What do you cook to impress you friends ? What if those friends happen to be chefs ?
Such was the quandary I faced recently when deciding what to cook for some new friends. One of whom just happens to work at a very well respected rustic Italian restaurant in this fine city (of Perth). So risotto was out the window… and that floury pasta I manage to pull together occasionally just wasn’t going to cut it anymore… even if it was made with beetroot.
So Italian was off the menu… it was too warm for a roast… too passe for duck, and too expensive for my other idea of stuffing abalone, foie gras, truffles inside a whole sirloin of grade 12 wagyu… (another night perhaps).
So the idea came to me… Moroccan. Carrying on from recent Moroccan adventures, I decided to continue my little virtual journey through that magical slice of North Africa. It was just the right combination of something a little different that was easy to prepare a head of time, and might sound slightly exotic to anyone who doesn’t think about it for too long :)
After getting a bunch of great ideas from Deb, my ethno food consultant extraordinairre. I managed to pull together what would prove to be a pretty decent little combination of dishes.
So the menu for the evening was as follows:
- Baked turkish bread with olive oil and dhukkah
- Lemon Myrtle Cheddar and Triple Brie on craquers (crackers)
- Sumac fried squid on cherry tomato salad with lemon viniagrette
- Chermoula king snapper
- Honey apricot lamb tajine
- Deb’s roast vegetable couscous
- Orange and rosewater palate cleansers
- Blood orange tart with double cream
Out of courtesy to my guests, I didn’t take photos of every dish all night long. Because as much as I like to record the meal, I think you lose something in the mood and conversation if you are constantly snapping shots of every dish. So you’ll have to make do with the snippets here, along with a relatively detailed description of what went into making each.
Sumac fried squid
- 4 squid tubes
- 1 tablespoon each of plain flour, rice flour, and corn flour
Pretty simple really. Run a knife down the side of your squid tubes and then score them all over. Then slice into manageable pieces and throw into a plastic bag filled with the sumac, chilli, and the three types of flour. When it’s all nicely coated. Heat the oil and shallow or deep fry until they curl up and look kinda crispy on the outside. Done.
I served mine on a little bed of spinach and cherry tomatoes with a simple (possibly overly tart) lemon viniagrette made by combining lemon juice, dijon mustard, and extra virgin olive oil together.
The entrees went down well with a lovely 2005 Capel Vale Viognier I’d been holding onto since picking up at the last food and wine show. A lovely citrusy wine with a lovely bouquet and many other admirable qualities that I am far too inadequate to describe.
So then onto mains…
- 2 large snapper fillets (or any nice white fish)
- 2 stalks of celery chopped
- 2 ripe tomatoes chopped
- 1 red onion, sliced into rings
- 1 capsicum, seeded & sliced into rings
- 250ml Verjuice (or stock, or water)
- handful of coriander
- 2 cloves garlic
- handful of parsley
- 2 tablespoons of paprika
- 2 tablespoons of ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon cayene pepper
- lots of olive oil
- Lemon juice
To make the chermoula, blend all the ingredients together in a food processor until its well combined. Once it’s done, generously coat the fish fillets with the chermoula spice mix, and leave it to marinade for a couple of hours (if you have time).
When you’re ready to cook, fry the celery in a little olive oil in a pan and then add the sliced onions, capsicum, and tomatoes… layer the fish on top of the vegetables, pour over the verjuice (or stock, or water), put the lid on and leave it to steam/poach for 20 minutes or so. That should be all the time you’ll need for it turn out deliciously moist and full of those great flavours.
Honey Apricot Lamb Tajine
- 500 grams lamb shoulder, trimmed of fat
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 large diced onions
- 3 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1 cup chicken stock
- pinch or two of saffron, crushed
- handful of coriander
- 1 cup dried, pitted apricots
- 1/2 cup raisins/sultanas
- 1 onion, halved and thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
This one is pretty simple, so I won’t go into lots of detail. Basically cut the lamb into chunks and season with turmeric and ginger, salt, and pepper. Then in a tajine (or pot, or saucepan) sautee the lamb until it’s nicely browned. Then add the onions, garlic, and other vegetables to the tajine and fry them gently, before adding the stock, saffron, and other spices and turning it down to a simmer. At this point you can also add the apricots and sultanas, depending on much you want them to disintegrate. Turn the heat down low and cook like this for an hour or two, at some point adding the coriander and honey and any other spices you might have forgotten. As it’s getting towards being ready you might want to turn up the heat in order to reduce the stock down if it hasn’t done so already.
Roast Vegetable Couscous
I got this one from Deb, so blame her if it doesn’t make sense. It took me about 15 emails to get all the various components right… and I think I still stuffed it up in the end… such is the love/hate relationship I have with couscous. Still it did taste nice and was a more than adequate vehicle for the other dishes.
- melted butter with coriander and cumin
- mixture of chickpeas and brown lentils
- lots of coriander
- wild rocket
- roasted pumpkin
- lemon juice
- sometimes mint and yoghurt on top
Basically make couscous the “normal” way… I am currently boiling enough stock to cover the couscous, then taking it off the heat and pouring it in, stirring the couscous until it all absorbs, and then adding stacks of butter and salt and pepper to make it edible.
At that point you can also add some roast pumpkin, lentils, chick peas, spinach, cumin, lemon juice, mint, rocket, and anything else you can think of and you’ll have a damn fine little meal on your hands. Just don’t do what I did and make a mountain of couscous that will drown the rest of the ingredients… you’ll be eating it for the next 4 days… (and counting).
So that was the main course done. A brief sojourn into living room for another of Deb’s delicious ideas… Slices of orange sprinkled with rose water as a palate cleanser. A great way to break up a meal and leave the palate clean as a whistle and ready for some intense dessert action in the form of…
Blood Orange Tart
Blood Orange curd
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1/3 cup fresh blood orange juice
- 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
- 6 large eggs
- 2 large egg yolks
- 1 tablespoon grated blood orange peel
- 100 grams unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces, room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 100 grams chilled unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
- 2 tablespoons whipping cream
- 1 large egg yolk
For the curd:
Whisk sugar, blood orange juice, lemon juice, eggs, egg yolks, and orange peel in medium bowl to blend. Add butter; set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and whisk constantly until the curd thickens, about 12 minutes (do not boil, and watch out for egg whites forming). Remove bowl from over water. Press plastic wrap directly onto surface of curd; chill at least 1 day and up to 3 days. You may need to put the curd through a sieve first depending on how well it came together over the heat.
For the crust:
Blend the flour, sugar, and salt in processor. Add butter gradually until the mixture resembles a crumbly mess not too unlike breadcrumbs. Then add the cream and egg yolk and process until it all clumps together. Then turn the dough into a ball; and flatten it into a disk. Roll out dough on floured surface to 13-inch round. Transfer to 10-inch-diameter tart pan with removable bottom. Fold dough overhang in and press onto pan sides, forming double-thick sides. Pierce crust all over with fork; freeze 30 minutes.
There is also a great article on making pastry along these lines in the latest issue of Spice Magazine that is well worth picking up for West Australian readers.
So preheat oven to 180C and bake the crust until cooked through, about 30 minutes. You may need to add some weights to the centre of the crust to stop it lifting. I did and i nearly burnt my fingers off in the process… So you might want to think about that before you put it into the oven. When it’s done, cool the crust completely in the pan on a rack.
When its completely cool, spread the curd evenly over the crust, smoothing over the surface and generally trying to make it look pretty. Then pop it into the freezer and give it a couple of hours to set before serving.
I served mine simply with double cream, but all manner of fancy options abound if you use a little imagination.
And so there you have it. An evening full of great food, great wine, and stimulating conversation, what more could you ask for ?
I think the Moroccan deal can take a bit of a rest for now, but it’s one country I’ll be happy to revisit, virtually or otherwise, should the need arise soon.
The end :)