A taste of Morocco

A taste of Morocco Brentwood Gazette

T hink Moroccan cooking, and the image of colourful spices piled up in a bustling souk may spring to mind.

But you don’t have to be in Marrakech to be inspired by the rich flavours and aromas associated with the country’s centuries-old cuisine.

For Mourad Lahlou, a native Moroccan who moved to San Francisco at the age of 17 to study, experimenting with food was a way of tapping into his family’s heritage and curing his homesickness.

“I had no recipes, only crystal-clear memories – a richly layered stew of flavours, smells, stories, people and voices,” writes Lahlou in his cookbook Mourad: New Moroccan.

With the help of vivid daydreams – such as of his mother’s kefta (meatballs in tomato sauce) – and a lot of trial and error, he was able to crystallise his memories and conjure up dishes reminiscent of home.

“During my whole life in Morocco, I had never cooked a single thing,” he says.

“Men just didn’t do that, at least not at home. But, it turned out, I had been cooking in my mind all those years. Suddenly I was understanding it and I loved it.”

After wowing his friends with Moroccan dinner parties, Lahlou abandoned his plans to become an economist and instead opened a restaurant, Kasbah, with his brother.

Five years later, they relocated, and called the new place Aziza, after their mother. It became the only Moroccan restaurant in North America to be awarded a Michelin star.

Lahlou soon realised he could not create Moroccan food exactly as he had eaten it in Marrakech, as the ingredients available to him in California made it impossible to do so.

“Before long, I was doing the Moroccan version of what so many inventive northern California chefs have done,” he says.

“I adapted what I knew and loved to make it work with the beautiful ingredients I can get here, and then just followed my nose, my heart, and my palate.”

Try some of Lahlou’s dishes for yourself by following these recipes.

Serves 6

Ingredients

110g creme fraiche

Kosher salt

A small handful of small mint leaves

12 Black Mission figs

12 Adriatic figs

27g rocket, any large stems removed

1tbsp red wine vinaigrette

170g piece honeycomb, cut into pieces

Extra virgin olive oil for finishing

Crunchy sea salt and ground black pepper, preferably Tasmanian

Method

Whisk the creme fraiche with a pinch of salt in a medium bowl until it has the consistency of lightly whipped cream.

Put the mint leaves in a bowl of ice water to crisp, then drain on a paper towel.

Cut the figs into rounds, wedges, or other shapes as you like.

Spoon some creme fraiche onto each serving plate, and drag the bottom of a spoon through it to form an elongated teardrop. Toss the rocket with just enough vinaigrette to coat, and stack some leaves on each plate.

Arrange the figs, mint leaves, and honeycomb on the plates. Drizzle a few drops of olive oil over each fig and sprinkle with crunchy sea salt and pepper.

Serves 6

Ingredients

For the marinade:

3tbsp sweet paprika

1tbsp ground cumin

34tsp ground ginger

1tbsp finely chopped garlic

3tbsp coarsely chopped thyme

112tbsp coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley

1tbsp coarsely chopped cilantro

112 cups extra virgin olive oil

6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (6 ounces/170g each)

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the vinaigrette:

14 cup finely diced preserved lemon rind

14 cup plus 3 tablespoons (93g) extra virgin olive oil

212tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

1tbsp fresh lime juice

Method

Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl.

Trim the chicken breasts of excess fat. Remove the tenders and reserve for another use. Cut the meat into 112-inch pieces. Add the chicken to the marinade and refrigerate for at least 6 hours, or as long as overnight.

Whisk all the vinaigrette ingredients together. Set aside.

Soak six long wooden skewers in cold water for 30 minutes.

Lift several pieces of the chicken at a time from the marinade and squeeze them over the bowl to drain the extra marinade.

Skewer the chicken, leaving 14 inch between the pieces to allow all sides of the chicken to cook evenly.

Season the chicken lightly with salt and pepper.

Preheat a grill to medium-high heat.

Place the skewers on the grill and cook for two to three minutes without moving them, to mark the chicken.

Turn the skewers 90 degrees to mark with a crosshatch pattern and grill for another minute. The marks should be well browned but not burnt. Turn the skewers over and cook for about two minutes to finish cooking the chicken.

Carefully remove the chicken from the skewers and place in a bowl. Toss with a light coating of the vinaigrette, and serve the extra vinaigrette on the side.

Serves 6

Ingredients

For the tomatoes:

53g grapeseed or canola oil

425g thinly sliced red onions

30g thinly sliced garlic

1tbsp harissa powder

2tsp ground cumin

1tsp smoked paprika

2tbsp minced jalapeno peppers

500g canned diced tomatoes, preferably San Marzano, with their juices

12 cup water

1tsp kosher salt

14tsp ground black pepper

2tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

3 cups okra

Grapeseed or canola oil

1tbsp extra virgin olive oil

14tsp harissa powder

Crunchy sea salt

Method

Pour a film of oil into a large saute pan set over medium heat, add the onions, and saute for about 8 minutes, stirring from time to time, until almost tender.

Add the garlic and stir frequently for another five minutes, or until the onion and garlic have softened and are just beginning to colour.

Turn the heat to medium-high, add the harissa, the cumin, paprika, and jalapeno, and cook, stirring constantly, for about 1 minute, until fragrant.

Add the tomatoes and their juices, the water and salt and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the mixture has thickened, the liquid has evaporated and the tomatoes have melted.

Add 14 cup oil and ‘fry’ the mixture for about one minute. Remove from the heat and stir in the pepper and parsley.

Meanwhile, start the okra: Rub the okra with a towel to remove the sharp spines. Trim the stems, but do not expose the seeds.

Heat a large non-stick frying pan over high heat until smoking. Add a film of grapeseed oil. When the oil smokes, add the okra in one layer and cook, without moving them for three to four minutes, or until the bottoms are browned.

Turn each piece to brown the second side.

Transfer to a bowl, add the olive oil and harissa powder, and toss to coat.

Mourad: New Moroccan by Mourad Lahlou is published by Artisan Books, priced £25.

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Posted on May 9, 2012, in Morocco News, Visit Morocco and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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