When I first moved to Morocco, I imagined I might travel to other parts of North Africa, or the Maghreb in French, referring to Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya. Turns out it’s not quite so easy to traverse the borders, the political relationship between Morocco and it’s neighbor Algeria being tenuous. I rarely meet Algerians here, and have yet to meet a Tunisian or Libyan. As a result, those countries now hold a sort of mystique for me. So when I saw this recipe for Tunisian meatballs on seriouseats.com from New York Times food writer David Tanis, I jumped at the opportunity. I may not be able to skip over to Tunisia for a sunny weekend on the beach, but I can pretend I’m there while enjoying these hearty, spiced meatballs with buttery couscous on my terrace.
These meatballs are somewhat of a project but so worth the extra time and effort. Don’t be intimidated by the long list of ingredients; most of them are spices and will take just a couple seconds to measure out and add. I used ground beef because the butcher was out of lamb, but I imagine lamb would be even more authentic. Savory spiced meatballs in a light tomato sauce top steaming bowls of couscous and sweet golden raisins. They keep well and make a large batch, so you can enjoy them throughout the week. And once you finish the couscous, use them to top a toasted baguette to make an exotic meatball sub. It’s comfort food without the predictability.
Get the recipe here.
Posted in Savory
I used to be intimidated by eggplants because I wasn’t sure what to do with them. Oddly shaped, disconcertingly shiny, and so purple, eggplants seem to have an other-worldly quality to them. But then I discovered Mark Bittman’s brilliant technique of cooking a whole eggplant on a hot pan, no prep or extra ingredients required. Smooth and smoky, ready to eat sliced open with a sprinkle of salt. Or, pureed into baba ghanoush, the creamy Middle Eastern dip with tahini and lemon.
My love affair with Middle Eastern food began a few years ago when I moved to Boston for school and discovered the joys of hummus, falafel, ful medames (a fava bean dip), mezze, and the mix of savory and sweet often found in Arabic cuisine. Growing up in the suburbs of Southern California, my paradigm of international cuisine was shaped by sushi and tacos. In Boston I discovered Lebanese and Syrian food, not to mention Indian, Nepalese, and Ethiopian (still dreaming about the tangy injera at Fasika in East Somerville). I discovered Middle Eastern food at the same time I began to learn to cook, so ingredients like cumin, tahini, and za’atar became staples in my kitchen. And I prefer eating mezze style. I would rather pick and choose from an array of salads, creamy dips, grilled vegetables, and a few small meat dishes than take on one large, monotonous sandwich or pizza.
Baba ghanoush is one of my favorite additions to my lunchtime mezze spread, because it counts as a vegetable even though it tastes and feels decadent. Plus, it’s simple and can be prepared in advance. I’ve blended plain yogurt with my version to add tang and creaminess. Serve it with cherry tomatoes, slices of cucumber, fresh bread, or my favorite- smeared onto hard-boiled eggs sprinkled with flaky salt and cumin. It doesn’t hurt to use farm-fresh eggs, like I used here (beware- all other eggs will look sad and anemic once you’ve spoiled yourself with the real deal).
makes about 1 cup.
- 1 eggplant
- 1 small container plain yogurt (1/2 cup)
- 1 clove of garlic, grated or finally minced
- 2 tablespoons tahini
- juice of 1 lemon
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- a few walnuts (optional)
- sesame seeds for garnish (optional)
- Place eggplant in a dry pan over high heat. Cook over high heat, turning once, until flesh begins to char and break down on both sides (10 to 30 minutes, depending on eggplant).
- Scoop out flesh from cooked eggplant and discard skin. Place warm eggplant and all other ingredients into food processor and blend until smooth, about 30 seconds. I like this served warm, sprinkled with sesame seeds, but can be refrigerated for 3-5 days.
Posted in Savory
Tagged eggplant, tahini
I often roast a chicken on Sunday or Monday night to serve to friends or to pick at for the rest of the week. Roasting a whole chicken seemed initially intimidating to me- for no other reason than the fact that I was placing an entire animal in the oven, which, for a convert from semi-vegetarianism seemed a task akin to hunting and butchering my own elk. It turns out, however, that roasting chicken is actually quite simple (thank you jamie oliver) and it gives me the cozy feeling of being a homemaker, which in reality, I am not.
This week I decided to exercise self-restraint. Instead of devouring the chicken within minutes of emerging from the oven, golden and crispy-skinned and juicy, I waited until it cooled, shredded it to pieces, and decided to make chicken salad for the week. I wanted a salad with all the usual elements- crunch, tartness, sweetness, a little bite. And I wanted to utilize the mountains of fresh spices so readily available here in Tangier.
Curry, crunchy toasted almonds, chunks of pineapple, plump golden raisins- she’s the exotic cousin to the Waldorf. I used a flaky croissant from one of the many local bakerie to make a sandwich, but I’m sure this salad would be equally delicious heaped onto wheat crackers, toasted brioche, or even slices of green apple. I like to think that this chicken salad forges cultural connections yet unseen in the culinary world (American tradition, Indian spices, Moroccan flair). Or it just provides me with lunch for the week. In any case, I’m excited about it.
- 1 roasted chicken, shredded
- 1 cup almonds
- 1/2 cup golden raisins
- 2 green onions finely chopped
- 300 grams chopped canned pineapple
- 2 tablespoons of curry powder (I made my own from this recipe)
- 1/2 cup mayo
- 1/2 cup plain yogurt
- 1/2 a lemon
- Preheat the oven to 225 degrees F. Place the almonds on a tray and bake in preheated oven for 10-12 minutes, stirring frequently. I like my almonds very toasty, but be careful not to let them burn! Remove from the oven when they are dark brown and you can smell them.
- Meanwhile, soak the golden raisins in the juice from the pineapple. Drain.
- When almonds are cool, chop coarsely. Mix curry powder with yogurt and mayonnaise.
- Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl with curry-yogurt-mayo mixture. Mix well to make sure salad is uniform. Squeeze lemon into salad, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Salad will keep in refrigerator for four days. Makes enough for about 8 sandwiches.
I love beets. I will admit, however, that my main motivation for cooking with them is that gorgeous purple-pink hue that tints everything they touch- the other food on the plate, my hands, the kitchen counter. No matter, give me a fuchsia stain any day. Cooking with beets makes me feel like an artist.
This dip will take you five minutes to whip up, and is infinitely adaptable. Drizzle olive oil on it, mix some cumin in, garnish it with slices of preserved lemon. To make it more substantial, you could blend in some cooked chickpeas and tahini to make a sort of hummus. I eat it with crusty baguette, by the spoonful, or with slices of cucumber or carrot. It’s healthy, inexpensive, and so, so pretty.
Quick side note: The best way to cook beets is to scrub them clean, wrap them individually (unpeeled) in foil, and bake them in a 400 degree oven for 30-60 minutes, depending on the beet size. They will be finished when you can poke them easily with a sharp knife. Let them cool, unwrap, and peel. I picked this tip up from Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything”.
- 1 small beet, cooked and peeled (see above)
- 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
- 1 garlic clove, grated
- lemon juice from half a lemon
- salt and pepper to taste
- small handful chopped walnuts
- parsley, to garnish
1. Blend all ingredients, except for walnuts and parsley, in blender or food processor.
2. Garnish with chopped walnuts and parsley. Serve.
Lately, I’ve been indulging in the 4 packs of avocados at my nearest Trader Joe’s. It’s all relative though- less than a dollar each for a creamy fruit, pebbled green on the outside and mildly sweet on the inside, perfect with just a sprinkling of sea salt and cracked black pepper, or a squeeze of lemon juice. I find that avocados have a way of elevating the humblest of meals- a simple salad, an omelette, or in this case, a breakfast sandwich.
A few mornings ago, my rumbly post-jog appetite inspired me to make a tartine-basically an open-faced sandwich- with my little green gems. I wanted to satisfy all my cravings: salty, crunchy, creamy, sweet. So I piled avocado and a handful of crumbled feta onto a sliced of toasted buckwheat walnut bread from the bakery I work at. Then I fried up an egg with some good olive oil to top it off. The salty feta and black pepper cut the richness of the avocado, and the fried egg rendered the whole thing warm, filling, and decadent without being heavy. I devoured the whole thing on my back deck, where I have been enjoying some unseasonably early spring warmth.
Couldn’t wait to take a bite.
- Half an avocado, sliced
- about 1/4 cup crumbled feta
- 1 egg
- 1 slice whole grain bread
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- salt and pepper, to taste
- toast the bread; top with sliced avocado and feta
- pour olive oil into pan placed over medium-low heat; allow to warm up
- crack egg into pan; when white seems set, use a spatula to carefully fold egg in half. allow yolk to set.
- top toast with egg, sprinkle generously with salt and black pepper.
I discovered the glorious versatility of kale this past summer at the farmer’s market I worked at, where my generous fellow vendors would supply me with big verdant bunches at the end of the day, in exchange for a few crusty olive rolls. In the past I had limited my use of kale to kale chips, tearing the leaves into pieces and baking them with a drizzle of olive oil or soy sauce. But these crisp green leaves of lacinato could not be banished to the oven. They wanted to be eaten as is, dressed with some salt, crunch, and good olive oil.
I make this salad when I’m feeling the need to be particularly healthful. If, for example, I’ve chosen to subsist on pie and dark chocolate for a couple of days, I detox with kale. But it doesn’t really taste healthful at all- eaten warm, it is crunchy, satisfying, and just salty enough. Eaten cold, it is creamy and flavorful. The salad is sweet and acidic, simple to make, and gets even better after a day or two in the fridge.
- 1 large bunch of kale, preferably lacinato (or dinosaur)
- 3/4 cup crumbled feta
- juice of 1 large lemon or 2 small lemons
- 1/4 cup sliced almonds
- 1/2 red onion
- 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
- cracked black pepper, to taste
- coarse salt, to taste
- Peel and thinly slice red onion.
- Add 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil to a pan set over medium-low heat; add sliced onions and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 15 minutes, until soft.
- While onions are caramelizing, slice up the kale. I fold each leaf in half and drag the tip of a sharp knife across the fold to remove the rib. After I have done this with a few leaves, I stack them up, roll tightly crosswise, and then slice crosswise, to make long ribbons. Place ribbons in a large bowl as you go.
- Dress the kale with the lemon juice. I usually squeeze the lemon directly over the kale, using my fingers to catch the seeds. You could also sub in red wine vinegar here, but you want to be careful not to overdo it with the vinegar (I learned this the hard way).
- Add the warm onions, crumbled feta, and 1 tablespoon olive oil.
- Toast the sliced almonds on low heat in a dry pan for 3 minutes. Stir frequently to avoid burning. You could also toast these in the oven, or use toasted almonds, but I like the way the hot almonds sizzle on the finished salad.
- Add the almonds to the salad, along with a few turns of coarse salt and cracked black pepper. Toss well, and let sit for at least 10 minutes before eating. You want the salad to wilt a little and the flavors to meld together.