a moroccan feast

 

tajine of lambshanks, prunes & almonds with sweet potato & preserved lemon salad in the background

Imagine a great calamity happened to the world and we had to choose just one type of cuisine and forsake all others…. What would you choose to keep? Tough decision I know. But after some serious consideration, I think I would have to go with North African/ Middle Eastern food.

It would be very hard to say goodbye to the comfort of Italian, the spiciness of Indian, the fragrance of Thai, the seduction of Mexican chilli, the precision of Japanese, and the infinite variety French and their cheese. But I just might survive. Surely I would be able to console myself with the zesty perfume of preserved lemons, the nutty creaminess of hummus and flatbread, the heady complexity of ras el hanout, the crispiness of filo pastries, and the warming comfort of a good tajine. Yes I would be able to cope….

Middle Eastern food is perfect for entertaining. It’s exotic enough to get your guests excited but familiar enough to keep them interested. So it was no surprise that the other day when planning what to cook for a friday night dinner with some of my coworkers, my thoughts immediately turned to Morocco and their deliciously varied kemia (the Moroccan version of mezze or antipasto) and of course their magical tajines.

The custom of beginning a meal with mezze or kemia as they are known in Morocco is the perfect way to get a relaxed dinner off to a good start. Tajines are named after the fabulous Moroccan casserole dishes with the conical lids, as in the photo above. If you are lucky enough to have one you should definitely use it to cook this tajine.  My tajine dishes, while fabulous to look at, unfortunately were cracked during one of my many house moving episodes so now I just use them to serve.

Tajines are also perfect for entertaining because you can make the exotic stew well in advance and store it in the fridge which has the added bonus of improving the flavour and enabling you to easily remove the excess fat from the top. Then during dinner you have the stress free task of just heating and serving…leaving you free to enjoy the company of your guests.

Where I work we have the fabulous luxury of a half day friday policy. This means that you can finish the working week in style by spending the afternoon preparing dinner for your guests…I did, however, end up forgetting that I was planning on serving some of the excellent South Cape Persian Feta (a deliciously creamy marinated feta available in Supermarkets) with the other starters…so now I’ll just have to find another occasion to eat it….all good things…

a friday moroccan feast
spiced roasted almonds
marinated persian feta
mahamarra   
sweet potato & preserved lemon salad
turkish bread
tajine of lambshanks, prunes, and almonds
herbed couscous
honey roasted macadamia icecream

mahamarra
makes approx 1 1/2 cups

This is a deliciously unusual dip made of roasted red capsicum (peppers) and toasted walnuts. My version has evolved from a few different sources including Jamie Oliver and Paula Wolfert.  If you can’t find pomegranate molasses you could substitute lemon juice but it won’t be as delicious. Pomegranate molasses is available from good delis (Norton St grocer stocks my favourite brand Cortas) or you can get it mail order from Herbie’s Spices. This dip is great with bread or you can serve it as a sauce along side BBQ or roast meats and fish.

I used my leftovers the following evening with a coriander and mint salad on the side and some BBQ lamb chops that I had marinated in baharat, fennel, thyme, garlic and oil…not bad

3 large red capsicum (peppers)
100g (1C) walnuts, lightly toasted
1/2t chilli powder, or to taste
1T cumin
2t smoky paprika
4T extra virgin olive oil
pinch sugar
1T pomegranate molasses.
s&p

Char capsicum on a BBQ or under the grill until well blackened on all sides. Place in a bowl and cover with cling film and allow to cool slightly. Peel and deseed capsicum and place in a food processor. Add remaining ingredients and process until a chunky paste is formed. Season with s&p.

sweet potato & preserved lemon salad
makes approx 2 cups

This recipe has been adapted from Claudia Roden’s great book Arabesque. As with the mahamarra this can be served as a starter with bread or as a side dish. Preserved lemons work perfectly here with their tangy saltiness providing the perfect counterpoint to the sweet potato.  You can buy preserved lemons from delis but it’s much more fun to make your own.  See instructions HERE.

500g sweet potato (approx 2 smallish)
1 lge onion chopped
1t ground ginger
1t ground cumin
1t sweet paprika
small handful olives
2 quarters preserved lemon, peel only rinsed and finely diced
juice of 1 lemon
6T olive oil
s&p

Heat an oven to 180oC and bake whole sweet potato for approx 45mins, until cooked through. Cool, peel and chop into 1cm cubes.

Heat oil in a medium saucepan and gently fry onion over a low heat until softened and very slightly coloured. Add spices and stir, cook for approx 1min or until aromatic.  Add sweet potato and toss through to cover in spiced oil. Remove from heat and add remaining ingredients. Season with s&p. Serve warm or at room temp.

tajine of lambshanks, prunes, and almonds
serves 8

Once again Claudia Roden has been the inspiration behind this recipe. Apparently this is the most popular tajine served in Moroccan restaurants in Paris.  You can make and serve on the same day but it really tastes better (and gives you a chance to get rid of some of the fat) if given an overnight in the fridge.  I love lambshanks but you could use diced lamb or even chicken and reduce the cooking time considerably but then you miss out on chewing the fabulous bones.

8 lamb shanks, frenched
3T extra virgin olive oil
2 large red onions, chopped
2T tomato paste
3 cloves garlic, smashed
2C chicken stock
2t ground ginger
1/2 t saffron
1T ground cumin
2t ground cinnamon +2t extra
350g prunes (pref californian)
100g sliced almonds, toasted

Heat a heavy based casserole dish on a medium heat and lightly brown the shanks in batches. Remove shanks and add oil. Sweat onions over low heat until softened but not browned. Add garlic and spices (2t cinnamon only) and cook for another minute.  Add stock, shanks and tomato paste and enough water so that the shanks are at least 3/4 covered. Cover with foil or a lid and bring to the boil then place in an oven preheated to 160oC and cook for three hours or until lambshanks are meltingly  tender.  Allow to cool then place in the fridge overnight or for up to 5 days.

Remove solidified fat from the top of the tajine and then bring to a gentle simmer on the stove top. Add prunes and remaining cinnamon and season with s&p. Allow to simmer for at least 30minutes for prunes to cook into the sauce.

Serve sprinkled with toasted almonds with herbed couscous.

herbed couscous
serves 8

I like to use stock with my couscous to give an extra flavour boost but you can use water if you wish.  The great thing about couscous is that you can add it to the boiling stock and then leave in a warm place while you eat your starter and then you just need to fluff it with a fork when you’re ready to serve.

1.5 C instant couscous (san remo if my favourite brand)
500mL (2C) chicken stock
2T butter
2T olive oil
s&p
1/2 bunch mint, leaves picked and torn
1 sm bunch coriander, leaves picked.

Boil stock in a medium saucepan. Remove from the heat and add couscous, butter and oil. Stir through until butter is melted. Cover with a lid and allow to stand in a warm place for at least 15mins. When ready to serve season with s&p and fluff with a fork making sure all the lumps are broken up. Toss through herbs and serve.

honey roasted macadamia icecream
serves 8

I’ve adapted this from Greg Malouf’s recipe for pinenut praline icecream. The great thing about this icecream is that you make a sugar syrup and add this boiling to the egg yolks and then stir though the cold cream which avoids the time and worry involved in making a custard base. You could really substitute in whatever nuts you prefer, Macadamias aren’t very Moroccan but I love them..

150mL water
160g sugar
6 egg yolks
600mL thickened cream
1/2 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise and seeds scraped
for the nuts:
200g macadamias, chopped
1/4 C water
150g sugar
3T honey  

For the icecream heat water and sugar and vanilla in a small saucepan over low heat stirring until sugar dissolved. Increase heat and boil for 5mins. Whisk egg yolk in a bowl until pale in colour. Whisk in hot sugar syrup and allow to sit for approx 5mins before stirring through cold cream. Refrigerate for at least 15mins and then churn in an icecream machine as per manufacturer’s instructions.

Heat water, honey and sugar for the nuts over low heat until dissolved. Incease heat and simmer for approx 5mins until the syrup reaches the thread stage. This is when the syrup falls from a spoon in a long thread. Add macadamias and stir over a low heat until macadamias are deeply golden and toasted. Approx 20mins. Don’t freak when the sugar crystallises out. This is caused by the oil in the nuts and is perfectly normal.  Just keep stirring. The sugar will remelt into a kind of caramel but it’s fine if the sugar coating on the nuts stays a bit crystallised. It adds to the crunch.

Turn toasted nuts out onto a baking paper lined tray to cool. When cool bash into rough chunks and store in the freezer until ready to serve.

To serve place some nut in the base of 8 glasses top with a spoonful of icecream and then more nuts and more icecream finishing with a sprinkling of nuts. Serve immediately.

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