Sunday, February 1, 2009

Oh What A Moroccan Feast Night!

Happy 2009! I’m been MIA for January, it was a blah month for me personally, and I just wasn’t inspired to write. But last night I threw a dinner party, the first in several years, and what a hit it was! I invited a disparate group of people (always a good start) and my roommate saved the night by finishing the food preparation while I chatted with guests AND made a fantastic Rhubarb Crumble to accompany the fabulous Moroccan Lamb Tajine. It was a wonderful beginning to what I hope becomes a monthly tradition. I wish I had photos, but the recipes with commentary will have to do. (This is a long post, making up for my lack of posts!)

Here is the menu I served:

Chick Pea Spread with Jalapeno and Preserved Lemon and Toasted Pita Squares
Lamb Tajine with Israeli Couscous
Roasted Spiced Carrots and Parsnips
Mixed Green Herb Salad with Fennel and Blood Orange Vinaigrette
Rhubarb Crumble

Tajine is a traditional Moroccan stew usually made with lamb but apparently vegetable recipes exist. I found this one on the internet and it was amazing. For once I really followed the recipe and the mix of sweet from the dried fruits and spices plus the garnishes of preserved lemon and harissa made this one of the most complexly flavored meals I’ve ever had. That said, it was one of the easiest to make since once you assemble it (about 30 minutes) you can forget about it for at least 3 hours. You can even continue to keep it in the oven as guests arrive since it’s cooking at such a low temperature.

Don’t be put off by the long list of ingredients; it is in the medley of them all that this dish becomes so wonderful. I am definitely a cook who substitutes with abandon, but it was worthwhile to stick to the program with the dish. Also, if you’ve never cooked with lamb shoulder before, which I hadn’t, it looks very fatty and has what feels like grisly or tough parts as you’re cubing it. Don’t try and trim these away, they cook away in the hours of baking and the fat of the lamb is an essential ingredient to the tajine. Trust centuries of Berber cooks!

A few words about the garnishes. I recently discovered preserved lemon while browsing the various food blogs I read and it is indeed a find. Living in California lemon trees and bushes are everywhere and there are two in my yard. So being the preserver/canner that I am, I decided to make this unique item (however I hear that well-stocked grocery stores will carry it). The flavor is hard to describe yet so simple to make and it adds such a unique flavor to dishes that I think I’m becoming mildly addicted. It’s a simple process of stuffing lemons with salt and allowing the resulting leaching of juices and salt to “preserve” the lemons. Unlike fresh lemons, you eat the rind which has fermented in its own juice and salt to produce a tangy, super-citrusy flavor, which despite the salt, is almost sweet. Mother nature is a wonder! I also included a recipe for harissa since this is something that I’ve always wondered about and when I saw how simple it was, I felt compelled to make it. Be warned, it is very hot, since it is essentially a red pepper flake pesto!

And now for the recipes…

Lamb Tajine (serves 6)

3 lbs lamb shoulder, cubed 2”
olive oil
1 large carrot, diced
2 large onions, diced
1 fennel bulb, chopped
8 large cloves garlic, chopped
½ cup halved pitted dates
½ cup halved dried figs
½ cup halved dried apricots
2 heaping tablespoons tomato paste
Moroccan spice mix (see below)
2 tablespoons black caraway seeds (AKA nigella, kalonji, or charnushka)
3-4 cups chicken or beef stock
garnishes: julienned preserved lemon (recipe below), minced cilantro, harissa (recipe below)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place lamb on a sheet pan or cutting board and pat dry to ensure even browning. Season with salt and pepper (teaspoon of each). Brown lamb in batches in large sauté pan coated with olive oil over medium heat. Transfer the browned lamb to a large Dutch oven or other baking dish with cover. Quickly sauté carrots and onions and add to meat. Lightly sauté garlic until fragrant (about 1-2 minutes) and add to meat and vegetables. Do not let garlic brown. Add remaining ingredients and cover and cook for 3-3 ½ hours. (My pot was especially full and I placed it on a baking sheet covered with foil, which was great idea since the liquid did seep over the side, but the tajine cooked beautifully.) Garnish with preserved lemon, cilantro and a teensy amount of harissa, that is very, very hot stuff!

Moroccan Spice Mix

4 2” cinnamon sticks
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoon crushed red chilies (chili flakes)
1 teaspoon fenugreek
2 cardamom pods
1 teaspoon anise seeds

Place all ingredients in a spice or coffee grinder and process until completely ground.


½ cup dried chili flakes
boiling hot water
½ cup olive oil
1 garlic clove
¼ teaspoon cumin
1 tablespoon lemon (lime) juice
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper

Add hot water to red chili flakes to allow to rehydrate; let sit 5 minutes. Strain and place in a blender with rest of ingredients and process until harissa is smooth paste. Taste for salt and pepper. Refrigerate unused portion.

Preserved Lemon

6-8 thin skinned (meyer) lemons (this absolutely will not work with thick skinned lemons. Using Meyers lemons is best. Absolutely use organic lemons since you will be eating the peel.)
1 quart or pint glass jar, large enough to contain lemons
Kosher salt (no substitutions)

Cut the lemon lengthwise, starting at the top down to the base (where the stem was) but do not cut all the way through. Make another cut, quartering the lemon, but again, not cutting all the way through. The lemon should resemble a tulip if you hold it at the bottom and purse it open. Pack in as much salt into the opening and place in the jar. Repeat the process for each lemon, squishing each lemon down into the jar. Once all of the lemons are in the jar, tamp them down so that they begin to release their juices and cover. Place the jar in a warm place, in the sun if possible, and each day open the jar and tamp the lemons down to bring forth more juice. After a few days the lemons should be submerged in their own juice. Allow them to ferment for at least a week and then refrigerate for up to a year. They will continue to slowly ferment in the refrigerator. To use preserved lemon, cut or tear off as many quarters as you need, rinse under cool water and scrape off the pulp and discard.

Preserved lemon is great on fish, in pasta, in salads and especially good in cold bean (navy, lentil) salads. Once you’ve tasted it you’ll realize its endless potential.

Israeli Couscous

2 cups Israeli Couscous
4 cups water or broth
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt

Bring water or broth, olive oil and salt to boil. Add couscous and cook for 10-12 minutes until tender. Serve

(My roommate Monica made this for me while I was talking to my guests, and she took it to another level, adding fresh parsley and almonds. It was quite delicious! Israeli Couscous is larger than Moroccan couscous and made from wheat flour rather than semolina durum what.)

Roasted Spiced Carrots and Parsnips

3 large carrots, scrubbed, halved, and sliced thickly (1/4” slice)
2 large parsnips, scrubbed and sliced thinly (1/8” slice)
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon anise
½ teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon sea salt
olive oil to coat

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In mortar and pestle or spice grinder grind all with salt. Toss vegetables with spice mix and olive oil to coat. Allow to rest 5 minutes. Spread on foil on baking sheet in single layer and bake for 40 minutes.

Mixed Green Herb Salad with Fennel and Blood Orange Vinaigrette

1 bunch flat leaf parsley, washed and chopped
1 bunch cilantro, washed and chopped
1 bunch mint, washed and chopped
3 blood oranges, peeled, sections cut in thirds
1 large fennel bulb, halved and sliced very thin
1 blood orange, juiced
1 lime, juiced
1/3 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt

Combine fresh herbs, fennel and blood orange sections in large salad bowl. In separate container, combine juices, olive oil and salt. Dress salad and serve.

Chick Pea Spread with Jalapeno and Preserved Lemon

1 can (1 ½ cups) cooked chick peas
½ cup citrus juice (I used some blood orange and lime juice mixed)
½ cup cilantro, chopped
2 cloves garlic
2-3 pickled jalapeno slices
2 teaspoons preserved lemon peel
1/4 cup olive oil
1-2 teaspoons honey
1 teaspoon cumin
salt to taste

Process all in blender until smooth. Adjust for salt and honey. Note: if you use blood orange juice it will start out looking pinkish, but this quickly gets absorbed.


Rachael said...

Your Moroccan feast sounds divine! I miss your dinner parties -- no one does them quite like you.

How could I adapt the tajine to be vegetarian without using "just" veggies (and no disrespect is intended for veggies, but I like a "meatier" entree than most vegetarians)? Would tofu cubes work, or do you think something heartier (seitan?) would hold up better? I've tasted lamb tajine before and love love love those flavors.

Eve Fox said...

As one of the lucky guests, I can vouch for how amazingly delicious everything was!

Kirsten Lindquist said...

To make it veggie, I'd use seitan and only cook it for an hour, and begin checking it to make sure the seitain doesn't break down. You could also use tofu that had been cubed, frozen, and defrosted (it's much chewier and will absorb the flavorings better.

marjukka said...

Sounds absolutely delicious. How about a lemon shipment from berkeley?

dterino said...

Where is the rhubarb recipe?!!!!!

Kirsten Lindquist said...

@dterino - sorry, my roommate didn't write anything down and she was the crumble maker! here's a link to a crumble I made about a year later,