There was a long period in my life when I lived on omelets and frittatas. It was the mid-2000′s and I had just moved back to Austin and was cooking for myself most nights. It was around this time that I also decided that I needed to seriously change the way I ate. Prior to this I had been a “cheese and bread” vegetarian, and it showed. So when I started looking for healthy delicious easy alternatives to my usual quesadillas and veggie burgers, the frittata became my go-to.
Frittatas are really perfect if you’re cooking solo, and you can easily scale it up if you’ve got friends around. You can cram them full of delicious vegetables and the options are boundless.
I’m not as excessively reliant on frittatas as I once was, but I still go back to them from time to time and this pea and pepper frittata is one I stumbled upon the other day. Peas are a frittata’s best friend because it’s the kind of food you almost always have in the freezer which makes the frittata process as simple as whisking a few eggs and sprinkling on some peas. If you have a little extra time, add some chopped mint and sauteed bell peppers, and the end result is something full of colour, fresh flavour and lots of protein.
I don’t always add the feta; sometimes I go for parmesan, or a sprinkle of pine nuts. Like I said: versatile.
Minty Pea and Pepper Frittata
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup peas
1 cup of red, yellow and orange bell peppers, diced
a small handful of mint, chopped
1/2 cup cubed feta
salt and pepper
Turn on your oven’s grill.
In a large bowl, whisk the eggs.
Meanwhile, heat an oven-safe pan on medium heat. Add the bell peppers and cook for a few minutes, until they start to soften but are still crisp.
Add the peas – if frozen, cook them for a bit in the pan until they thaw. Stir in the mint.
Add the eggs and swirl them around the pan so you get an even layer of eggs over the vegetables. Add the feta, either as whole cubes or crumbled. Cook until the eggs start bubbling on top.
Take your pan off the hob and put it under the grill for a minute or two, until the top is puffy and golden.
This week I’ve taken on a new preserving interest: marmalade! What brought this on was not the imminent end of Seville Orange season, but rather the discovery of a new fruit: the Bergamot orange!
The Organic Farm Shop in Cirencester has been stocking Bergamots the last few weeks. I’d never seen or heard of them before, but on a recent visit to the shop, while waiting in the check-out line with my shopping, I heard the woman in front of me talking excitedly about the contents of her brown paper bag: “I’ve heard of people using them in gin and tonics, but I think they’ll make an excellent hot tea!”
Naturally, the mention of “gin and tonic” got my attention, so I asked her what she was talking about and she kindly revealed the contents of her bag – a bundle of little “Bergamots”, something I’d never seen before. So I decided to get a few and find out what the fuss was all about. Indeed they do make great tea, and are wonderful juiced in smoothies (I surprisingly haven’t tried the gin and tonics yet).
Knowing that my access to Bergamots (and organic ones at that!) would be short lived, I wanted to do something to preserve the bounty. My friend Kavey picked some up last weekend and preserved them in syrup following her same recipe for candied clementines. I decided to use the opportunity to finally have a go at making marmalade, one of my favourite preserves and something I find far more versatile than jams (case in point: buckwheat crepes with marmalade and toasted flaked almonds – superb!).
I read up on marmalade and was immediately intimidated by the numerous steps involved. Peeling, blanching, soaking, slicing, boiling, de-seeding and wrapping things in muslin. Different people seem to have different methods, and as I read, my brain became a fog, so much so that I could no longer differentiate between pith, pulp and peel.
Fortunately I found a couple of recipes that helped simplify it all for me.
First was David Lebovitz’s Bergamot Marmalade recipe which I followed almost exactly. I was about 100g short of sugar which meant it took longer to set but the result was still freakin’ delicious and achieved my hopes of encapsulating that Bergamot goodness in a long-lasting form. Since making this, I’m finding as many excuses as possible to use it. Turns out marmalade is an excellent addition to Chinese stir-fry. (See what I mean about marmalade’s versatility?)
I was so excited by the success of my Bergamot marmalade that I decided to do it all over again with grapefruit and lemons. I had a hunch that grapefruit would require some special treatment, being so thick-skinned and pithy, so I went back to my marmalade recipe research and found Pam Corbin’s whole fruit method for making marmalade in The River Cottage Preserves Handbook (the recipe uses Seville oranges but you can adapt it for other fruits). The recipe involves boiling the whole fruit to soften the skin, then halving and de-seeding the fruit before slicing it into strips. Again, for this marmalade newbie, I appreciated finding a recipe that was crystal clear about every step (and didn’t require me tying anything in muslin).
(I know I’m being a whiney pants about the muslin thing and I’m sure if I saw someone do it I’d feel silly for ever being so intimidated. But at the same time, this marmalade making is unfamiliar territory to me, and the more a recipe requires me to do additional Google research to follow it, the less likely I am to actually make the recipe!)
While the grapefruit marmalade was boiling away, I gave it a taste and thought it was a little TOO bitter. Some sort of divine intervention from the marmalade gods took over (or was it subconscious remembrance of the Hawkshead relish company) and I decided to add some ginger. Marmalade transformed!
Chicago has a few raw food restaurants dotting the city and suburbs and one of the most highly-rated and longest-standing is Borrowed Earth Cafe, which happens to be just a short walk from my parent’s house in Downers Grove. Raw food may not be the most obvious choice for lunch on a sub-zero, snow-laden Chicago winter afternoon, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity for a raw food fix while I was visiting last January.
So, mom and I and my friend, Jim, bundled up and made our way to Borrowed Earth for a most elaborate lunch of raw recreations of some of our favourite foods such as lasagne, pierogi, gyros and tortilla soup. Each dish was a work of art in itself and given all of the sprouting, dehydrating, chopping, blending and juicing that went into out meal, we were looking at hours and days of work behind each and every dish.
At some point during our meal, I commented that if anyone was going to go 100% raw, and really do it like they mean it (as Borrowed Earth owners Kathy and Danny do), then they might as well open a cafe because there’s no sense in putting that much time into a dish that’s only going to serve one or two people. So kudos to Kathy and Danny for bringing raw food to the masses, especially those super elaborate dishes that require tools that most of us mere mortals don’t have (dehydrator, sprouter, Vitamix, copious amounts of time and patience, etc).
Fortunately, as Kathy and Danny teach on their raw food workshops, not all raw delights require fancy tools and excessive amounts of time. Raw desserts are particularly “easy”. During that aforementioned lunch, we finished with a raw raspberry “cheesecake” that put conventional dairy-based cheesecakes to shame. Raw or not, this was an amazing desert, and I’m very grateful to Kathy for sharing the recipe with me today. You will need a blender and a food processor, and a cheesecake pan, but all of the ingredients are readily available and the result make it totally the worth the effort. This is a wow-and-amaze-your-guests sort of dessert, so be prepared to share and don’t expect any leftovers (but if you do have leftovers, it keeps nicely in the fridge for about a week, and it freezes well, too).
Raw Raspberry Cheesecake
1 1/2 cups walnuts
1/2 cup Medjool Dates, pitted
1/3 cup dried coconut flakes
3 cups cashews that have been soaked in water at least 3 hours.
3/4 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
3/4 cup agave nectar, coconut nectar or honey
3/4 cup of coconut oil
3/4 cup water
1 vanilla bean
1/2 cup fresh raspberries
2 cups of fresh or frozen raspberries
3/4 cup Medjool Dates, pitted
8″ or 9″ springform cheesecake pan
First make the crust: Place the walnuts in your food processor and, using the S-blade, grind or pulse until the nuts are ground down to a medium texture. Add Medjool Dates and the coconut flakes and process again until a dough-like texture forms. Place the “dough” into your cheesecake pan and and spread out on the bottom of the pan. Press firmly and use a small offset spatula to get an even surface.
Make the filling: Put all of the above filling ingredients into your high speed blender and blend until smooth and creamy. If you are not using a Vitamix or Blentec or other high speed blender, you might want to divide the filling in half and do half at a time so your blender can handle the consistency.
Pour the filling into your cheesecake pan. (If you have some extra raspberries you can stir those into the cheesecake and place the cheesecake in the freezer for several hours until firm or overnight.)
Make the topping: when the cheesecake is frozen, remove from the freezer and springform pan and place on cake plate.
Put topping ingredients into your food processor and process until well blended. “Frost” the top of your cheesecake with the filling. You can top extra raspberries or coconut flakes on top if you like.
BONUS: Check it out, the “crust” recipe can also be used to make cookies. Just use the same recipe and roll quickly between the palms of your hands to make 1/2 golf ball-sized balls (or, go crazy, the size of the WHOLE golf ball). You can leave them round or press them flat and chill and serve.
You should get 8 slices out of the cheescake and it will keep for about a week in the refrigerator, or you can put it back in the freezer for longer life.
I’ve recently been a little obsessed with gelatinising things, that is, with making edible liquids (juice, coffee, et cetera) gelatinous or jelly-like. But first, a cultural lesson to help bridge the US / UK divide that separates me and many of my readers:
In the USA, the category of edible gelatinised substances typically falls under the name “jello” (see JELL-O, lo the power of branding), whereas the word “jelly” is reserved for clear, fruity preserves meant for spreading on toast. In the UK, “jelly” also describes such toast-friendly substances, but it can also mean a set liquid, what we Americans call “jello”. This caused me great confusion when I first moved to the UK, searching hopelessly for UK “jello” recipes. But when I discovered this incredible double meaning of the world “jelly”, my whole world opened up to me.
(FYI: I will not get into “spermicidal jelly” in this post).
The jelly obsession has emerged over the last couple years as I’ve continuously failed to transplant my family Thanksgiving recipe for “Auntie Jo’s Cranberry Jello Mold” to the UK. The recipe relies heavily on “red” JELL-O, not readily available in this country. I tried making something up using gelatine, which I didn’t feel good about knowing that gelatine is not vegetarian. (In the process, which involves a can of crushed pineapple, I also learned that fresh pineapple will undo the effects of gelatine – blasted bromelain!).
So what started as a quest for my family’s cranberry “jelly”, has evolved into a mission for vegetarian gelatinising agents, and also “jellied” creations that are free of crap (like JELL-O).
I have been experimenting and have so far had my greatest success with agar agar, a substance made from algae, discovered in 1658 by Minora Tanzaemon in Japan, and hence very popular in Japanese and Vietnamese cuisine. Agar agar is great because it sets very quickly and doesn’t need to be refrigerated to do so. Plus, it’s all natural and totally vegan. I think we have a winner!
My favourite agar agar creation so far is this Tiramisu Jelly, which I made three times (!!!) while in Chicago over the holidays. It was that good, and surprisingly easy. I used the agar agar to set coffee which had been poured over ladyfinger biscuits, then topped with a cream cheese frosting spiked with brandy (the “proper” way is with marscapone and Italian marsala wine, but this is much more frugal).
This was much easier than making traditional tiramisu (which I did last year over Christmas, a process which seemed to take days to complete, but man it was good). And I really enjoyed the mouthfeel of jellied biscuits – I suppose you Brits may call this a tiramisu trifle! The tiramisu jelly also slices up nicely for fun little party poppers, which we enjoyed on New Years Eve, topped with pop rocks!
Consequentially, I’m posting this today because I’m currently in Cambridge for a weekend of hunkering and geeking with friends (sort of a Thanksgeeking redux) and the question of “what are you going to gelatinise this weekend?” came up. I haven’t answered that question yet, but having mastered the tiramisu, the pesky pineapple – my nemesis – comes to mind. Stay tuned!
You can use whatever you want to set the jelly in, preferably a small square or rectangular pan. Even a bread pan would work. The bigger the pan, the shallower the jelly will be. I tend to err for a smaller pan and add as much liquid as needed to cover the biscuits, then set any leftover liquid in a cup for a little jelly bonus snack for the chef!
2 cups strong coffee (I made this with instant espresso)
2.5 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp agar agar
ladyfingers (the number you need depends on the size of your pan, but one standard package should give you plenty and leave you with more to spare)
500ml whipping cream (whipped to soft peaks)
8oz cream cheese
5 tbsp sugar
cocoa powder for dusting
popping candy (optional)
Arrange the ladyfingers in a “small” square or rectangular pan.
Combine the coffee, sugar and agar agar in a pan and simmer for a few minutes until the agar agar and sugar are dissolved.
Pour the liquid over the ladyfingers, adding enough to cover the lady fingers – you may need to push the ladyfingers down into the liquid to get them to absorb and settle. I usually add enough liquid so that there’s a few millimetres of liquid above the biscuits, but you can add more liquid if you’d like a thicker jelly layer.
While the jelly sets (which won’t take long – agar agar sets wonderfully quickly and it doesn’t need to be refrigerated).
Meanwhile, mix the whipped cream with the cream cheese, brandy and sugar.
When the jelly is set, smear the whipped cream over the top and top with a dusting of cocoa powder
Serve the jelly in slices, sprinkled with popping candy if you’d like for a fun surprise effect.
Last night I hosted my New Year Reboot cooking workshop at Demuths Vegetarian Cookery School in Bath. The whole “reboot” concept is all about giving the body a chance to rest and recover after a season of excess, and get back to (or get started with) feeling awesome all of the time. The aim of the class was to provide strategies and recipes to help people design their own “reboot” according to their own personal tastes.
One of the strategies involves eating foods that are vegan, gluten-free, soy-free and dairy-free. Another strategy involves eating a lot of soup (easy to digest, nutrient rich meals – kinda like smoothies)!
One of the soups I demonstrated was this “Cream” of Cauilflower soup. Blended cashews give this soup its velvety creamy texture – no dairy required! And based on the mmm’s of the students, I’d say this was one of the top recipes of the evening.
You don’t need milk, cream or potato to make soups creamy – use cashews instead. You also get the protein and healthy fat bonus that comes from using cashews. Plus, adding cashews or any nut to your soup will ultimately make them more satisfying, keeping you fuller for longer and keep you from needing to snack later in the day. You can use this same recipe to make all kinds of vegan creamy soups – broccoli and celery are great here.
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
1 head cauliflower, broken into florets
salt, to taste
1 liter of water or stock
a large handful of raw cashews
Freshly ground black pepper
Warm the olive oil in a heavy-bottom pan. Cook the onion on a medium heat until it is soft, without letting it brown.
Add the cauliflower and 125ml water. Raise the heat slightly, cover and let the cauliflower cook for 15-18 minutes, until tender.
Working in batches, puree the cooked cauliflower with the stock and the cashews, then return to the pot and heat thoroughly.
Serve garnished with sauteed mushrooms, kale chips or whatever tasty garnish you can think of!
I’ve been a little quiet these last four weeks, due to recent holiday travels to the States which typically saw a serious decline in all productivity (the evidence is in the nearly 1000 photos I took while there). On the plus side, it saw a huge upswing in QFT (Quality Family Time) and gave me the chance to binge on baking as I knew I’d have plenty of willing recipients to devour my creations!
One of my staple bakes is the infamous no knead bread. I have been making this loaf for years and it is the bread I bake most (see Easiest No Knead Bread with Variations). There are two reasons for this: (1) it’s the easiest bread recipe in the world and (2) it is the bread that always gets the most positive reviews (which makes me wonder why I slave over sourdough, but that’s a topic for another time and place).
The no knead bread recipe is based on this recipe from the New York Times. And it really is a loaf that ANYONE can make – mix the dough, let it rest for ages, shape it, then bake it. The only tricky part is that it requires a dutch oven or cast iron pot, and involves transferring the risen dough into the hot pot after it’s pre-heated in the oven. This step is easy to overcome, but still, as much as I’ve tried to convince the people who love this loaf that YES THEY CAN bake it themselves, few give it a go. I guess buying a loaf is still just that much easier – and far less scary. Until now!
While I was in Chicago, having fun and neglecting this blog, I was also often neglecting my dough! I’d mix the dough with the best intentions but then something would come up and take me out of the kitchen for hours or days. The original no knead bread recipe says to let the dough rise 12-18 hours, but there were times when I’d let the dough rise for 36-48 hours. Gasp!
There were other times when I didn’t have a lidded pot to cook it in. Surely I was cruisin’ for disaster.
And yet, every loaf turned out just fine. In fact, better than fine. The bread – and in turn, the toast – became legendary!
This was the trip where I learned just how forgiving the no knead recipe is. Not only can you let the dough sit for days, but you can also bake the loaf in a normal bread pan without a lid and still get stellar results (see the recipe below).
I did this a LOT while my relatives from Ohio were in town. Toast was high on the breakfast agenda, and my family quickly soon started referring to me as the “toast fairy” because their kids would wake up and there the bread would be, magically waiting for them with butter and jam (what can I say, I’ve had a lot of practise with Airbnb). This was almost as magical as the view outside (prime toast-eating weather):
Throughout their stay, the “toast fairy” theme took on a life of its own – we schemed ideas for cafes and childrens books and animated movies. After all, who in the world isn’t comforted by a slice of toast? Consequentially, this is not a new discovery – San Francisco is already hip to the artisan toast trend (as written in this highly moving article in the Pacific Standard about where it began); it’s only a matter of time before the toast trend hits London. Which makes me wonder, being the “toast fairy”, if I’ve stumbled upon my true calling?
(I big pile of thanks to Jim and Melissa for the apron! If only toast travelled well, I’d send you a thank you slice from here to Ohio!)
Now here is that recipe I promised. People who fear baking bread, I implore you to try this! You can and will succeed!
This is a simplified version of Jim Lahey’s no knead bread recipe. This recipe is for people who don’t have a lidded pot to bake in, or who are intimidated by some of the steps in Lahey’s method. When you’re ready to take things to the next level, check out my previous post on no knead bread with variations – the seeded crust variation is my favourite.
3 cups (470g) all-purpose or bread flour
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1.25 teaspoons (10g) salt
a little milk
sesame and poppy seeds (optional)
In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1⅝ cups (350g) water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature. I’ve left the dough for as much as 36-48 hours and it works just fine!
The dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface (or a big plate or cutting board). Wet your hand and use it to pull the dough out of the bough and onto the work surface. Fold the dough into thirds (as if you were folding a letter), then rotate the dough and fold it into thirds again.
Lightly grease a bread pan. Place the dough into the pan with the folded seam up. Brush a little milk or water onto the loaf and sprinkle with sesame and poppy seeds. Let the dough rest 60-120 minutes (you don’t HAVE to do this but it can help – definitely don’t let it rest more than 2 hours).
Preheat the oven to 500 F / 260 C (or as hot as the oven will go). Put the bread in the oven. After 20 minutes, turn the oven down to 400 F / 200 C. Check the loaf and make sure it’s not getting too dark – if it is, cover it with some foil. Bake for another 15 minutes.
So it’s that time of year when I get a little obsessed with homemade gifts and seem to wind up putting cinnamon and nutmeg into everything. I’m lucky to have an orchard, and so most of my gifts are inspired by that, and the hedgerows that surround it. Jam, chutney, sloe gin… you know the drill. But this year, my very generous friend, Kanna, loaned me a food dehydrator, glamorously named “The Excalibur”, which has taken my apple preserving – and my gift giving – to a whole new level.
Right about the time I’d amassed my third mountain of dehydrated apples, a neat kitchen-y thing arrived at my doorstep: this nifty recipe box from Instaprint, along with recipes from ten groovy foodies (including me and my recipe for Pear and Avocado Smoothie).
Flipping through the recipes, I came across Karen’s Maple Almond and Pecan Granola with Blueberries which instantly inspired me to create something similar with my apple stash. I liked the heavy dose of pecans, the wintery spices and the coconut action. And I really liked the idea of doing something OTHER than jam and chutney for my DIY Christmas presents this year.
I didn’t change much from the original recipe. I used honey instead of maple syrup and dried apples (plus a few dried cranberries) instead of blueberries. I kept the dried apple pieces really big and left the pecans whole. I love the crunchy rustic-ness of it all. And I love how it smells! Just like Christmas.
Christmas Granola with Apples, Almonds and Pecans
125mls honey (use maple syrup or similar to make this vegan)
25g Demerara sugar
30mls rapeseed oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
400g jumbo oats
100g porridge oats
50g pumpkin seeds
50g sunflower seeds
100g whole almonds
100g dried coconut flakes
1 teaspoon sea salt (I use Maldon)
2 teaspoons ground mixed spice (or ground cinnamon if you prefer)
150g dried apples and cranberries
Pre-heat oven to 180C/350F. Line three large roasting tins or trays with baking paper.
Pour the honey into a large bowl and then add the sugar, oil and vanilla extract. Mix well before adding the oats, mixed seeds, almonds, pecans, coconut flakes, sea salt and mixed spice.
Using your hands, mix all of the ingredients together so that all of the dry ingredients are coated in the the maple syrup and oil mixture.
Spoon the mixture over the paper lined trays so that is is evenly spread and in a single layer. Bake it in the oven for 10 to 20 minutes, checking every 5 minutes or so and giving it a good stir. Make sure it doesn’t burn!
The granola is done when it’s toasted to a light golden brown colour. Remove it from the oven and allow to cool completely before mixing in the dried apples and cranberries.
Store the granola in airtight containers and use within 3 to 4 weeks.
Here’s a little something I made up the other day for a quick lunch that was so good I had it again the next day. I say “quick”, because this “chaat masala salad” took advantage of a few leftovers, including cooked dal I’d stashed in the freezer, some chaat masala I made previously and tamarind chutney from Asma ‘s Darjeeling Express Supperclub. Were I to start from scratch, it would have taken lots longer, but all the more reason for keeping these Indo-staples readily available. Particularly the chaat masala, my new favourite salad condiment!
The whole idea was inspired by Urvashi Roe’s Gujerati Class at Demuths Vegetarian Cookery School, where she showed us how to make Indian “street food”, including “chaat“, basically a mish-mash of random tasty ingredients – a total whole-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts situation.
Technically my chaat masala salad wasn’t a “chaat” at all, lacking the yummy fried dough bits that are typical of dishes of this kind. But never mind, it was delicious, and I got my crunch factor from toasted cashews!
Here’s how it came together:
Heat up about 1/2 a cup of cooked lentils (chickpeas would be good here, and/or boiled potato). While this is happening…
Combine together some finely chopped or grated vegetables. Good contenders include: cabbage (white and red), carrots, tomato, and cucumber.
Finely slice 1/2 shallot. Chop a small handful of coriander. Add this stuff to the vegetables. Toss the whole thing with a squeeze of lemon juice and some salt.
Now, put the dish together, starting with some lentils at the bottom of a bowl.
Top with some of the salad mixture.
Sprinkle with chaat masala.
Drizzle on some tamarind chutney.
Sprinkle on some grated or desiccated coconut.
Sprinkle on some toasted cashews.
Serve with any extra salad on the side. And keep the chaat masala, tamarind chutney and coconut handy in case you want to add more as you go.
Here is the recipe for chaat masala that I used. And here’s a recipe for tamarind chutney (though I’m hoping Asma will share hers one day!). Both are worth keeping around, along with cooked beans and lentils, for thrown-together random salads like this one.
Given yesterday’s news that nuts are tied to lower risk of cancer and heart disease, I thought I’d share this cashew curry recipe which I made recently as part of an Indian feast for my friend Sam’s birthday a couple weekends ago. The recipe is adapted from Reza Mahammad’s “Cashews in a Rich Coconut Sauce” from Rice, Spice and All Things Nice. Yes, this is a curry based entirely on nuts! A strange idea, I thought, but it works really well and makes a most interesting option for a vegetarian curry.
And if you’re worried about the fat content of nuts, don’t be! The study showed that people who ate nuts actually tended to be slimmer than their non-nutty counterparts. And, bonus, they also had:
29% reduced risk of heart disease
11% reduced risk of cancer
20% reduced risk of death
The results applied to all nuts, even peanuts, which are actually a legume, not a nut (in fact, I’d be willing to bet that people who eat legumes regularly experience the same benefits as nut fiends).
My mom and I recently took a trip to Marrakech. It was our first time in Morocco and one of the things we looked forward to the most was the food. We both thought we knew what Moroccan food was like, but in retrospect, we hadn’t a clue beyond couscous and vegetable tagine. However, we quickly learned…
Our education began at our riad, Riad Tizwa, in Marrakech’s Old City. A riad is a large traditional house built around a central courtyard; in Marrakech many of these riads operate as guest houses and provide a much more intimate experience of the city than a traditional hotel. Ours was hidden amongst the maze of the Medina’s winding passages and we wouldn’t have found it were it not for our taxi driver (word to the wise traveller: if your hotel or riad offers airport transport, take them up on it). But behind an unmarked door was a beautiful palatial home scented with local perfume and full of light, greenery, fruit trees and flowers.
Our host greeted us with Moroccan mint tea (which I only knew about thanks to Urvashi Roe’s excellent write-up on the Art of Moroccan Mint Tea) and some sound advice on where we should go for great Moroccan food. As a result, we had some amazing, epic meals – most notably at Ksar Essaoussan and Le Tobsil - that were real lessons in how to feast Moroccan style.
To our collective vegetarian delight, meals started with a selection of cooked and raw salads, but not salads as I’m used too. These were more like little tasting plates of vegetables in various chopped, grated or pureed form. As a result, you didn’t quite know what you were eating until you tried it, making each dish an exciting surprise. Memorable salads include a celery and tomato diced salad with herbs which reminded us of tabbouleh without bulgar. We also had some amazing cooked peppers and tomato seasoned with paprika, cumin and garlic. Spices. Spices were used across the dishes in all kinds of crazy unexpected ways (tomato and cinnamon, for example, and it works).
Main courses were less of a surprise, but I think this is largely due to the vegetarian thing. Everywhere we went we got couscous and vegetable tagine, all delicious and wonderful, but with surprisingly very little variation. Carrots and parsnip was par for the tagine course, with the occasional cauliflower or green pepper. Only once did we get chickpeas in our tagine. We kept talking about how good the tagines were, but how much we wished they had more of this or that, particularly cauliflower (my mother and I both are cauliflower fiends). But a glance at the city’s food markets made it pretty clear that these people were working with a pretty limited selection of ingredients, purely dictated by what was in season at the time. But isn’t that the way it should be?
In a way, this makes the tagine the ultimate seasonal stew, and one of the first things I did when I came home from Marrakech was to make a tagine.
In case you’re unaware, a tagine is a fragrant spicy stew named after the earthenware pot in which it is made (a normal pot, preferably cast iron, also works). With Marrakech in mind, I made my tagine using what was in season, but this time I was working with British ingredients: carrots, romanesco cauliflower and the last of the season’s courgettes and green beans. But this dish would work with almost anything and seems particularly adept to autumn and winter vegetables like swede, butternut squash, pumpkin, potato and cauliflower. I like to keep the vegetables in large chunks and serve it with sprinkled with toasted almonds. It’s the perfect thing on a cold, wet, dreary British day. And oddly, it also happens to be the perfect thing on a sweltering hot and sunny afternoon in Morocco: further proof that the tagine is one of the most miraculous dishes around, globe-spanning and eternally versatile.
1-3 tsp harissa (start with 1tsp and adjust to suit your spice tolerance)
2 cups canned chopped tomatoes
1 lemon, juice and zest
a handful fresh cilantro
1 small pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
3 carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
1 small cauliflower, broken into big florets
½ cup cooked chickpeas
a handful of raisins
toasted sliced almonds
couscous to serve
Heat olive oil in a large pot and sauté the onion for a few minutes until it softens.
Add garlic, ginger and the spices and stir around a bit.
Add the harissa, tomatoes, lemon juice and fresh cilantro. Bring the tomato sauce to a boil and then lower the heat.
Add the vegetables and stir around, make sure that all vegetables are somewhat covered in tomato sauce. Put the lid on and simmer for about an hour. Stir carefully once or twice, otherwise leave the lid on – and be patient!
Serve with couscous and a sprinkle of toasted sliced almonds.