne, to taste
12 ounces Roma (plum) tomatoes, peeled, halved, seeded and chopped
Juice of 1/2 lemon

Brown the beef in turmeric, spices and herbs.

Brown the beef in turmeric, spices and herbs.

Heat a tagine, preferably flameware, set on a heat diffuser over medium-low heat until warm. Mix 1 teaspoon salt, the pepper and turmeric with 1 1/ tablespoons of the olive oil and add to the warm pan.

Add the beef and sauté gently until golden on all sides. Place a crumpled piece of parchment directly over the meat, cover tightly and cook for 15 minutes, without lifting the cover. (The meat will cook in its own juices, drawn out by the salt over low heat; do not add water.)

Add the paprika, ginger, cumin, grated onion, half of the herbs, and 1/2 cup water. Cover again with the parchment paper and the lid, and simmer gently for 3 hours, until the meat is very tender and has fallen off the bones.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Cut the cauliflower in half, then cut each half lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Lightly brush a jelly-roll pan with 3 tablespoons of the olive oil. Mix the remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil with 1/2 teaspoon salt and a pinch of red pepper flakes, and gently toss with the cauliflower. Spread the cauliflower out in one layer on the pan and roast for 15 minutes. Use a spatula to turn the slices over and roast for another 15 minutes, or until lightly caramelized. remove from the oven, cover loosely with paper towels and set aside.

Finish off the dish with fresh parsley and cilantro.

Finish off the dish with fresh parsley and cilantro.

Remove the meat from the tagine and remove and discard the bones. Return the meat to the tagine. Tilt the pan and spoon off and discard the excess fat. If necessary, add a few tablespoons water to make a smooth sauce.

Chop the cauliflower into bite-size pieces and scatter with the tomatoes over the beef. Bring to a boil to reheat. Correct the seasoning with salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes and the lemon juice. Sprinkle the remaining herbs over the top, and serve at once.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Adapted from “The Food of Morocco” by Paula Wolfert

 

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