Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Morocco comes to dinner

Organised a special dinner: it was to commemorate Mum's birthday / Fathers' Day / thanks parents for helping me get a new car. We decided on Moroccan, and I made all the recipes from this book.
The menu was as follows:

  • Roast eggplant dip with pita bread shards
  • Chicken and preserved lemon tagine
  • Couscous with toasted pine nuts and orange flower water
  • Ruby grapefruit, pomegranate and smashed olive salad
  • Slow-poached pears with berries and mascarpone

    The eggplant dip went well. There's my eggplant, post-roastage: waiting to be spooned out and smashed up in the processor. If I did this again I would roast the eggplant for a lot longer.

Eggplant dip with pita bread shards

  • 1 big eggplant
  • 2 tbsp tahini
  • 2 peeled garlic cloves
  • Quarter cup fresh breadcrumbs
  • Quarter cup natural yoghurt
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 3 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • Quarter cup olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Half a packet of Lebanese or other flat pita bread, wholemeal

Pierce the eggplant with a skewer and roast in a 190C oven for about 45 minutes. Cut it in half lengthways, drain off any liquid. Scoop out flesh. Process in the food processor with the tahini for one minute. Add remaining ingredients except salt, pepper and oil: process to combine. Pout oil in gradually with the motor running. Season to taste. Garnish with extra parsley. Meanwhile, split the pita rounds in two horizontally, so you have two rounds. Slice into triangles and bake quickly in a hottish oven for 5-7 minutes in batches, until light golden brown. Let cool and store at room temperature in an airtight container for up to five days.

I was very pleased with the chicken tagine. The recipe actually has green olives in it as well, but I removed them because I was having olives in the salad. Making the chermoula marinade was a pain in the arse, but it was really very simple and I think the 24 hours in the marinade made all the difference to the chicken. The recipe calls for a whole chicken that you hack into quarters, but I instead went with pre-cut maryland portions and breast portions. Same thing, I guess. I should have asked the butcher to cut up the marylands for me, but I didn't, and so I had to saw through the leg and thigh like some 1789 dentist with a rusted old tetanus drill through a small child's bicuspid. It was really ugly. I had difficulty. Next time the butcher can do the hacking. I used two marylands and two breasts (halved) for this recipe: so eight pieces of chicken for four people. That was a good amount, I thought. We didn't eat it all. Also, it was simmering on the stove for about half an hour longer than the recipe said, as we were eating dip and drinking lovely wine and enjoying ourselves far too much to tend to the stove. Don't think the extra time did it any harm at all, though. There was still lots of liquid left and the chicken was cooked all the way through without being stringy. I used my Le Creuset casserole for the tagine, left the chicken in the whole time (without removing it to reduce the liquid) and served the whole thing in the pot straight onto the table.

Chicken tagine with preserved lemon and olives

  • 1.2 kg chicken
  • Half cup of chermoula marinade
  • peanut oil
  • Half tsp salt
  • Half tsp saffron threads
  • Half tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • Half tsp ground cumin
  • Half tsp ground ginger
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 4 crushed garlic cloves
  • 2 brown onions, finely chopped
  • 1 tomato, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • 1 bunch each of coriander and flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 2 large potatoes, cut into wedges
  • 150g green olives
  • 1 preserved lemon, cut into segments
  • coriander to garnish

Wash and dry the chicken, cut into quarters. Rub all over with the marinade and let sit in fridge overnight. Heat the oil in a large heavy-based saucepan or casserole dish. Brown the chicken all over, then add the salt, saffron, pepper, cumin, ginger, garlic, cinnamon stick and onion and cook for 10 minutes, turning occasionally. Add tomato, parsley, coriander, potatoes, and 2 cups of water. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 45 minutes. When chicken is done, remove to a tagine or serving dish. Reduce the stock for another 5 minutes and add the olives and lemon. Place potatoes around chicken, pour over sauce and garnish with coriander.

Chermoula marinade

  • 1 tbsp each dried crushed chili, sweet paprika, ground cumin
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh ginger
  • Half tsp saffron threads
  • 2 diced onions
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 chopped garlic cloves
  • 2 tbsp each chopped flat-leaf parsley and coriander
  • half a preserved lemon, thinly sliced
  • half cup olive oil
  • Juice of half a lemon

Mix all together and leave for half an hour before use. Keeps in the fridge for a week.

All the recipes made good use of my home-preserved lemons. I know you can buy it from the deli in a jar, but seeing as it costs practically zero to do it yourself and the lemons last forever, I can't see why you wouldn't preserve them at home. The only thing is that they take a good month or two to be ready. Lucky I did mine ages ago.

The couscous was very simple. I used a packet of instant couscous, not the commercial one- an unusual brand from Iran. It had directions on the side. First I roasted a quarter of a cup of pine nuts, then prepared the couscous with water, unsalted butter and plain salt, fluffed it up with a few drops of orange flower water and threw in the nuts. It sat very happily in a pan while the tagine was finishing. I ended up putting a low flame under it to reheat it (while stirring), and this didn't dry it out at all.

The salad was truly fabulous in every way. Flavours perfectly balanced, the astringency cutting through the rich and simmered chicken and the floral couscous. I will definitely be making this again.

Smashed green olive, pomegranate and ruby grapefruit salad

  • 200g big green olives
  • 2 ruby grapefruit, peeled and segmented
  • Quarter cup torn flat-leaf parsley
  • 100g snowpea sprouts
  • Half cup roasted hazelnuts
  • 1 sliced avocado
  • Dressing: seeds of one pomegranate (or some paste), 2 tbsp olive oil, juice of half a lemon, freshly-ground black pepper.

Smash the olives with a rolling pin (between layers of kitchen paper) to release the stones. Arrange all ingredients in a dish, combine dressing ingredients and pour over. Let it sit for 15 minutes for the flavours to combine.

The recipe for the pears was originally with figs: marinated in a syrup. Couldn't find any fresh figs, not interested in dried, really, so went with beurre bosc pears. In the end I took the recipe as an inspirational base, and invented something of my own. Here's my recipe:

Slow-poached pears with berries and mascarpone (thanks to Hassan)

  • 6 firm beurre bosc pears (one each plus spares), peeled
  • Brown sugar, a spoonful
  • Grenadine, a splash
  • Water
  • Apple schnapps (or tokay, or any sweet dessert wine), a splash
  • Rose syrup, 2 tsps
  • Pomegranate paste or syrup, a spoonful
  • Fresh strawberres, hulled and sliced, half a punnet
  • Mascarpone

    Put the pears in a saucepan with the wine, sugar, syrups, grenadine and paste. Cover with water. Place on the lowest heat and let simmer barely, for two hours, then let cool. (I did this the day before).
  • Carefully remove the pears from the syrup and store in the fridge with a little bit of the liquid. (I love how the pears look like beautiful flamingoes!) Keep the rest in a jar.
    Before serving, reduce about 2 cups of the liquid in a pan on medium high heat, till thick and bubbly. If it has gone too far, just mix a bit of the original liquid in. Place a pear in each bowl with a dollop of mascarpone. Pour some syrup over the top and garnish with strawberries.

We also had some mint tea with the pears, served in my proper little Morrocan tea glasses. They were a real find (in sone French flea market). You can get them at Ikea and homewares stores.

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