Saturday, May 30, 2015

Terrific Tagines

Can you guess what country tonight's menu hails from? Here's a hint:

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Yes, that is a tagine, and tonight's meal came from Morocco. I have always been intrigued by this North African country that is more Mediterranean/ Middle Eastern than African. (It's practically part of Europe. When I am in Alicante, Spain next week, I'll only be 770 miles away from Morocco.) My friend Jasmine is the daughter of a French and an American missionary and had the opportunity to grow up in Morocco. She helped me plan for tonight's meal and gave me a little insight into the unique culture of Morocco. The country is mostly made up of Arabic and Berber people. The latter group is mainly located in in the mountainous regions and they keep their language and culture isolated and intact. From 1912 to 1956 Morocco was under French rule. Today Berber and Arabic are the official languages, but French still plays a powerful role in the government and business sector of society.  The Moroccan society is multilingual. French and Standard Arabic are taught in schools, the Moroccan dialect of Arabic-Darija- is spoken in most homes, and 40% of the population can also speak Berber. Spanish is also common since the proximity to Spain and a history of Spanish presence and power. That's incredible! There is just too much about Morocco that I want to say, so I am going to have to stop here. Go online and look up pictures of the art, architecture, and culture of Morocco. It's truly spectacular.

https://flic.kr/p/tNPARt | 8f33d1277f603d93dd27d79b4e75fd54

With Berber, French, and Arabic roots, Morocco is a melting pot of flavor. During our trip to Disney last year, we ate at Restaurant Marrakesh located in Epcot's Morocco. My family all loved both the food and the d├ęcor of the restaurant, but the belly dancing through us off a bit. :) Because of my family's mutual agreement that Moroccan food is the bomb, I decided that it would be a great idea for me to cook Morocco while I was home. I am so glad I did. It's probably the first country that everyone enjoyed. Anyway, back to Moroccan cuisine. Meals generally consist of bread, salad, and a main dish of couscous or a tagine. Everything is finished out with a sweet glass of mint tea. Members of a family traditionally sit around the dishes on a rug and eat with their hands. If your portion of chicken or beef happens to contain a bone, make sure to suck the marrow out of it. Failing to do so would be a social no-no.

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Bread is a must for every Moroccan meal. It is used as a utensil to scoop up food and is made out of semolina wheat. This light and airy khobz is the perfect accompaniment to tagines and stews.

Khobz Dyal Smida
1 ½ cups warm water (110 degrees)
1 tbsp yeast
2 tsp sugar
2 cups semolina flour
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp salt
1 ½ tbsp. olive oil
argon oil, for dipping

Mix the yeast, water, and sugar together. Let the mixture sit until the yeast has activated, about 10 minutes. Stir in the remaining ingredients (except the argon oil). Knead for 10 minutes. Cover the dough and let it rise in a warm place until doubled, about an hour. Divide the dough in half and roll each half out into 8” disks on a clean surface lightly dusted with semolina flour. Allow the dough to rise again for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 415 degrees. Cook the bread for 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve with argon oil to dip.
 
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I heard about this really cool company called Try the World in a Food Network magazine. You can order boxes that come with a set of cool ingredients. I got the Moroccan box, and it came with couscous, a tagine sauce, cookies, sardines, and this argan oil. Each item is from the specific country, and there is a little booklet that explains the significance of the items and recipes to use them. I was excited to try out the argan oil as a dip for the bread. It has a really nutty aroma and a taste that none of us could put our finger on. It wasn't our favorite, but it was fun to try.

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Carrots or other vegetables steamed and then served at room temperature. Either sweet or spicy, these salads are common starters to the main meal of the day.

Spicy Carrot Salad
6 carrots, peeled and sliced into long segments
½ tbsp. vinegar or lemon juice
¼ tsp ground cumin
dash of cayenne pepper powder
salt and pepper, to taste
chopped mint

Bring a pot of water to boil with the carrots in it. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes until the carrots are crisp-tender. Rinse them with cold water and then toss them with the vinegar, seasonings, and mint. Serve at room temperature.
 
 
 
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When I think of Moroccan cuisine, my mind immediately jumps to the tagine. I asked for a tagine for Easter just so I could present my Moroccan meal authentically, and my parents kindly obliged. (Actually the Easter bunny brought it in my basket. My sisters all got chocolate and stuffed animals. I got a North African cooking vessel.) Djaj, or chicken, is traditionally cooked with spices like ginger, cumin, and saffron and accompanied by tangy green olives. Red meat such as lamb are cooked with sweet dried fruits to create a sweet and complex meal. Vegetarian tagines are also popular, especially amongst the lower class. There are two categories of tagines. The first is called "mhammer". These tagines are cooked in butter and colored with paprika. I made a mqualli tagine cooked in oil and colored with saffron.

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Djaj Mqualli
1 tbsp olive oil
4 chicken leg quarters
1 onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp turmeric or a pinch of saffron
1 tsp ground coriander
½ tsp ground ginger
salt and pepper, to taste
1 cinnamon stick
2-3 cups chicken broth
2 mssiyar (preserved lemons), sliced- recipe follows
1 cup pitted green olives
½ bunch chopped parsley

Heat your tagine (or Dutch oven) over medium-high heat with the olive oil. Add the chicken and brown all over. Remove the chicken from the pan onto a plate and set aside. Cook the onions in the chicken drippings along with the garlic for about 5 minutes or until the onions are translucent. Add the seasonings and cook for another 2 minutes. Pour in 2 cups of chicken broth and place the chicken skin-side up back into the pan. Cover and bring to a simmer. Cook for 45 minutes, adding in extra chicken broth as needed. Stir in the olives, lemons, and parsley. Cover and cook for another 15 minutes.

 
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 Preserved lemons, or mssiyar, are a common ingredient used to pump up the flavor of tagines and other Moroccan dishes. If you live near a Mediterranean market, you might be lucky enough to find some premade, but I had no such luck. Authentic preserved lemons undergo a boiling process and then are put away for about six weeks until they are able to be used. Even though I plan my world meals weeks and weeks in advance, I did not plan on making these lemons. Thankfully I found a recipe for quick preserved lemons. It might not be strictly authentic, but it worked.

Mssiyar
2 lemons, sliced into sixths
2 tbsp salt
1 cup water

Mix together the water and salt in a small pot. Add the lemons and bring to a boil. Cook for about 30 minutes until most of the liquid has been reduced. Allow the lemons to cool before using.

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Couscous is a Moroccan staple. This semolina pasta accompanies tagines or can serve as a whole meal itself when topped with veggies and meat. (I made this for Algeria.) Easily whipped up within minutes, couscous is the perfect side. It can be savory or sweet when combined with dried fruits and nuts in a dish called "seffa".
 
Seksu
1 1/3 cup couscous
2 cups boiling water
butter, as desired

Combine the couscous and water in a heat proof bowl. Cover and let it sit for 8 minutes. Fluff the couscous with a fork and stir in butter to taste.
 
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For dessert we had Moroccan cookies that came in the Moroccan box I got from Try the World. They are like sheets of filo baked with butter and dusted with sugar.
 
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Moroccan meals are always finished up with a glass of Moroccan mint tea. It's easily made by brewing green tea with mint leaves and then serving with a lot of sugar. (Moroccans like their tea sweet.) I found the tea a great way to round out the meal and cleanse the palate.

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Thankfully after Australia's negative reviews Morocco proved to be a success. Everyone loved the tagine and my only regret was not making more meat. The chicken was perfectly tender and had a great flavor from the spices, olives, and lemon without being overpowered. Although the argon oil was not a big hit, the bread was. My dad loved the carrots and ate practically the whole dish. I was glad to finally find something he likes. Carson, Sydney, and Harper all loved the cookies. Carson managed to eat about 8 of them before we realized what was happening. She is quite the cookie monster. The mint gave plain green tea an extra boost of flavor. A great end to a delicious meal.

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