My Moroccan Dinner Party





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St. Stephen's Day Moroccan Dinner Party



Lá Fhéile Stiofán, or Day of the Wren, is an official public holiday in Ireland. The day is named after the first Christian martyr, Saint Stephen and alludes to legends linking episodes in the life of Jesus to the wren. Now a discontinued tradition, groups of boys would travel from house to house carrying an effigy of or a caged wren, playing music, singing and dancing. They were called Wren boys or mummers. In more recent tradition in Ireland, everyone whose anyone would go to the horse races.
 
St. Stephen's Day is also a day to spend with family. This year I wanted to host a special dinner party and with family visiting from New Zealand who are world travelers and would be getting their desire for a proper Christmas feast satisfied elsewhere; I knew it would be an opportunity to plan something different.

Moroccan food is flavourful but the spices are delicate, gentle and pleasant, taking into consideration my spontaneity when using spices and herbs in a recipe. I like food to be flavourful and I tend to use the measured amounts of spices as guidelines only. There are other deviations from the original recipes, what I like to call doctoring a recipe. I have also included these additions. 

Vegetable Srtudel for the vegetarians
My family has vegetarians as well as dedicated carnivores, so I wanted to be able to satisfy both with my menu. Above all, I wanted a deluxe selection of dishes that are also fun and very healthy. I made all the baked pastries, cookies and bread ahead of time and froze them. Because the pastries were lightly baked before freezing, and thawed in the refrigerator, they were perfect after finishing in the oven to a golden crispness, before serving. I made vegetable strudel for the vegetarians. I made the preserved lemons, chermoula and the marinated olives weeks in advance. 

Moroccan food is prepared with thought and care. The table was set with the rich colours of Morocco and the lantern light created a relaxed and enchanted environment. Cocktails sparkled and strains of Moroccan music floated up through the laughter. Guests who arrived early were promptly employed as bartenders, DJ's, coat-checkers and lantern-lighters.

 
I like to have the cocktails and hors d'oeuvres ready when my guests arrive, buffet-style so that they can help themselves and settle somewhere comfortable to enjoy it. At this time, the main dishes are in the oven warming, with a second loaf of Kesra. The lentil tagine will be served at the table in a Tagine (note: the serving dish and the stew cooked in it are both called tagines).





Hamed Markad 
Preserved Lemons
8-12  lemons
coarse kosher salt
fresh-squeezed lemon juice
black peppercorns, bay leaves, optional
2-1 litre jars
 
Slice whole lemons length-wise in quarters, leaving them attached at one end. Fill the lemons with the salt and stuff into clean, sterilized jars. Add the juice of two lemons and fill the jar with cooled, boiled water. Store in a cool, dark place for 4-6 weeks before using. Shake daily for the first week to dissolve salt. Preserved lemons will keep for 6 months or more. Once the jar is opened, store in the refrigerator. Preserved lemons are used as a condiment on many dishes. The pulp is discarded and slivers of the peel are sprinkled onto salads and tagines.


Chermoula
This marinade is made with fresh chopped cilantro, flat-leafed parsley, minced garlic, ground cumin and coriander seeds, paprika, cayenne, rehydrated chopped chilies, preserved lemon slivers, olive oil and fresh lemon juice. I used chermoula to marinate the olives and the lamb. It also makes an excellent marinade for fish and seafood for which it is most commonly used in Morocco. 


Ras el Hanout
Moroccan Spice Blend
1/2 t. ground cloves     
1/2 t. ground cayenne
2 t. ground allspice        
2 t. ground cumin
2 t. ground ginger          
2 t. ground tumeric
2 t. ground black pepper
2 t. ground cardamom    
3t. ground cinnamon
3 t. ground coriander
2 nutmegs, freshly grated
(or 6 t. ground nutmeg)







Cocktails



Moroccan Cocktails
Sparkling Spanish Cava 
Sparkling pomegranate and cranberry juice 
Orange blossom water 
Cointreau
Pomegranate jewels
 
I mixed a large pitcher of equal parts Cava and juice with a generous amount of Cointreau and a splash of the orange flower water. All the glasses were filled and decorated and the pitcher replenished and everything was served on a large tray.
 
Orange flower or blossom water is made from a distillation of the flowers of the bitter Seville orange. It originated in the Middle East and was introduced to North Africa by Arab colonizers. It is used to flavour beverages, as well as sweet and savoury food.
 
I chose to serve Spanish wines because of the geographical proximity to North Africa whose wines are not available here. Good Spanish Cava is comparable to Champagne. I served Juan Gil Monastrell Petit Verdot, 2006 with dinner. This wine played its part well, never muscling in on the delicate and complex flavours of the food.  



Hors d'oeuvres


Zitoun Meslalla 
Moroccan Marinated Olives
black or green, or a combination of different olives
chermoula
lemon juice
olive oil
1 litre jar, sterilized

Press the olives to break open and mix with the other ingredients in jars. Bring out of the refrigerator once a week and mix when they are at room temperature and then return to fridge. 

 

Briouat B'Kefta 
Filo (phyllo) Cigars
1 T. olive oil
350 gr ground lamb or beef
1 small purple onion, minced
1 T. ras el hanout
1 T. chermoula
1 egg
melted butter
4-6 sheets of phyllo pastry
1 T. sesame seeds
Makes 12 pastries 
 
Sauté the onions and meat with the spices and chermoula. Cool. Cut the phyllo sheets into 3, equal (5 x 12 inches) strips and cover with a kitchen towel to prevent drying. Place a strip on the work surface and brush with warm, melted butter. Place 1 T. of the filling and shape into a cigar, 1 cm. from the edges. Fold pastry over the filling at one end, fold in the sides and roll to the end of the strip. Place on baking sheet, seam side down. Repeat with the remaining ingredients. Brush the rolls with melted butter and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. It is best to do this after the rolls are completed. Bake the briouats for 15-20 minutes or until lightly golden. Serve hot. 

 


Shlada Matisha Wal Hamed Markad 
Tomato and Preserved Lemon Salad
1 lb. fresh, ripe tomatoes
1 red onion, finely sliced
1 preserved lemon
3 T. olive oil
1 t. lemon juice
1/2 t. paprika
2 T. finely chopped cilantro and 1 T. flat-leafed parsley
Serves 4

Score the bottom of the whole tomatoes with an + and blanch in boiling water for 20 seconds, then plunge them into a bowl of cool water. Remove from the water and peel. Chop the tomatoes and add the other ingredients. Toss and serve. This salad had the most pleasing flavour with the juice of the tomatoes combining with the other ingredients to form a light and lively dressing.  



Kesra
5 c. whole wheat flour, plus extra for kneading 
1/2 t. sea salt 
1 envelope active dry yeast
2/3 c. olive oil
2 c. hand hot water
coarse kosher salt
fennel seeds
Makes 2 loaves 
 
Follow the instructions on the package of yeast. Let yeast activate in an oven that has warmed at the lowest setting but is turned off. Make a hollow in the centre of the dry ingredients and add the yeast mixture, 3T. olive oil and the hot water. Mix with your hands until the dough comes together. Transfer dough to a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes until smooth and elastic. Put the dough in a clean, oiled bowl, cover with a damp tea towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 11/2 hours.

Punch down the dough and cut in half. Shape dough on floured surface into round or rectangular shapes, 9-10 inches in diametre. Put loaves into lightly oiled baking pans, cover with a damp tea towel and let rise for 30 minutes in draftless warmth. Make indents with your finger tips and pour over the remaining oil. Sprinkle generously with coarse salt and fennel seeds or rosemary (optional). Cover and let rise another 30 minutes. Spritz with water and bake in a preheated oven at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Let cool.  Serve or freeze immediately.



Tagines braising over coal-burning braziers


Dinner


Zaalouk 
Warm Eggplant Salad
2 large eggplants (aubergines)
3 tomatoes
olive oil (I used the mediterranean oil)
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 purple onion, finely chopped
1 t. paprika
2 t. cumin
1/2 t. cayenne
2 1/2 T. lemon juice
1/4 c. President's Choice Tomato Pesto  
vegetable broth
Serves 8 
 
Using a vegetable peeler, remove 1/2 inch strips of skin, lengthwise from each eggplant. Cut into 1/2 inch pieces and sauté until brown with onions, garlic and spices. Peel the tomatoes after blanching and add to the eggplant with the lemon juice, broth and tomato pesto. Simmer 1 hour, low heat. Garnish with slivers of preserved lemon.





Seffa 
Couscous with nuts and dried fruit
2 c. couscous
1/2 c. dried apricots, finely chopped
1/2 c. pistachios, shelled and chopped
1/2 c. dried cranberries
4 c. vegetable broth 
olive oil
Serves 8 


Bring broth to a boil. Take off heat and add the couscous. Cover and let sit 15-20 minutes. Toss with fruit, oil and nuts. Semolina and wheat flour is sprinkled with salted water and rolled to form tiny pellets to make couscous.




Tagine 'Adess Bil Gar'a Hamra
Spiced Lentil and Pumpkin Tagine
2-540 ml cans of lentils (I prefer the No name brand)
1-796 ml can San Marzano tomatoes, broken up by hand
1 lb firm squash, cut into large chunks
olive oil (I used Pro Cuisine mediterranean grilling oil)
1 large purple onion, finely chopped
6 cloves of garlic, minced 

1 jar Al'fêz Casablanca Tagine honey and almond sauce
1 t. cumin
1 t. tumeric
1/2 t. cayenne
1 T. paprika
1/4 c. tomato sauce
2 T. each chopped cilantro and flat-leafed parsley 
Serves 8
 
Sauté the onions, spices and garlic. Add all of the other ingredients except the lentils. Rinse and drain the lentils. Cover and simmer over low heat 1 hour. Add the lentils a half hour before the tagine has finished stewing. Serve in a Tagine.



Mechoul
Slow-Roasted Lamb with Cumin
5-6 lb  shoulder of lamb
chermoula
2 1/2 oz butter
4 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 T. cumin
coarse kosher salt
cumin salt to serve
Serves 6

Marinate the lamb in chermoula for up to 2 days in advance. Take out of the refrigerator 2 hours before roasting. Brown the lamb on all sides in a pot, stove top. Mix garlic, butter, cumin and salt to form a paste. Score and rub the lamb with spicy paste. Bake in a preheated 315 degree oven for 3 1/2 hours, basting every 1/2 hour. Serve with a side dish of roasted cumin mixed with kosher salt.
 





Tea



Atay Bil Na'Na' 
Moroccan Mint Tea
1 bunch of fresh mint or spearmint 
2 teaspoons Chinese gunpowder green tea
sugar or honey to taste
serves 4-6 
 
During the Crimean War in 1854, embargoes prevented the British tea merchants selling to their usual customers and they looked elsewhere for new markets. One of these was Tangier, Morocco. Moroccans embraced tea drinking with enthusiasm and soon found that the pale greenish brew perfectly complemented their favoured mint infusion. Copious quantities of the very sweet mint tea is consumed throughout the day and keep Moroccans well hydrated in their hot, dry climate and help to lift flagging energies. Chinese gunpowder green tea is the preferred tea. Each leaf is rolled into a compact, round pellet. When the tea is brewed, the tea leaves open up like tiny flower petals, so there is no need to strain it. The mint in the pot does a good job of that anyway. The teapot (barrad) has a long spout which is ideal for pouring the tea from a height with accuracy to aerate it.
 
My guests knew instinctively to retire to the living room, in semi-prone positions, for tea and dessert which was served round from trays set on a low table. Spiced coffee is made by adding the spices to the brewing coffee in the Bodum (coffee press). I like to add ground cardamom, cinnamon and coriander with a delicate splash of flower water.




Fennel Cookies
1 c. butter 
1 1/2  c. demerara sugar
2 T. almond extract
2 T. lemon zest
1 1/2 T. fennel seeds
2 c. whole wheat flour
3 T. cornmeal 
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
3/4 c. pistachios
Makes 3 dozen cookies 

Combine wet ingredients with the dry ingredients. Form into 1 inch balls and place on lightly oiled baking tray. Flatten slightly. Garnish with pistachios. Bake for 20 minutes in a preheated 350 degree oven.




Briouat B'Looz W'Assel 
Honey-dipped Almond Briouats
Almond filling 
2 c. ground almonds
2 oz butter
1/4 c. honey
1/4 t. almond extract
1 T. orange flower water

Pastry 
6 sheets phyllo pastry
melted butter
Honey Syrup
3/4 c. honey
1 T. orange flower water
Makes 18 pastries 
 
Lightly toast ground almonds, medium heat, 3-4 minutes. Mix in a bowl with butter, honey, extract and flower water. Cut pastry into 5 x 12 inch strips and cover with a tea towel. Place a strip of phyllo on the work surface, brush with melted butter and fold in half lengthwise. Heap a teaspoon of almond filling on the pastry and fold on the diagonal forming a triangle, continue to end of strip. Place seam side down on a lightly oiled baking tray. Repeat with remaining ingredients. Bake 20-25 minutes in a preheated 350 degree oven until puffed and golden. Simmer honey with 1/4 c. water in a saucepan over medium heat. Add orange water. Dip hot pastries in the syrup for 20 seconds and remove to cool. Caution! As the pastries are added the honey syrup may boil up.


 
Cinnamon Oranges
4 oranges
Syrup 
honey 
cinnamon
orange flower water
Serves 4 

Combine the syrup ingredients in a saucepan and warm over low heat. Pour the syrup over sliced oranges and serve with Medjoul dates. 



A culinary journey from the souks of Marrakesh to the home kitchens of Rabat, and on to the tea houses and cafés of Casablanca and the extravagant feasts of Fes. Each recipe in this cookbook is photographed as it is made, and is accompanied by useful hints, tips and special features on many of the food ideas that encompass the Moroccan way of life. Beautiful photographs shot in Morocco capture landmarks and lifestyle and illustrate the variety of ingredients in this cuisine from market-fresh Mediterranean vegetables, fruit, nuts, cereals, pulses and seafood, to olives, spices, herbs, oil and condiments. An excellent and comprehensive book about Moroccan food.


For fast-acting relief, try slowing down
 
Moroccan food is one of the original slow foods. It is worth taking the time to slow down, to plan and prepare. This is a perfect way to make your family and friends feel loved. Attention to details like lighting, music, table setting and fresh flowers add another layer of hospitality that can elevate your occasion to the magical realm of a favorite memory. 

Being well-planned and organized is key to a successful event. I prepared everything in advance except the lamb which was still roasting while my guests arrived, warming the air with its fragrant and tantalizing aroma. Tagines are perfect for making ahead and stews always taste better the next day. The tomato and preserved lemon salad, filo cigars and the lamb were favorites, but everything turned out splendidly. 


On a whim, my son-in-law and his brother served the main course dishes from the buffet; it was a charming bonus and eased the whole process of getting the food to the table.





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