Posts tagged Morocco

Memories of Essaouira

During our honeymoon in Morocco, Jim and I spent a few days in the seaside town of Essaouira. We strolled the narrow stone streets overlooking the ocean and relaxed on the beach, breathing in the salt air with each step. One hot, sunny day at lunchtime, we walked down to the port and seated ourselves at one of the myriad fish stands right by the water. Seagulls swarmed overhead, swooping down every so often to investigate the fresh seafood that local fishermen unloaded from their boats.

At the time, Jim and I didn’t eat fish often. But there was no way we could avoid it in Essaouira, and neither did we want to. Maybe we were still giddy from our wedding or something, I’m not sure. Anyway, we ordered a big platter of straight-from-the-sea, grilled sardines for lunch. Using our hands, we picked our way past the charred, salty skin and spindly bones to the cleanest, freshest meat we had ever tasted. Four years later, we still talk about about that lunch and its effect on us.

sardines_cooking

This past weekend we tried to recreate that meal—or at least the spirit of it—in a very different setting. We pulled our grill pan out from under the sink, heated it through, and grilled 2 pounds of barely seasoned sardines for dinner. A Brooklyn apartment might seem a shabby substitute for an exotic African port, but it didn’t hinder us at all. After cooking for just a couple of minutes on each side, the skin of the shimmery fish was transformed into a crackly coating, and our apartment was quickly infused with salty scents of the sea. (That’s my nice way of saying it smelled like fish.)

I don’t know why it took us four years to cook sardines at home, especially when there are so many benefits to eating them. Sardines are a highly sustainable fish source, which at least puts my mind at ease in terms of purchasing and eating them. And in addition to being a great source of omega-3s, they are low in all those scary contaminants I keep reading about. These small, oily fish surprisingly pack a big nutritional punch.

sardines_cooked

But let’s not forget how good they taste. I served ours atop a bed of rice, with some fresh lemon wedges on the side. The crisp skin was a perfect foil to the fresh, flaky meat hidden within. Even though we were miles away from Morocco, Jim and I were transported there for just a moment, as we once again used our hands to pick past the tiny bones towards the light, clean flesh of the sardines. Fishy apartment aside, it was a great trip.

Recipe for Indoor Grilled Sardines (adapted from Martha Rose Shulman’s recipe in the Recipes for Health section of the New York Times)

  • 2 pounds of cleaned sardines
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • sea salt
  • pepper
  • lemon wedges

Heat a grill pan over medium heat, until it is very hot. While the pan is heating, rinse the sardines, and dry them with paper towels. Toss with olive oil, and season them generously with salt and pepper.

When the grill is ready, place the sardines on it. Grill for 1 to 2 minutes on each side. Transfer to a platter using tongs and serve with lemon wedges. Serves 2. Enjoy!

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More Memories of Morocco

Chicken with Tomatoes and Honey

A few months back I mentioned that Jim and I spent our honeymoon in Morocco. Over ten days we explored some of this North African country’s most amazing cities: metropolitan Casablanca; the marvelous maze of Fez; Marrakech and its bustling markets; the seaside jewel of Essarouia.

I also told you that our camera, with hundreds of pictures documenting our trip, was stolen on our way back to New York. I still have trouble talking about it, the loss is so sad to me. Now Jim and I rely solely on our memories and senses when talking about our honeymoon. 

One way we relive our trip is through food. Throughout the centuries, Morocco endured years of Arab, Spanish, and French rule, all of which influenced its unique cuisine. With its mix of exotic spices and culinary traditions, Morocco’s food is impossible to forget, and on two of our three anniversaries, Jim and I have celebrated by creating our own Moroccan feasts at home. (Last year we skipped town and went to the North Fork, which was fun in a non-Moroccan way, of course!)

While we were in Morocco, we began each meal with a selection of mezze. Mezze are small plates of food—some hot, some cold—served to stimulate the appetite. For our first anniversary, we devoted an entire Sunday to preparing our meal. We started with a cooked eggplant and tomato salad, another minty salad of cold cucumbers and tomatoes, and a dish of paprika-infused caramelized carrots. Last week our anniversary was on Wednesday, so we scaled down our celebration and made only two mezze when we got home from work. We threw together a tangy feta cheese, red onion, and cucumber salad, and we also whipped up some baba ghanouj, a creamy roasted eggplant and tahini dip.

Anniversary 2008Table with mezze and Tagine

One of Morocco’s most distinctive dishes is the tagine, a savory, slow-cooked stew. Classic tagines combine meat with fruit and spices. The word “tagine” also refers to the conical earthenware vessel in which the dish is cooked. While in Fez, Jim and I actually purchased one as a souvenir. Unfortunately, it doesn’t hold a lot of food, so now we use it more as a serving piece and cook with our Dutch oven instead. Supposedly the use of Dutch ovens and slow cookers is growing more diffuse in Morocco as well. During our trip Jim and I tried many different tagines, with ingredients such as lamb, chicken, seafood, and vegetables.

Anniversary 2006Anniversary 2006

On our first anniversary, our main dish was a traditional tagine of chicken with preserved lemons and artichoke hearts. Last week we chose to make a simple tagine of chicken with tomatoes and honey. We slowly simmered 4 chicken legs in a sauce of canned tomatoes, onion, ginger, cinnamon, and saffron, cooking it down until it caramelized, and adding honey at the end. The whole dish was then topped with toasted almonds and sesame seeds, resulting in a sweet, fragrant stew of tender meat and tomatoes.

So while we don’t have any photographs of our honeymoon in Morocco, we do our best to recreate it once a year. We’re planning to go back for our tenth anniversary, and hopefully next time we won’t lose our camera. Check back in with me in seven years…

Recipe for Djaj Matisha Mesla (Chicken with Tomatoes and Honey [first photo at top of post]; adapted from Claudia Roden’s The New Book of Middle Eastern Food)

  • 4 chicken legs, legs split from the thighs
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 medium onion, grated
  • 1 28-ounce can of whole tomatoes
  • salt (to your taste)
  • pepper (to your taste)
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed saffron threads
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 cup sliced, toasted almonds
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

Put all of the ingredients except for the honey, almonds, and sesame seeds in a large Dutch oven. Cook gently over medium-low heat, covered. Turn the chicken occasionally to make sure it cooks evenly. Break up the whole tomatoes with a spoon as they cook. Cook for about 1 1/4 hours, or until the meat can be pulled easily off the bone.

When the chicken is cooked, remove it from the pot and place on a plate. Continue to cook the sauce over medium heat until it thickens. This can take around 15 minutes. Stir the sauce as it begins to caramelize. Stir in the honey. Return the chicken pieces to the sauce and heat through. Serve the chicken hot, covered in the sauce and sprinkled with the almonds and sesame seeds. Serves 4 as a main course. Enjoy!

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