North African Odyssey

From previous posts you can tell that I draw much inspiration for my cooking from North Africa- Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco in particular. I mentioned that we really enjoyed Morocco, and that even prior to this, I was intrigued with fiery harissa paste (Tunisian origin), couscous as an alternative starch, refreshing sweet mint tea and the earthy warmth of cumin, also a key ingredient in
Indian and  Middle Eastern cooking.
Some of the most special meals I’ve enjoyed have been at Moroccan restaurants, such as Pasha  (not the club in Ibiza- I am old, and it is telling!), local Chuztpah and Le Tobsil


Le Tobsil: Feast in a Riad, fit for a…very lucky girl! photo property of foodandthefabulous

On Monday evening, our family of six, including my parents, was able to sit down for dinner together, so I opted to reschedule Meat Free Monday  to another day this week, in favour of a North African meal, using the ingredients I had in the house. You do agree that cooking is even more fun when there’s a challenge thrown in for good measure!
I certainly couldn’t compare with the variety of exquisite Moroccan meals I’ve eaten in terms of know-how, time and available ingredients. The overall result wasn’t too shabby though.

I put together a menu of a fragrant, lightly spiced vegetable soup, served with crusty bread and Naan, Lamb Tagine (a tagine being the quintessential dish for greater Morocco) served with couscous, a rice and fish dish, using up the snoek from Heritage Day, a side of grilled baby zucchini and spicy chic peas and dessert was a quick assembly of a gingery pudding (to echo the warmth of the flavourings featured throughout dinner), served with custard. The weather played along perfectly. It was gloomy for a Spring day in Cape Town. Hints of a winter that never really arrived this year. And just the thing for food that requires the dipping of bread and mopping up of delicious gravy.

Enjoying the remote Ourika Valley, home of the Berber people. Photo property of foodandthefabulous.com

Fragrant Vegetable Soup

The cumin, cinammon and ginger make this simple vegetable soup a stand out. I make this at least once a week during Winter, varying the ingredients and spices slightly.

Ingredients

800 g mixed diced seasonal vegetables (I used carrots, butternut, leeks and celery)<
2 tbsp onion, finely chopped
2 tsp grated ginger
2 x bay leaves
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 cups water
1/4 tsp fish sauce* (my secret ingredient)<
2 tsp hot English mustard powder
1 salad onion snipped, to garnish
salt
1 tbsp olive oil

Method

Fry onions in olive oil in a teflon coated saucepan, wide and deep enough to make a soup in.
Add bay leaves and vegetables. Add all the remaining ingredients, except the salad onions.
Cook on medium heat until softened, for approximately 35 minutes. Replenish with water as needed. Remove from heat.
Remove bay leaves and blend with a stick blender or in a processor until smooth but with a hint of nubly character. Add more water to thin if necessary and adjust seasoning.Serve with salad onion sprinkled on top and crusty bread or naan. (or both!)

*Fish sauce may sound like an odd ingredient to add, but I find it adds wonderful depth of flavour to soups and stews. In this tiny quantity it does its job, without detection. Do mind it doesn’t get onto your fingers and if so you will want to wash well, immediately!

Lamb Tagine with Carrots and Apricots

Serves 6
This dish is not complicated to make. However, you need to assemble the spices upfront and take the total time required into account.
Firstly, the lamb (or any meat you use- chicken would be good too) would benefit from marinating for a few hours or ideally overnight. If you do not have such time to spare, never fear! A little bit of lemon juice can do wonders to help in the tenderisation process and the flavours will mix and marry during the hours spent together in the pot. You will end up with a dish that is spicy, sweet and smokey. A beautiful combination of flavours.

Speaking of the pot, I am still heart-broken that the tagines we bought from a Berber Market, broke in our luggage on the way home. Having not found anything similar, in clay, suitable for both stove-top and oven cooking, I chose a teflon coated Tagine suitable for the microwave, oven and stove, in a flaming red. The purpose of the lid’s elongated, conical shape is to conserve and recycle water during the long cooking process, which makes sense as much of Morocco is desert and water is a rare resource.

 

Ingredients

1 kg lamb- cubes and stewing pieces, cut into 2 bite morsels
3/4 medium onion, chopped medium-fine
2 large carrots, peeled, halved, and cut into batons
handful greenbeans, trimmed and cut in half
handful apricots ( I had Turkish, so used those)
5 tsp NoMu Moroccan rub, or the following 4 spices:
3 tsp ground cumin, 2 tsp ground coriander, 1/2 tsp cinammon, 1/2 teaspoon all spice

2 tsp grated ginger
6 cloves garlic, peeled and bashed slightly
4 cardamom pods, bashed and seeds ground in pestle and mortar. Discard husks
8-10 strands saffron
1 tsp chilli paste or 1/2 small chilli finely chopped (optional)
1/2 tsp smoked paprika (this is essential- you will get a gorgeous, faintly smokey taste that will keep your guests wondering)
12 mint leaves, finely sliced
1/2 lemon, juiced
2 large, firm slicing tomatoes, chopped roughly
250 ml pasata
125 ml water, warm
1 tsp honey
1 tsp liquid vegetable or lamb stock (I used NoMu Fond)
2 tbps olive oil
salt

Method

Add the bulleted ingredients to the lamb. Mix well and leave to marinate. If you’re really pressed for time, just go on ahead. You will still get a good result.

photo property of foodandthefabulous.com

Preheat oven to 170 degrees Celsius and slide tray to lower shelf to accommodate tagine.

On the stove, brown the meat in batches. Remove and set aside.

Can you smell the sizzle? photo property of foodandthefabulous.com
Fry onions in same vessel. Add carrots and stir. Add tomatoes and cook for a few minutes on medium heat. Return the lamb. It will be a bit of a squeeze. Add pasata and the honey and stock, mixed in warm water. Season with salt and mix gently.

Place lid on and bake in oven for 1 hr 30 minutes.
Remove, carefully and add green beans and apricots. Bake for a further 30 minutes at 150 degrees Celsius.
Check seasoning and serve with couscous.

Simple Couscous

Serves 6

photo property of foodandthefabulous.com

Ingredients

2 cups couscous
2 cups water, freshly boiled
4 mint leaves, finely chopped
1 tbsp dried pomegranate seeds (optional)
salt

Method

Its useful to remember that you need to add equal parts water to couscous.Add boiled water to couscous in a small pot. Place on stove, at low heat with the lid on. Steam for 2 minutes.

Remove from heat and fluff with a fork (never a spoon). Add mint and season. Fluff again. Add pomegranate seeds just before serving, as they will discolour if left to stand for long.

Snoek Kedgeree

Serves 6, as a side

this attempt at originality is the property of foodandthefabulous.com I had this beautiful piece of snoek, and wasting it would have been such a shame. Whilst there is no traditional dish with rice (or couscous) and flaked fish that I’ve come across in Morocco, I made this my own Casablanca meets Madras version. Kedgeree  or kitchiri, the name I knew it by in my parents’ house, is a type of quick stir fry, using up left over rice, egg and vegetables at hand. (Very in tune with the principles of Meat Free Monday). I omitted the egg.

Ingredients

2 cups cooked rice (I used white basmati)
3/4- 1  cup flaked, slightly smoked snoek. Smoked haddock would be ideal and true to the original kedgeree.
1 tsp ground cumin
2 salad onions, snipped
1/2 chilli, sliced on the diagonal (optional or de-seed)
2 tsp olive oil

Method

Fry onions in oilve oil for 20 seconds. Add fish and cumin and stir. Add rice and chilli and stir with a fork.

Serve immediately. This is best eaten soon after preparation.

Grilled Baby Zucchini with spicy chick peas

Serves 6, as a side


photo property of foodandthefabulous.com

Ingredients

3/4 punnet baby zucchini, sliced with potato peeler
6 sundried tomatoes, snipped and hydrated in hot water
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed several times
1/2 tsp ground cumin
salt
1 tbsp olive oil + extra for drizzling.

Method

Oil a griddle pan and fry the zucchini in batches. This will take seconds to do. Toss in drained tomatoes and season.
Remove and set aside. Add chick peas to the pan and sprinkle cumin and salt to taste.
Serve warm, with a drizzle of olive oil over.

Ginger and date pudding

I took a page out of Nigella Lawson’s book and bought a few good ginger loaves, which I had stored in the freezer. This is such a quick and easy dessert, bordering on malva and cape brandy tart (Tipsytert) in its date-filled goodness. It doesn’t look great once cut up, but its divine and will get wiped out. Hence the lack of  a photo!

Ingredients

1 loaf ginger loaf, sliced
6 dates, pitted and stripped into pieces
20 ml brandy (optional)
250ml custard, ready made

Method

Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
Spray n Cook / grease an oven proof dish. Arrange the ginger loaf slices, pressing slightly. Intersperse dates. Repeat with another layer of cake and dates. Press down, slightly. Pour brandy, if using, and custard over.
Bake for 15-20 minutes and serve immediately with more custard or whipped cream. Clotted cream would be ideal. Don’t think it gets much simpler.

 Moroccan Mint tea

the only way to pour a cuppa! photo property of foodandthefabulous.com

This is a speciality in Morocco and served at any time of day, even when its 42 degrees Celsius out!  Preparing mint tea, affectionatlely known as Berber whisky, is a ceremony unto itself. I was very lucky to have a kind local just outside the Ourika Valley, invite me to join in the tea making ceremony. It is rather too sweet for my liking, but as they say…when in Marrakech…
The very interesting thing, is that every village, even within meters of each other, has its own variety of mint!

photo property of foodandthefabulous.com

Ingredients

2 scoops gunpowder tea (a mixture of green tea leaves and dried mint)
handful fresh mint
sugar to sweeten

Method

Boil water. I’d say wait a bit, as water hotter than 80 degrees Celsius with burn the green tea. Add the tea to your jug.

Add half a cup of hot water, swish around and rinse. This removes the bitterness, it is said. Repeat at least 5 times. Enjoy the process, as you’re about to enjoy an amazing cup of tea.

Add fresh mint into the pot and fill hot water to the top. Wait a few minutes, for the tea to brew and the mint to infuse.

Pour into tea glasses and sweeten to taste. In Moroccan terms this means 3 sugar cubes, per tiny glass!

Enjoy. I hope your lovie watched you making it the first time around, so he/she can return the favour while you put your feet up.


Communal eating, a common practise in North Africa, encourages sharing and conversation. Photo property of foodandthefabulous.com

Love to hear your thoughts!


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8 Comments

  1. Karen September 29, 2010 at 8:53 pm - Reply

    Wow! What a feast…everything looks amazing, especially the lamb tagine. Yum!

  2. Ishay September 30, 2010 at 10:51 am - Reply

    Thanks Ms Tasty Trials!I really enjoy making a tagine. It's a fulfilling experience..and not frustrating (like pastry?!). I'm sure you could experiment with that, varying the protein and spices. Should still give a great result 🙂

  3. Marisa October 4, 2010 at 2:45 pm - Reply

    Wow! You really went all out. Looks like a fabulous spread.

  4. Ishay October 4, 2010 at 2:54 pm - Reply

    Hey Marissa. Once the tagine is in the oven, the rest of the dishes can be prepared in a jiffy. But, hopefully there is someone else available to assist with the washing up! 🙂

  5. […] a delicious variation on my Apple Iced Tea, inspired by my love of Morocco and my need to cool down. (We’re talking sweat dripping down the backs of legs at 8 30 am […]

  6. Marisa April 21, 2011 at 9:21 am - Reply

    That soup looks fantastic – how did I miss it previously?

  7. […] fact, eating food cooked and flavored in the style of North African cuisine, has become a source of great comfort and joy in our home. For large parties and dinners for […]

  8. […] fact, eating food cooked and flavored in the style of North African cuisine, has become a source of great comfort and joy in our home. For large parties and dinners for […]

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