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Cooking a la maroc

Raking in the heat. Acres of drying peppers, Urfa, Turkey.
Raking in the heat. Acres of drying peppers, Urfa, Turkey.

Three or four things distinguish Moroccan cooking: the spice blend called

Ras el hanout, the use of preserved lemons, the mixing of savory and sweet flavors, the heavy dependence on couscous, and the cooking utensil called the tagine.

Ras el hanout is one of those "everything but the kitchen sink" spice blends that goes into nearly every dish. You can find it on the Internet or get ambitious and make your own.

Lemons preserved in salt are a staple. In this case you end up using the rind which softens and takes on a unique flavor.

Couscous, which is a pasta not a grain, is the basic starch in Moroccan cooking. It is best cooked in a broth to give it added flavor.

Dried fruits such as raisins and dates make their way into even the most savory dishes. Moroccans seem to have a sweet tooth, so those little packets of sugary flavor blend well with the other ingredients.

The tagine is an ingenious cooking vessel. The bottom is a somewhat shall round bowl. On top goes a tall conical lid with a hole in the top. This allows for very moist cooking and a concentration of flavors.

Here are some recipes Jerry has sent along for Moroccan food.

All of these recipes have been adapted from either Mourad Lahlou’s book ‘Mourad, New Moroccan’ or Ghillie Basan’s book ‘Tagines & Couscous’.

Ras el Hanout


Dried Spices to toast:

3 tablespoons coriander seeds

1 ½ tablespoons cumin seeds

2 teaspoons dried orange peel

1 ½ teaspoons fennel seeds

1 teaspoon grains of paradise

15 allspice berries

½ teaspoon caraway seeds

One 1 ½ inch piece of cinnamon stick, crumbled

10 green cardamom pods, shelled and seeds reserved

2 black cardamom pods, shelled and seeds reserved

2 teaspoons Kubeben peppercorns

1 chile de árbol

8 cloves

1 star anise

Dried Spices you will not toast:

2 teaspoons mustard seeds

2 teaspoons dried rosebuds or rose petals

Ground Spices:

2 teaspoons granulated garlic

2 teaspoons ground ginger

½ nutmeg, grated

½ teaspoon citric acid

In a cast iron skillet set over medium heat, toast the spices until fragrant but not smoking. Immediately put them into a bowl with the mustard seeds and rose buds.

Mix until cool. Grind the spices on the medium setting of a burr grinder. Mix in the ground spices with a fork and store in an airtight container for up to three months.

Roasted Peppers, Preserved Lemons, Garlic Confit


1 lbs. assorted fresh peppers

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 quarter preserved lemon rind, cut into thin threads

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro

24 cloves of garlic confit

Blister the peppers either with a torch or under the broiler. Peel the skins, remove the seeds and roughly chop them. Roughly chop the confit garlic. Mix everything together in a large bowl and allow to marinate for one hour in the refrigerator. Serve at room temperature with warm flatbread.

Corona Beans, Tomato, Fresh Cheese


For the sauce

2 cups crushed tomatoes

1 cup water

¼ cup fresh cilantro, chopped

¼ cup fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped

1 tablespoon brown sugar

6 cloves garlic, finely chopped

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 ½ teaspoons sweet paprika

1 ½ teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon fresh oregano, chopped

1 teaspoon ground coriander

Salt, black pepper and cayenne to taste

For the cooked onions

1 large yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

To assemble the dish

3 cups corona beans, cooked and drained

4 ounces fresh cheese, crumbled

12 cup dried bread crumbs

1 ½ teaspoons minced fresh oregano

In a large sauce pan set over medium heat, warm the olive oil until just smoking. Add the garlic and quickly sauté until soft. Add the paprika, cumin and coriander and toast for one minute with stirring. Add the brown sugar, tomatoes and water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the sauce thickens. While the sauce is thickening, heat the remaining olive oil in a sauté pan and cook the onions until they are soft and start to brown on the edges. Add the vinegar and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated. Once the sauce has thickened, add the corona beans, parsley, cilantro, oregano and cooked onions. Let cool in refrigerator for one hour. Remove the beans and place in a shallow dish. Top with the cheese, bread crumbs and fresh oregano and serve.

Yogurt-Herb Spread


2 cups yogurt, hung overnight to remove excess liquid

1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded and grated on the large holes of a box grater

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 ½ teaspoons grated nutmeg

½ teaspoon ground white pepper

1 glove garlic, grated

2 teaspoons chopped dill

Mix all of the ingredients together in a large bowl and chill in the refrigerator for one hour before serving.

Charred Eggplant Puree


2 lbs. Purple Eggplant

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

¼ cup garlic purée

1 teaspoon ground cumin

¼ teaspoon sweet paprika

salt & white pepper to taste

Cut the ends off of the eggplant and cut into 1 inch slices. Heat a cast iron skillet over medium high heat and place slices of eggplant in the dry hot pan. Burn the eggplant until completely black and the flip and burn the other side. Continue to char all of

the pieces and place them in a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to steam for 30 minutes. Remove the eggplant, peel off the skin and cut into 1 inch cubes. Place in a colander and allow to drain over the sink for 30 minutes. In a food processor set with the chopping blade, combine the eggplant with all of the remaining ingredients and purée until smooth. Push the purée through a fine mesh sieve, adjust the seasoning and serve with a drizzle of olive oil.

Lhzina – Orange, Black Olive, Paprika


4 large oranges, peeled and segmented

1 small red onion, shaved into thin slices on a mandolin

1 cup pitted salt cured black olives

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

½ teaspoon Ras el Hanout

Salt to taste

Toss all of the ingredients together in a bowl, season with salt and place in a shallow bowl. Garnish with a sprinkle of paprika.

Fresh Cheese


8 cups (half gallon) pasteurized whole milk (not ultra-pasteurized)

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon fine salt

1/4 cup distilled white vinegar

Line a large fine-mesh strainer with a double layer of ultrafine woven cheesecloth and place over a large nonreactive bowl; set aside. Place milk, cream, and salt in a large saucepan, set over medium heat, and heat until mixture reaches between 175°F and 180°F on an instant-read thermometer, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and drizzle in vinegar while slowly and gently stirring. Stop stirring as soon as all of the vinegar has been added. Let mixture sit undisturbed while the milk solids coagulate and float to the surface, leaving the whey underneath, about 20 minutes. Gently ladle the solids into the strainer, leaving as much whey in the saucepan as possible; discard the whey. Let the ricotta drain, without pressing down on the curds, until most of the liquid has drained, about 1 hour.

Remove the ricotta from the cheesecloth and store in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Spiced Olives


2 cups green olives (with pits) in brine, lightly smashed to crack open slightly

4 garlic cloves, sliced

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons tomato paste

1/3 cup water

2 teaspoons harissa

3 (4-to 5-inch) thyme sprigs

2 thin lemon slices

Cover olives with water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, then drain.

Cook garlic in oil in a 10-inch heavy skillet over medium heat until garlic is golden, about 2 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Stir in water, harissa, thyme, and olives and simmer briskly, stirring occasionally, until liquid is thickened and coats olives, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in lemon slices. Transfer to a shallow dish and marinate, chilled, at least 24 hours.

Chicken Tagine with Preserved Lemon

Green Olives and Thyme


8-10 Chicken Thighs

2 tablespoons clarified butter or olive oil

2 preserved lemons, cut into strips

½ lb. cracked green olives

2 teaspoons fresh thyme

For the Marinade

1 small yellow onion, grated

3 cloves garlic, crushed

1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated

1 cup cilantro leaves, chopped

1 pinch saffron threads

1 lemon, zest & juice

1 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons olive oil

Chicken and Lemon cont’d

Mix all of the ingredients together for the marinade in a large bowl and pour it into a large ziploc bag. Add the chicken and allow it to marinate for 1 to 2 hours. Remove the chicken from the bag and pat dry with paper towels. Heat the butter in the tagine until just smoking. Brown the skin side of each piece of chicken a few pieces at a time removing them when they are down onto a large plate. Once all the chicken has been browned, add the garlic and ginger and cook for two minutes. Add the chicken pieces back to the tagine, pour in the marinade from the bag and add the preserved lemon. Bring the liquid to a boil, cover the tagine and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook the chicken for 30 minutes. Remove the lid, add the olives and fresh thyme and carefully stir to combine. Replace the lid and cook for an additional 15 minutes. Check to make sure the chicken is cooked through by carefully slicing open one of the thighs. Once the chicken is cooked, remove it from the tagine and place it on a large platter. Spoon the sauce over the chicken and serve with couscous or flatbread.

Couscous Tfaia with Beef


2 lbs. beef, cut into 1 inch cubes

2 onions, cut into ¼ inch dice

12 fresh apricots, halved and pitted

1 tablespoon Ras el Hanout

4 cups chicken or beef stock

2 tablespoons olive oil plus more for browning the beef

1 tablespoon butter

For the couscous

3 cups couscous

2 cups of chicken stock

A pinch of saffron threads

For the Tfaia

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

4 onions, thinly sliced

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon saffron threads soaked in 2 tablespoons warm water

2 tablespoons honey

3 tablespoons golden raisins plumped in warm water for 15 minutes and drained

Salt & pepper

Couscous Tfaia & Beef cont’d

In a cast iron skillet (or heavy sauté pan) heat ¼ inch of oil until just smoking. Season the beef cubes with salt and pepper and brown the pieces, a few at a time, on all sides. Place the finished cubes of beef on a plate and continue until you’ve browned all of the meat. In the bottom pot of the couscousier, heat the butter and oil until the butter begins to foam. Add the onions and cook until they begin to brown on the edges. Add the browned beef, Ras el hanout and stock. Bring to a boil and add the apricots. While the beef is coming to a boil, in a sauce pan heat the stock for the couscous with the saffron. Bring the liquid to a boil and pour it over the couscous in a large bowl. Stir occasionally with a fork and allow to cool. Once the couscous has cooled, rub it between the palms of your hands to break up and clumps. Once the couscous is light and fluffy, gently place it in the top of the couscousier. Do not press it down. Place the top of the couscousier over the bottom pot. Once steam is visible rising through the couscous, cook it for 30 minutes. To make the Tfaia, heat the butter and oil in a large skillet. Cook the onions over medium heat until they are soft but not brown. Add the cinnamon, ginger, saffron and honey and cover. Simmer the onions for 20 minutes, adding more water if needed. Add the raisins and cook for an additional 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Once everything is finished, arrange the couscous in a ring on a large platter. Remove the beef and apricots and place them in the center of the couscous. Spoon ample amounts of Tfaia over the beef and serve.

Al Spoler, well known to WYPR listeners as the wine-loving co-host of "Cellar Notes" has had a long-standing parallel interest in cooking as well. Al has said, the moment he started getting serious about Sunday night dinners was the same moment he started getting serious about wine. Over the years, he has benefited greatly from being a member of the Cork and Fork Society of Baltimore, a gentlemen's dining club that serves black tie meals cooked by the members themselves who are some of Baltimore's most accomplished amateur cooks.
Executive Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Corks restaurant is fascinated by food and wine, and the way they work in harmony on the palate. His understanding of the two goes all the way to the molecular level, drawing on his advanced education in molecular biology. His cuisine is simple and surprising, pairing unexpected ingredients together to work with Corks' extensive wine offerings.