Tag Archives: Moroccan

Vegetarian Tagine with Preserved Lemon and Olives with Fluffy Lemon Quinoa

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VegetarianTagine_spoonwithme-31I love that food can take us back to places we’ve been before, and places we dream of going.  This tagine takes me back to a trip to Morocco I took with the Mister to visit my soul sister Karissa while she was living there for a couple of years.  Morocco was a place I had never imagined I’d visit, but when given the opportunity, I thought, I’ve got to do this! My favorite thing about visiting someplace new is experiencing a different speed and rhythm of life, and observing the way that everything works like clockwork with its own moving parts, in its own way.  

VegetarianTagine_spoonwithme-17VegetarianTagine_spoonwithme-32VegetarianTagine_spoonwithme-15On our first night in Casablanca, our friends took us to a magical restaurant outdoors surrounded by garden, with live local musicians playing traditional Moroccan instruments.  It was the perfect place to make us feel that yes, we are indeed in Morocco!  I felt out of my comfort zone, a sense of nervous excitement the whole time, wanting to see and experience all I could, to be warm and friendly while clumsily and earnestly trying to observe and follow the cultural norms.  I probably had a goofy smile on my face that night, trying to soak in everything I could, experiencing it like a new puppy, seeing even the mundane things of everyday life like dishes, plants and doors as new and exciting.

VegetarianTagine_spoonwithme-12The first dish I ate in Morocco is forever burned into my memory– chicken tagine with preserved lemons and olives.  At that point I had never tasted anything like it–A thick vibrant yellow stew filled with braised chicken, onions cooked into almost collapsing tenderness, soaking up all of the cooking liquid seasoned with ginger, saffron, and dotted with little salty exclamation points in the form of olives and and strips of bright preserved lemon rind. It’s a lemony, thick and savory stew, and ours was served with traditional pillowy rounds of traditional Moroccan breads covered with cracked seeds, perfect for soaking up every last bit of the stew.  

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Traditionally, this tagine would be made in a conical earthenware cooking vessel called a tagine (ha! Imagine that!).  If you happen to have a tagine lying around, by all means use it!  I don’t have one and like to use my enameled dutch oven–any sturdy pan with a tight fitting lid will work just fine.  I even like to saute the ingredients in my Instant Pot and cook it in a ridiculously short amount of time.  I’ll include IP instructions below if you happen to have one.  

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Since I eat a (mostly) plant-based diet now,  I wanted to create a vegetarian tagine to satisfy  the same craving as the original recipe– In my version, I’ve added potatoes, carrots, cauliflower and chickpeas, braised to soak up the same lemony, savory, onion-laden stew of onions, punctuated with olives and preserved lemon rind of the original.  Traditionally, the dish is colored and seasoned with saffron, which does add a roundness and complexity.  Karissa told me that many people in Morocco use safflower (in the US it’s called Mexican Saffron) to add color to dishes because true saffron is so expensive.  I’ve made it optional in this recipe, as it’s delicious without it and you’ll still achieve a lovely golden yellow stew from the turmeric.  

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Lately, I’ve been into making “mega-batches” of foods that freeze well, and this is one of them.  I freeze small portions in quart bags so that I can quickly thaw them for lunch or dinner.  It is so nice to have a home cooked meal when you’re too tired or busy to make a home cooked meal.  I’ve saved myself many times this way, and present me always thanks past me for being so thoughtful to prepare such a delicious meal in advance. This tagine is great over couscous or quinoa, and you can make it fresh on the night you’re ready to heat up the tagine.  

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As Spring approaches, I’m starting to dream of new destinations and foods.  I hope this tagine either takes you back to your own trip to Morocco, or transports you there and gives you a little taste if you’ve never been.  Enjoy!  

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Let’s talk ingredients!

Preserved Lemons:  

•I like buying my preserved lemons from Savory Spice Shop.

•Got some extra time on your hands?  Why not make your own preserved lemons? I love making them myself. You can find my recipe here.  

•I’m curious about using this method for making “speedy” preserved lemons (speedy, as in one week instead of a whole month.)  Will update the post when I try!

Vegetarian Tagine with Preserved Lemon and Olives with Lemony Quinoa

Adapted to be vegan from two of Paula Wolfert’s chicken tagine recipes from her book The Food of Morocco.  If you happen to have an Instant Pot, I’ve included instructions below!  Although couscous is a more traditional accompaniment, I like eating this tagine with quinoa because it’s more nutrient-dense.  If you prefer, feel free to serve with couscous!

Tagine Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, quartered and thinly sliced
  • 4 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 2 teaspoons Nigella seeds (also known as kalonji or charnushka), optional*
  • 1 large tomato, chopped (about 10 ounces)
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons powdered ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 3/4 pound (12 ounces) cauliflower, cut into bite-sized florets
  • 3/4 pound yukon gold potatoes, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 3/4 pound carrots, peeled and cut into thick slices
  • 3/4 cup pitted brined mixed olives, rinsed to remove excess salt
  • 1 preserved lemon
  • 1 15.5 ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (or equivalent cooked chickpeas from dry)
  • 1 pinch saffron threads, about 1/4 teaspoon, optional*
  • 2 1/2 cups vegetable broth (I like vegetarian no-chicken broth for its more neutral flavor)
  • juice of one lemon, or to taste
  • fresh parsley leaves, to garnish
  • salt to taste
  • lemony quinoa, for serving (recipe follows)

Rub the saffron between your fingers to crush the threads a bit, and put them in a small bowl with 2 tablespoons warm water and allow to soak for 15 minutes to infuse the water and release the flavor.

Quarter the preserved lemon and remove and discard the flesh.  Rinse the rind and chop into 1/4 inch strips.

Heat olive oil over medium-high heat in a dutch oven or large heavy pot with a tight fitting lid.  Add the onion, and sprinkle with salt.  Sauté for 3-4 minutes, until translucent.  Add the garlic and cook for an additional minute.  Add the chopped tomato, turmeric, ginger, black pepper and ground cumin.  Sauté for 2 minutes longer.

Add the cauliflower, potato, carrot, olives, chickpeas, 2 1/2 cups broth and the saffron water (including any saffron threads left in the water).  Add some salt to taste.

Quarter the preserved lemon and remove and discard the flesh.  Rinse the rind and chop into 1/4 inch strips.  Add rind strips to the pot.

Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer.  Cook for 55 minutes to and hour and ten minutes, or until potatoes and carrots are tender.  Season to taste with salt, and lemon juice to bring out the flavors.  Serve over lemony quinoa.

While tagine is simmering, make the quinoa (see recipe below).

Instant Pot Adaptation:  

Push the sauté button and allow the Instant Pot to heat up.  Sauté and add the ingredients in the same order as in the recipe above through the vegetable broth.  The   Hit the cancel button on the Instant Pot, then secure the lid and cook on high pressure (or push the meat/stew button if yours doesn’t have a manual pressure button) for 9 minutes*.  Make sure the valve is set to “seal” not venting.  Release manually (be very careful, the hot steam will shoot out.  I like to put an oven mitt on and use tongs to turn the valve.  Make sure you are standing far away from the pot).

*Note:  I have tested this recipe at many different cooking times, each resulting in very tender vegetables.  9 minutes cooking time still left the cauliflower very soft.  When I test again, I’ll start with 7 minutes.  If you test a different cooking time, please leave a comment below!

Fluffy Lemony Quinoa 

  • 2 cups quinoa, rinsed well
  • 4 cups vegetable broth (again, I like vegetarian no-chicken broth)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • juice from a lemon, to taste
  • additional salt to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste

Put quinoa, broth, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and garlic cloves in a medium pot.  Bring to a boil, then immediately turn down to a simmer.  Cover and cook for 12 minutes, or until quinoa is fluffy and the little white tails are visible around the outside of the grains.  Fluff with a fork, and add olive oil,  lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste.

Notes:

*I like using Nigella/ Kalonji for the specks of color, and the slightly nutty, toasted onion flavor they impart.  I like to get mine from Savory Spice Shop.

*This tagine is wonderful without the saffron–if you have some around and would like to use it, by all means do!  It adds a rounded depth of flavor.  If you don’t want to invest in this expensive little spice, your tagine will still taste great!

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Moroccan Chicken Bastila

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A coworker once called me a recipe tease.  I don’t mean to wave my recipes like the unattainable carrot, but sometimes it happens.  I get excited and mean well, but my forgetfulness takes over.  Recently, well, okay, maybe like 5 months ago, a faithful reader made such an accusation, although in different words, and I quote:  “Nice Girl, waited long enough.  What about the recipe?  Thanks again!”.  Being a teacher, my first thought was Yesss! you were paying attention!  My second thought was “Bad girl, you are a recipe tease.”  The guilt has been nagging at me ever since.  I love-hate it when people hold me accountable.

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The recipe in question was originally posted the summer before last.  Bastila is a Moroccan dish eaten for special meals with company.  It takes the better part of a day to make, and even longer if you’re actually in Morocco.  Things like waiting for a live chicken to be butchered and plucked, and ordering a fresh batch of fillo.   Fatima, the maid at my friend’s apartment in Casablanca, taught me to make Bastila through gesture, and words in Arabic and French I didn’t understand.

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I think it has taken me a while to re-post this because making the Bastila, and fine- tuning the recipe seemed like a daunting task!  My friend Karissa who lived in Morocco (and now lives here in Denver) and I decided to [finally] remake the recipe using my notes from Fatima, with additional guidance from one of my favorite Moroccan cookbook authors, Paula Wolfert.  If you’d like to read more about Bastila, and to see the process in a Moroccan kitchen, you can find my original post here.

Garnishing the Bastila

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Dear reader, you know who you are (ahem–JBH)…if you’re still there, this recipe is for you!

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Moroccan Chicken Bastila

Serves 12

Because of the intricacy and time required to make this regal dish, Bastila is meant to be shared with company.  It is a grand chicken (or traditionally, pigeon) fillo-topped pie, a balance of savory flavors and warm-spices, with velvety egg woven throughout. The filling can be made up to a day in advance, and assembled and baked the day of.  

Ingredients:

  • 3 pound whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces (see tutorial here, or ask the butcher to cut if for you)
  • 2 pinches saffron (about 1/2 teaspoon)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground dried ginger
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 teaspoons turmeric
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • Two 2-inch cinnamon sticks
  • 4 medium onions, chopped
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 stick butter, melted and cooled
  • 12 ounces whole blanched almonds (or, see instructions for blanching almonds)
  • 1/4 cup canola or vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, plus more for dusting
  • 1/3 cup powdered sugar, plus more for dusting
  • 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
  • 8 ounces frozen fillo dough sheets, thawed overnight in the refrigerator

Process:

  1. Warm the saffron threads in a heated frying pan on the stove for about 30-45 seconds.  Remove promptly, crumble the threads between your fingers.  In a small bowl, add the saffron threads to 3 tablespoons hot water, and stir to dissolve.
  2. Mix the saffron water with the ginger, pepper, turmeric, nutmeg, and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Put the chicken in a large saucepan or dutch oven, and coat with the saffron water mixture.   Cover and set aside for 10 minutes.
  3. Add the onions, cinnamon sticks, and 1 1/2 cups water to the pan with the chicken, and stir to distribute evenly.  Put the pan on the stove over high heat.  Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and cook the chicken, covered, at a high simmer for 30-45 minutes, or until cooked through and tender.  Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside to cool slightly.
  4. Discard the cinnamon sticks.  Continue to simmer the onion mixture for about 10 minutes.  In the meantime, roughly shred the chicken using your hands.  Discard the skin and bones (or save to make stock for a later use).
  5. Add the shredded chicken, parsley, and cilantro to the pan with the simmering onion mixture.  Season with salt to taste and stir to combine.   Cook over medium high heat until most of the liquid has evaporated (there should be about 1 1/2 cups liquid left in the pan.  Stir in the lemon juice.
  6. Beat the eggs until frothy, then slowly pour them into the simmering chicken mixture, stirring continuously in one direction until they are incorporated.  Cook for 8-10 minutes over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until the eggs are set, but the mixture still appears moist. Stir in the golden raisins. Taste for salt and season if needed.
  7. Fry the blanched almonds:  Heat the oil in a large skillet and fry the almonds until they are a light golden brown.  Drain on paper towels.  When they are cool, coarsely chop about 3/4 of the almonds in a food processor, reserving the rest of the almonds for the garnish.  Mix the powdered sugar and cinnamon with the almonds.
  8. Preheat the oven to 425˚ F.  Unroll the thawed fillo sheets, and lay them on a cutting board.  Cover the fillo sheets with a damp dish towel to prevent them from drying out.
  9. Brush some of the melted butter in a 12” deep dish pizza pan, baking sheet, or casserole dish.  Cover the bottom of the pan with 4 sheet of fillo, overlapping them so that the edges hang off the sides of the pan.
  10. Working quickly, spread half of the almond-sugar mixture across the fillo dough, then add the chicken, spreading it evenly.  Spread the rest of the almond-sugar mixture across the top of the chicken.
  11. Fold the edges of the fillo over the chicken.  Brush the top of the fillo with butter, and add the remaining 4 sheets of fillo, adding butter between each layer, tucking the edges into the side of the pan.  Brush the top with melted butter, and the beaten egg yolk.
  12. Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and crisp.
  13. Decorate the top with criss-crossed lines of powdered sugar, cinnamon, and the remaining fried almonds.  Serve while hot.

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Moroccan Preserved Meyer Lemons

Every year around this time, I begin to hoard Meyer lemons.  Unless you’re lucky enough to have a backyard citrus tree, Meyer lemons start appearing in stores in January.  You’ll continue to see them in February, and maybe even early March, but one day, all of a sudden, they’ll be gone, and you’ll have to wait a whole year to see them again.  Hence, I’ve decided that the only sane thing to do is to buy them every time I see them, and preserve them in every which way I can think of.

What’s the big deal, you ask?  Well, every year around this time, winter starts to take it’s toll on me.  One of my saving graces is the fact that citrus fruits are in season, and perhaps most notably, Meyer lemons.  I don’t know how I’d make it through these colder months without something brighter and less wintery than, say, a parsnip.  Meyer lemons are sweeter and thinner-skinned than a normal lemon, and are scented with notes of orange blossom and tangerine.  The aroma alone is enough to shake me from my winter doldrums, moving me to a warmer place.

Ever since our visit to Morocco this past summer, I’ve wanted to make preserved lemons.  Our first night in Casablanca, when every smell and color seemed brand new, the mister and I, and two very good friends shared a meal in the middle of the garden-surrounded patio of a Moroccan restaurant.  Looking through the menu, I tried to decode the few French culinary words I knew from cooking shows and Julia Childs’ cookbooks.  With Karissa’s help (the only French speaker in the bunch), I finally decided on the chicken tagine, which arrived falling off the bone tender, perfectly seasoned, and braised with salty tart perserved lemons and green and black Moroccan olives.

In formulating an action plan on how to use as many Meyer lemons as possible before they disappeared, I thought back to that first night in Morocco, and that intensely flavored chicken tagine.  In my search for a recipe for preserved lemons, I came across Paula Wolfert’s method on Epicurious.  Wolfert is the go-to woman for authentic Moroccan cooking.  In her notes, she states that Meyer lemons are closer in taste to the lemons found in Morocco, and work the best for preserving.  Perfect.

My lemons are in process right now. So far, 2 jars for me and one for a Karissa sit on my counter top, adding a little sunshine to my dreary and sometimes whiny winter temperament.  I can’t vouch for their success yet, but wanted to share the recipe with you while Meyer lemon season is still in full swing.  In 30 days, we should be making tagines, tossing bright little slivers with vegetables, and making preserved lemon aioli, among other concoctions.  The moment is fleeting, and the time is now!  Hoard some Meyer lemons with me, before it’s too late!

Preserved Meyer Lemons

Adapted from Epicurious, originally from Paula Wolfert’s book Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco

Makes 1 pint

Regular lemons may be used if you can’t find Meyer lemons, but be sure to use organic, as you’ll be eating the rind.  Wolfert says that the Safi spice mixture will give the lemons a true Moroccan flavor.  When removing lemons from the jar, make sure to use a clean wooden utensil to avoid contaminating the jar.   

  • 5 organic meyer lemons, plus
  • freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice from about 3 lemons, as needed (do not use processed lemon juice here)
  • 1/4 cup kosher salt, more if desired
  • Safi spice mixture (optional)

Equipment needed:  a 1-pint mason jar and lid for each batch of lemons

Optional Safi mixture:

  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 3 cloves
  • 5 to 6 coriander seeds
  • 3 to 4 black peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf
1. Sterilize the mason jar by placing it upside down in a steamer basket, and steam for 10 minutes.  Remove the jar from the steamer  with tongs, and set it sideways on a clean folded kitchen towel to dry.  Boil the lid for 5 minutes, and remove it to a towel to dry.
2.  Wash the lemons thoroughly and dry them.

3. Quarter the lemons from the top leaving 1/2 inch of the bottoms of the lemons intact. Sprinkle salt on the exposed flesh, then reshape the fruit.

4. Place 1 tablespoon salt on the bottom of the mason jar. Pack in the lemons and push them down, adding the remaining salt, and spices (if using) in between the layers. Press the lemons down to release their juices and to make room for the remaining lemons.  Add enough freshly squeezed lemon juice to cover the lemons (I juiced about 3 extra lemons). Leave some air space before closing the jar.  After 2 to 3 days, add extra lemon juice to cover the lemons if needed.

5.  Allow the jars to sit in a warm place for at least 30 days before using, shaking once a day to distribute the salt and juices.  At this point, refrigerate and use as needed–the lemons will keep for up to a year.

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Chicken Bastila, the Moroccan Way

Do as the Moroccans Do…

The day after we arrived in Casablanca, we hopped on a train bound for Marrakech with our friends Karissa and Tom.  We snacked from bags of raw figs, cherries and olives, purchased from the local market that morning, as the train sped past fields of grazing sheep and crops surrounded by expansive cacti “fences”.  I admired the intricate henna painted on the hand of the woman across from me.  Arriving at the train station, we bartered for a taxi, and headed straight for Jemaa Lafna, the main square in Marrakech.  Think of everything you might picture in your head about the nature of Morocco, and multiply it.  Concentrate it.  Only then can you begin to imagine the main square and medina in the center of Marrakech.

Snake charmers played nasal-sounding instruments.  Men walked monkeys on leashes, hoping to trap unsuspecting tourists in an unwanted photo-op.  Henna ladies sat under umbrellas in the sweltering heat, wielding their skin-tinting syringes, and before five minutes had passed , Karissa and I were happily painted from index finger to wrist.  By day, we wandered the covered medinas, shopping for pottery, lanterns, jewelry and spices.  A shopkeeper invited us in, serving us sweet Moroccan mint tea and allowing us to see and smell potent blends of spices from glass jars.

The real magic in Marrakech happens at night.  We wove through hoards of people.  Musicians clanked castanet-type instruments and drums, and storytellers stood on wooden crates, telling ancient tales in Arabic to an enthralled audience.  Smoke billowed from outdoor grills, as food stand owners used every line in the book to drum up business.  “You just ate?  You’re skinny, so you can eat again!”.  We drank freshly squeezed orange juice purchased from a stand.  I am still convinced that it was and will be the best orange juice I have ever tasted.  Deep in the medina, we found our hotel, so gritty on the outside, but so very Moroccan on the inside, with its tiled garden paradise courtyard in the center.  We lay on the rooftop and listened as the last call to prayer echoed from minaret to minaret across the city.

The next morning, we headed back to Casablanca.  When Karissa asked if I’d like to go to the hamam, I nervously thought, I don’t know, do I want to go to the hamam?   Hamam=Turkish bathhouse.  I didn’t know much about Turkish bathhouses, but what I did know involved steam rooms and nudity.  I’ve never been the kind of girl to prance around the locker room in less than a towel, so thinking about being topless around other women and actually relaxing was a bit of a stretch for me, but I had told myself that I wanted the full Moroccan experience, so I had Karissa tell me more.  In Morocco, many households don’t have showers.  People feel that the only way to truly get clean is to go to the hamam.  It is a ritual, and a social bonding time between women.  You can’t get any more Moroccan than a hamam!

A few days later, we walked through the busy streets of Casablanca to the hamam, stopping at a roadside cart to snack on two ears of salted, charred corn.  Once inside, we paid the woman behind the counter 80 dirham, and in return, she gave us two tokens and two towels.  We traded in the first token to sit in the steam room, relaxing and slathering ourselves with black soap.  I felt self-conscious, but free, sitting around chatting, and pouring buckets of warm water over my shoulders.  After the steam room, a woman with flushed cheeks wearing a black bathing suit directed me to lay on a marble massage table for the “savvonage,” a very thorough scrubbing and sloughing which felt both relaxing at times, painful at others.  I left the hamam feeling energized, squeaky clean, and smooth as a baby, exhilarated to been someplace I never imagined I’d be.

The verdict is in.  If only hamams existed in Denver…

Cook as the Moroccans cook…

On Monday, after Karissa and Tom headed to work, Fatima arrived.  After a flurry of mimed greetings, and a few words in French, learned from the internet a few minutes prior to her arrival, I followed Fatima as she fearlessly crossed busy streets, looking after me like a mother hen.  People on the streets looked at us curiously, the odd pair that we were, her in a powder blue jelaba, and me in sunglasses and flip-flops.  We walked down a ramp to the underground market to buy the ingredients to make bastila, a traditional Moroccan phyllo-wrapped pigeon (or in this case, chicken) dish.

First, we walked through small aisles of produce, toward the sounds of clucking and rustling feathers. Fatima spoke in Arabic to the shopkeeper, and he picked up a chicken and weighed it as we left the area (thank heavens), to purchase our produce.  We moved on to buy our phyllo dough, which the seller made to order by dabbing wet dough on a heated metal disc, lifting and each thin sheet of finished dough into the air to cool.  When we returned to the chicken stand, our recently-live chicken was handed to us in a plastic bag, butchered, plucked, and cleaned.  We visited the spice seller to buy the ginger, and I asked if I could take a picture of him and his stand.  He smiled and puffed up with pride, asking if I would bring it back so he could see.  The picture is a little out of focus, but I just couldn’t resist including it.

When we returned to the apartment, Fatima and I got to work.  With no shortcuts or convenience foods, such as blanched almonds or powdered sugar, I learned what it means to cook like a Moroccan.

Cover a freshly plucked and cleaned chicken with water in a large saucepan.  Generously salt the water, and boil the chicken until cooked through and tender.  Remove the chicken from the pan to cool before shredding, but don’t throw out the chicken broth you’ve just made in the bottom of the pan!  You’ll use it to simmer the onions.

The shredded chicken goes back into the pot.  Season the Moroccan way, with salt, white pepper, and a generous amount of cinnamon.  Now, pound the saffron into a powder, using Fatima’s favorite kitchen implement, a hammer.  Sweep the saffron into the pot.  Watch as the saffron immediately begins to swirl its red-orange pigment throughout the broth.  Stir.  The saffron will give the chicken a bright yellow tinge.  Next, add some chopped parsley while you wait for the almonds to boil and soften.

Have you ever blanched almonds by hand?  Neither had I.  After boiling them, it’s easier than it would seem.  Just drain them, allow to cool, and pop them out of their skins one by one, pinching them between your thumb and index finger.  Put them into a pot of oil, and fry until golden.  Allow them to cool, and if there’s no food processor to be found, use a hammer!

Now, add the golden raisins, and season to taste with salt, powdered sugar, and cinnamon.  Then crack the eggs into the pot with the shredded chicken mixture.  Fatima emphasizes that you must stir constantly until the mixture is dry, with no raw egg remaining in the bottom of the pan.  Toss in a couple small handfuls of the crushed almonds and stir.  Finally, the filling is complete!  “Mangez!”  Taste your progress!  But not so fast…There’s still work to be done!

Butter.  Generous amounts of butter.  Butter on the pan, butter on the phyllo.  Moroccans like their butter.

Then, fill the phyllo with the sweet and savory chicken mixture, topping with the fried almonds.

Fold and butter, fold and butter.

Drape the top with a final piece of phyllo, tuck in the edges, and, you guessed it, dab with butter.  Bake and wait, or make Fatima’s Zaalouk to make the time pass faster.

The bastilla emerges from the oven, golden, and so flaky.

Cinnamon stripes,

Powdered sugar stripes (ie:  granulated sugar pounded to a powder using, you guessed it, a hammer).

Finally, the bastila is complete; sweet and savory, flaky and moist layered with so many textures and flavors, and totally worth the hours of hard work!

Meet new people, eat, and share!  What better to bring people together than bastila?

Missing the recipe?  I have yet to streamline and test this bastilla in my own kitchen.  As soon as I do, I’ll update this post!  This post has finally been updated!  You can find the recipe here.


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Zaalouk (Moroccan Eggplant-Tomato Spread)

“Welcome to Morocco!”

We stepped off the plane, surrounded by the sounds of French and Arabic airport chatter.  The mister and I sticking out like sore thumbs–Peder, 6’4, blue-eyed and German-looking, and fair-skinned me in my very American clothing.  Without a word of Arabic between us, and hardly a word of French between us, we made it through customs and were greeted with a reassuring “Hey Guys!”. We spotted Karissa, looking well-traveled, and completely comfortable in her surroundings.  Following her like two deer in headlights to the snack shop, we watched her chat candidly in French with the workers to buy us three bottles of water.  I felt way out of my comfort zone, and tried to blend in.  Will people accept us here?  This is a Muslim country.  Do they hate Americans, like the news leads me to believe?  In the middle of my musings, one of the shop workers exclaimed, “You’re American?  We love Americans!  Welcome to Morocco!”  

After making our way out of the airport, Karissa immediately started bargaining in French with a taxi driver to settle on a fare.  Being a passenger in a Moroccan taxi is an experience that one never forgets.  It’s the first initiation into Morocco that every traveler must endure.  Drivers squeeze cars, motorbikes and donkey carts into every available slot, and shuffle themselves around like decks of cards.  Lane lines are suggestions, and honking is used as a form of communication as if to say, “I’m here, don’t hit me!.”  Ever played the game Frogger?  Then you know how to cross a five lane Moroccan street.

We rode past fruit carts and run down buildings, flowering bushes and dirty sidewalks, simultaneously taking in the scene around us, and chatting away with Karissa, trying to catch up for the past year she had been abroad, teaching at Casablanca American School.  Next, the interrogation.  The Mister and I fired off questions in rapid succession.  How do we blend in?  You won’t.  You’re going to stick out.  You just are, and that’s okay!  What about eye contact?  I made eye contact with a man at the airport, and he looked very surprised.  How very forward of you, Karissa laughed. Women don’t make eye contact with men.  It is okay for women to make eye contact with other women.  We learned to say “thank you” in Arabic as we exited the taxi, and Karissa began to argue with the taxi driver who insisted that she should give him a big tip because of his nice big car.  From what I gathered, Karissa told him “I am not a tourist, I live here, I don’t have to pay you a tip!”  Karissa gave the driver a smaller tip than he had asked for.  He gave her his business card and said, “Next time you need a driver, you call me, and you can give me a bigger tip!”

A little later, our other good friend Tom joined us, and we set out to eat dinner.  The four of us walked down dirty sidewalks and past flowering bushes, gritty stucco walls, and children laughing and playing soccer outside five story buildings.  We stepped through a keyhole-shaped door and into the restaurant, a pristine tiled courtyard garden, complete with a fountain and a traditional Moroccan band filling the space with beats I had never learned in any of my music education courses.  I thought I’d gone to heaven when the waiter brought us a basket of squat round seeded breads and two bowls full of olives, and reached a state of enlightenment when I had my first taste of chicken tagine with olives and preserved lemons.

At dusk, we walked along the beach outside the largest mosque in Morocco, the Hassan II.  It was brilliantly lit against the electric blue sky.  I didn’t know what to expect, and wondered if we were intruding on a sacred space that didn’t belong to us. When we reached the front of the mosque, we saw families and friends out for evening walks, dressed in traditional djellaba and hijab.  Children ran and played on the shining marble steps, and birds weaved in and out of the ornate arches.  Women held hands with women, men with men, and I sensed a deep kinship as they socialized and chatted.  The mosque exuded peace, and was a refuge from the speeding motorbikes and honking taxis.  We were met with curiosity and acceptance, as evening strollers glanced at our very different appearance.  I knew then and there that I wanted to step outside my comfort zone, in order to experience Morocco fully.

Join me next time as we eat as the Moroccans eat, cook as the Moroccans cook, and do as the Moroccans do.  We’ll walk through medinas and markets, meet new friends, and learn another recipe from Fatima, a kind Moroccan woman I had the privilege of cooking with.  The first recipe I’ll be sharing with you, is for a warm eggplant and tomato spread/salad called Zaalook.  Just as with most recipes, every home cook has his or her own version.  Here is Fatima’s, as illustrated below.

Eggplant and tomato, fresh from the underground market

Fatima quickly peels the tomatoes and trims the eggplant,

and dices it, with her crazy paring-knife skills.

She chops the parsley, 

and layers everything together on the stove, finely grating the garlic overtop.

Next, Fatima drizzles the vegetables with oil.  Lots of oil.  She cooks the vegetables without stirring until the tomatoes have released their juices, and then stirs everything together.

Now, the spices:  salt, paprika, harissa, and cumin seeds, which she toasts and rubs between her fingers to release the aroma.

She seasons to taste, and adds more harissa paste (to my delight).  Perfect to eat as a spread on bread, or as a salad.  Voila!  Zaalouk!  

Zaalouk

Serves 4-6 as and appetizer or small salad

  • 4 medium tomatoes, peeled, trimmed, and diced
  • 2 medium eggplants, trimmed and diced
  • 4 medium cloves garlic
  • 1 small bunch flat-leafed parsley, finely chopped (stems and all)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds, toasted until fragrant in a small frying pan
  • harissa to taste*
  • sea salt and black pepper to taste
  • Extra virgin olive oil

Heat a large frying pan over medium heat.  Drizzle olive oil on the bottom of the pan to thinly coat.  Layer the vegetables in the pan as follows:  tomatoes, eggplant, then parsley.  Add another drizzling of oil over the vegetables.  Increase the heat to medium-high.  Cook, shaking the pan back and forth occasionally (to prevent sticking), until the tomatoes have released most of their juices.  Thinly grate the garlic over top, and stir the vegetables to combine.  Add the paprika, salt and pepper, and harissa to taste.  Rub the toasted cumin seeds between your palms to release their aroma, then add to the pan and stir.  Cover the pan, and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally until the eggplant has softened and the tomatoes have almost broken down completely (The eggplant and tomato will have formed a paste with some remaining texture from the eggplant.)  Serve warm or at room temperature, alone or with bread.

*Harissa is a spicy Moroccan chile paste, which can be found in some Middle Eastern markets and specialty stores.  If you can’t find it, chile-garlic paste (sambal oelek), cayenne powder, or crushed red pepper would make decent substitutions.  

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Moroccan Lentil Soup

My husband and I met a friend downtown last Friday for drinks.  I’m not high maintenance by most standards, but it took me about 40 minutes and two outfit changes to switch over from teacher-mode to going out mode.  The mister, on the other hand, showered, shaved, chose a button up shirt and jeans, and carefully mussed his hair in less than 15.  He was sitting on the couch playing Angry Birds long before I emerged from the bedroom to ask him which shoes looked better.

My male counterpart is usually known around here by pseudonyms like Mr. Medium Rare, The Hubs and my favorite taste tester.  You may be surprised to know that he has a real name.  Meet Peder; 6 foot 4, blue-eyed and amiable, the keeper of  both random and highly useful knowledge.  Equal parts logical and creative,  stubbly and polished.  Peder has good kitchen sense, but cooks only occasionally.  He rarely reads cookbooks or browses food sites, and chooses recipes like he shops–thinks, decides, procures, purchases, and goes home to move onto more important things.  And the most endearingly annoying part? Every recipe he chooses is pure gold.

If you have been to my house in the past 3 months, you have undoubtedly heard about “the” Moroccan lentil soup.  You know, the one we mention every time the topic of food comes up (which is pretty frequently around here).  You may have even tried it, one of the ten times we have made it recently, at a school staff potluck, or a last minute dinner get-together.

I’d love to take credit for finding such a fantastic recipe.  After all, I read cookbooks like it’s my part time job.  I luxuriate in the glossy pages, and bookmark potentials with neon sticky notes.  I check Tastespotting on a daily basis, just to see what catches my eye. The problem is, I’m easily distractable…Um, what were we talking about again?  Oh, right.

It goes something like this:  I go to my massive shelf of cookbooks and pull out the Native Foods cookbook, Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Home Cooking, and the latest issue of Bon Appetit.  Halfway through the sandwich chapter of my Native Foods cookbook, I remember my favorite portobello burger.  A good possibility…I move on to Madhur Jaffrey.  Before I can flip past the foreword, I remember a recipe I had bookmarked on Indian Simmer.  After deciding that the Malai Kofta would have to wait for another day, I head on over to another one of my favorite food blogs, Use Real Butter.  Oh, look, I can make ice cream using only bananas!  Hey Peder–I can make ice cream using only bananas!  You get the picture.

One day, three months ago, Peder decided to make lentil soup for dinner.  After a quick google search, he discovered this recipe buried deep in the comments section of another recipe (we later found the recipe in The Art of the Slow Cooker by Andrew Schloss).  He gathered the ingredients, mostly pantry staples.  It took him 20 minutes to chop and saute the onions and garlic with heaped spoonfuls of aromatic spices.  He added the red lentils, broth, and crushed tomatoes, and poured everything into the slow cooker.  6 hours later, something magical emerged.  The lentils were soft, but still toothsome, like perfectly cooked al dente pasta.  The broth had a layered complexity and was scented with turmeric, coriander, and a hint of cinnamon.  A couple pulses of the immersion blender thickened the broth slightly, turning the soup from light to medium-bodied.  A squeeze of lemon and some parsley and cilantro stirred in at the end woke up all the flavors and tied them all together.

At first, I was a little jealous that I didn’t find this fantastic recipe on my own.  Then…I tasted a spoonful, and thought, a girl could really get used to this!

Moroccan Lentil Soup

Adapted from The Art of the Slow Cooker by Andrew Schloss

Serves 6

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 3 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 heaped teaspoons ground coriander
  • 2 heaped teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 3/4 teaspoons paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice (optional)
  • 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons kosher salt (to begin with), then to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 7 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 24-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 cups dried red lentils, rinsed and picked over
  • a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • a small splash of red wine vinegar (about 1/2 tablespoon)
  • 3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan or dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Add the onions and cook until tender, about 6 minutes.  Add the garlic, coriander, cumin, turmeric, paprika, cinnamon, and allspice.  Cook for another minute or two, stirring to coat the onions.  Add the broth, tomatoes and salt, and bring to a boil.  Pour into a slow cooker, and stir in the lentils.  Cook for 4 to 5 hours on high, or 6-8 hours on low, or until the lentils are tender.

Stir in the lemon juice, a small splash of red wine vinegar, red pepper flakes, cilantro, and parsley.  Season to taste again with kosher salt.   Cover and cook for an additional 10 minutes.


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Cooking With Friends Part One: Karissa’s Moroccan-Spiced Pumpkin Soup

When I received an e-mail with the subject line “Cook Together?” from my wonderful friend Karissa, my interest was piqued.  I knew the answer was “yes” even before knowing the details.  Sure, we’ve embarked on culinary adventures together before…like the time we made sushi rolls and miso soup, hands all sticky with rice and seaweed; or put ourselves into a sugar coma with a big batch of vanilla buttercream macaroons.

Karissa’s co-worker in Morocco (yes, that’s right–Morocco!) had given her a cheeky little organic pumpkin as an early fall gift.  Not long after her invitation to make pumpkin soup together, I found myself toting my own heirloom pumpkin through the Cherry Creek Farmers Market.

What follows is Karissa’s experience living, cooking, sharing with friends, and her Moroccan take on pumpkin soup…

Part One:  Moroccan-Spiced Pumpkin Soup

Text and Photos by Karissa Swanson-Moore

I was delighted when Imane, my coworker and fellow lover-of-cooking, presented me with a little organic pumpkin and a note: “Happy Early Fall & Happy Cooking.” I spent two weeks deliberating over the most creative possibility for this charming vegetable.

Of course, I emailed my dear friend and greatest cooking inspiration, Jenny, and we devised a plan. Choose a basic pumpkin soup recipe, adapt it to your liking, and share! I perused many recipes, and realized that aside from the pumpkin-apple sweet idea, none of these quite fit the bill for me.

I devised a way to fill my soup with my favorite Moroccan spices: cinnamon, saffron, and cumin. Accompany those with the fun things I find in the market: quince, big yellow raisins. There you have it, a recipe of my own whim, and a day to make it happen. Here is my story of Moroccan cooking.

This rainy morning I wandered to the underground market, basket in hand, expecting a lull in activity. Not so, as I was pushed aside multiple times by the guy squeeging water from the walkway.  Here are my main ingredients.

My ness (that’s half in Arabic) kilos of ingredients are weighed quickly on the scale and bagged up by efficient hands.

Part of the adventure of cooking in Morocco is getting the ingredients. A woman cannot go to the market alone without a sense of humor. Trying to be careful about taking pictures of others, I asked this man if I could photograph his vegetables. What followed was a series of posed shots, taken by the guy selling tomatoes, of the shopkeepers and I.

All said and done, I paid decent prices and walked, heavy with produce, back to my kitchen. After thoroughly washing my vegetables, which includes a bath of water and a dash of bleach (lesson learned from past experience), I attempt to capture the beauty of this food before I chop it all up!

An army of zucchini

Moroccan celery

Grumpy-faced quince

My adventure is almost complete. “There are things you do because they feel right & they may make no sense & they may make no money & it may be the Real reason we are here: to love each other & to eat each other’s cooking & say it was good.”  As artist Brian Andreas so eloquently puts it, it’s time to share this soup with the friends I’ve made in Morocco.

Moroccan-Spiced Pumpkin Soup

By Karissa

  • 1 small pumpkin (approx. 1.5 lbs), peeled and cubed.
  • 2 quince, peeled and cubed
  • 1 medium yellow or Vidalia onion
  • approx. 5 cups vegetable broth (see below) or Chicken Broth (the exact amount will vary depending on your desired consistency)
  • 3 T. butter
  • 1 ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. ground cumin
  • ½ tsp. ground ginger
  • Generous pinch of saffron, soaked in about ¼ cup of hot water
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 ¼ cup yellow raisins and crushed walnuts for garnish

Vegetable Broth

  • Pinch of salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • 8 garlic cloves, chopped
  • ½ head of a small cabbage, cut into large pieces
  • 2 large green onions (5 small), chopped
  • 5 carrots, chopped
  • 6 Celery stems and leaves, chopped
  • 1 bunch of parsley, knotted
  • 3 small zucchini, chopped into large pieces
  • Pinch of salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 cinnamon sticks

Process

Start with the vegetable broth.  Fill a big kettle halfway with water and a pinch of salt.  Add the chopped vegetables and more water to cover.  Add the spices and bring to a boil.  Once boiling, turn heat down to a simmer, cover, and allow to simmer for 2 hours.

When the broth is almost finished, start preparing the pumpkin soup. Heat a large saucepan; add butter, and sauté the pumpkin, followed by the quince, then the onion.

Remove the carrots, cabbage, and zucchini from the vegetable broth and add them to the pumpkin mixture. Pour some of the broth into this mixture, making sure to not add too much or the soup will be watery.

Add the spices, except the saffron, and bring to boil. When the quince and pumpkin are nearly tender, add 1 cup of the raisins and the saffron-water mixture.

When all ingredients are cooked, use a mixing wand or blender to puree the soup.

Present with a dollop of plain yogurt, crushed walnuts, and yellow raisins. Serve with crusty bread.

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