The theme of the night was ambiance.
My friend and fellow foodblogger Ally came over to help make a warm and hearty Moroccan meal for my family. As the vegetables roasted and the chicken simmered, we dimmed the dining room lights and adorned the table with candles and tiny tajine pots. We made a pot of hot mint tea.
During the meal, my family tried to remember Moroccan restaurants we had been to around the world.
What was the one with rose petals on the floor?
Oh yeah, it was downstairs and had candles on the wall?
Remember that one with all the pillows?
That one has pillows too. The one on Robertson?
That one had pillows.
I think it was in New York.
Ok, so they all have pillows.
Then it clicked. Earlier in the week I read the Morocco chapter of New American Chef:
“The real beauty of Moroccan cuisine, however, is the hospitality that is as engulfing as the flavors and aromas.”
Several times the book mentioned the importance of comfort while eating. I know we must have had delicious and filling meals of couscous, merguez, tagines and other Moroccan delights, but what we all remembered most about those restaurants was the ambiance. The low tables, the heavy curtains, the rustic walls, the ceremonious pouring of tea, the rose petals, the pillows…
The meal Ally and I prepared was definitely tasty, and equally important, served with just the right ambiance.
North African meals previously: Tunisian Lamb Stew, Moroccan Roast Chicken and Algerian Carrot Salad
Saffron Chicken Tajine with Prunes
Adapted from Abdel Rebbaj recipe in The New American Chef
- 2-3 Spanish onions, diced
- 6 garlic cloves, crushed
- extra virgin olive oil
- 2 teaspoons fresh grated ginger (or 1 tablespoon dry ginger powder)
- 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
- chicken for 6 people (we did 2 legs, 2 thighs, 3 large breasts)
- 30 prunes (I probably had less than 30, but then added some dried apricots, too)
- 1/4 honey (we decided not to do this)
- 3/4 cup toasted almonds (we did cashews)
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds (forgot to add this)
- handful of cilantro, leaves only, chopped
- handful of flat leaf parsley, leaves only, chopped
In a large casserole pot, saute the onions and garlic in olive oil. Add ginger, saffron, salt and pepper, and cook for 5 to 7 minutes. Add the chicken pieces and simmer over medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Cover with water and simmer for another 50 minutes. (We used a tajine lid on a big pot since our tajine is too small for the amount we were making.)
The recipe says to add the prunes and honey at the end and cook until heated through, but we added them just after the water was brought to a simmer. I wanted them to soften and for flavors to all come together.
(You might want to skim off some fat at this point, especially if you used bone-in, skin-on chicken.)
When the chicken is cooked and the sauce has thickened some, mix in nuts and seeds. Garnish with cilantro and parsley.
Serve with couscous.
Roasted Eggplant, Tomato and Herb Salad
I saw a recipe for ‘eggplant salad’ in The New American Chef, which had eggplant, tomatoes, herbs and spices that all sounded delicious, until I read that they were supposed to be pureed together baba ganoush style. Instead, I kept all the ingredients, but served it as chopped herbs and roasted vegetables with a vinaigrette.
- 2 pounds eggplant
- 1 pound cherry tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 bunch flat leaf parsley
- 1 bunch cilantro
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- lemon wedges
Wash and cut eggplant into bite-sized chunks. Salt and allow to drain in a colander.
Wash and dry tomatoes. Toss whole tomatoes and eggplant pieces with some olive oil, salt and pepper. Place vegetables on a sheet or roasting pan and cook at 375 degrees for 20 minutes or until vegetables are soft, but not mush, and have started to brown.
Chop herbs and put in a large salad bowl with warm vegetables.
With a mortar and pestel, mash garlic with spices and salt. Whisk vinegar and olive oil in with garlic mixture.
Toss salad with vinaigrette and adjust seasoning as necessary. Add lemon juice or serve with wedges on the side.