Archive for the ‘Moroccan’ Category

taste, flavour, snack, relish

As the hazy, orange sun sets over these lazy summer evenings and the insects clumsily fly through the shimmering evening heat, the scents and flavours that I want to immerse myself in are those of the Eastern Mediterranean.  However, it’s not just the food that I’m after, even though that would be no great loss (!) but the whole culinary, cultural approach.  No procession of courses, eating with your hands; food to get stuck into.  I envisage a multitude of different delicious dishes along a table that encourages conversation, sharing, food passed around and the tearing of bread.  To me, this can only mean one thing – mezze.

“Mezze are an integral part of life in much of the Muslim Mediterranean and are considered to be one of the most civilised and exciting ways to eat.”

Mezze: the word is found in all the cuisines of the former Ottoman Empire and comes from the Turkish meze meaning, “taste, flavour, snack, relish.”

At home, creating a mezze spread of eight to ten dishes is unrealistic, but creating individual pieces of a mezze every now and again can be fun.

Traditional mezze dishes include:  fattoush (bread and vegetable salad), hummus (chickpea dip), falafel (deep-fried chickpea balls), köfte (minced lamb meatballs), mutabbal (aubergine salad), souvlaki (lamb kebabs), tabbouleh (bulgar wheat salad) and olives.  There are several more dishes that can be seen on a mezze table with each region of the Mediterranean creating alternatives and variations.

And with BBQ season in full swing why not try to create your version of a classic mutabbal?

Whether you know it as mutabbal, aubergine salad, poor man’s caviar or baba ganoush, this smoky aubergine dip is the grown up version of the ubiquitous hummus and is a classic part of any mezze.

Levantine in origin, it comes up under a variety of names from Turkey to Egypt and can be presented in different guises: a dip, a salad, a vegetable side dish.  It can be served loose and smooth to be scooped up by your flatbread or served chunky needing a fork to assist but no matter which variation you choose it will still be exceptionally good.

Gastrorob’s Baba Ganoush

The principal ingredients are:

The only strict rule that I insist you adhere to is that the aubergines must be blackened on open flame – too many versions fail to recognise the importance of this.  It is this process which gives this dish its distinctive, smoky taste.  Cooking them in a smoking hot oven will not give you the depth of flavour you require here – a grill set to max would work but it will smoke out the entire house. Those who have gas hobs can blacken the skins on the actual hob but this will make a mess!  Basically, a BBQ is the most effective and convenient method to achieve aubergines as desired.  Understandably, this is not the best dish to try to recreate in winter!

Ottolenghi, chars his directly over a gas flame, where Lebovitz chars them over a flame before baking in the oven until they have collapsed all the way through

My method borrows from both, I tend to cut into the aubergine creating a few incisions (face up) along the length of the vegetable, drizzle oil over and place into the hottest oven for 20mins and then grill on open flame until scorched and black.

Recipe:

Remove the scorched aubergine from the flames and then scoop all the flesh and juices into a blender (or bowl and use a fork).  Add the juice of half a lemon, one table spoon of tahini paste, a garlic clove per aubergine and a good drizzle of olive oil to slacken the mixture.  Season to taste.  Add chopped fresh mint and coriander.  Taste your baba ganoush and tweak the flavours to suit your palate.

Some recipes include tomatoes, after all it is sometimes referred to as an aubergine salad with tomatoes or a tomato salad with aubergine depending on which side of the Mediterranean you come from, but I find this just dilutes the intense smoky flavour that you want from your Baba Ganoush.

Drizzle olive oil in a dark green ribbon around the dish and if you’re in an extravagant mood rain over pomegranate seeds for that jewel-like touch of decadence that inspired this dish.

IMG_8159

NB: You lit up your BBQ to cook something other than aubergines on it!  Pinchitos (our beef versions of lamb souvlaki kebabs) is a perfect accompaniment to baba ganoush; serve with some BBQ-warmed pita/tortillas/flatbreads/naan bread and fresh coriander and mint sprinkled over.

از غذا لذت ببرید!

 

Sitting in the heart of the Medina sipping a mint tea and smelling the scents of the souk, I reminisce over the food memories created during my mini break in Marrakech.

On my first night in Marrakech, I was tantalised by a beef and prune tagine.  Tagine is the quintessential Moroccan dish.  Tagine refers to the succulent dish which is slow-cooked inside the cooking apparatus.  It can be cooked with a variety of ingredients, typically, a tagine is a rich stew of meat, chicken, or fish and most often includes vegetables or fruit.  Vegetables can also be cooked alone.

Tagine refers more to the wide, circular, shallow earthenware container with a distinctively shaped rounded dome or cone that the dish is cooked in rather than the name of the dish.

The Tagine is a humble dish.  As the dish is slow cooked cheaper cuts of meat can be used, maximising on flavour without needing prime cuts of fillet steak to enhance the dish.

The beef and prune tagine; juicy and flavoursome, rich and sweet.  The beef was flaking off the fork and at the same time gelatinous in consistency.  Beautiful.

 Another gorgeous Tagine was the Tagine du Poullet (Chicken Tagine) I had whilst overlooking the Djemaa El-Fna Square with its myriad of alleyways.

No the photo has not been oversaturated, the saffron content of the dish must have been set to psycadellic levels!

Another Moroccan delicacy is couscous.  These baby grains of semolina are sweet but very bland making them a great vehicle to carry bold flavours.  At a restaurant overlooking the Djemaa for 10MAD we ate a Starter: Moroccan Salad, Main: tagine/couscous & Dessert: Oranges.

                   

Unfortunately we were in a rush and the pace of the service at this restaurant was also quintessentially Moroccan!  We had to forgo the oranges.  Priscilla and Henry would be appalled at our total lack of respect but as you can see from the couscous both the need for speed and greed meant that I started attacking the plate before I remembered to take a photo of it!

WARNING: Moroccan food is delicious, yes, but very rich and sweet.  At some point you are going to need a break from all this tagine malarky.  There are two great restaurants outside the Medina in the Ville Nouvelle, La Rue Yougoslavie; Azar and Le Chat Qui Rit (both recommended by Lonely Planet Guides) are a break from all this.

Azar, is a Lebanese restaurant that serves amazing food – I recommend going for one of their Mezzes to share and a bottle of wine.  We tried the Local Vin Gris (Grey wine) which was a great accompaniment to the mezze.

Le Chat Qui Rit is an Italian restaurant – I recommend you share a starter and pick any main off the menu as they were delicious but whatever you do you MUST leave room for dessert.  Pick the Profiteroles!  Choux Pastry wrapped around a huge ball of vanilla ice cream covered in the most decadent chocolate sauce and topped with toasted almonds!  Sorry, no photo, greed, once again is my excuse!

Pack your bags, get yourself over there, have a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice on the Djemaa, walk around and eat at the different stalls, establishments and restaurants.  Smell it all in, savour each bite from the slow-cooked tagine to the street food brochettes (pinchitos) then wash it all down with a glass of hot, sweet mint tea.  Marrakech, a crazy city full of mystique, culture but above all, food.

C’est bon – Bon Appetite!