Moroccan food is a perfect choice to serve for a casual supper for a crowd. The aromas, flavors, and colors of the Maghreb all magically spring to life right in front of your guests eyes. For me Moroccan food satisfies all the hallmarks of a truly world class cuisine as well as being food that almost anyone can master right at home in their own kitchen. Like other regional Mediterranean cuisines the emphasis in Moroccan cookery relies on traditional foods and flavors that highlight locally grown produce along with a modest, but assertive, use of poultry, meats, and fish. Harissa is then the tie that binds any Moroccan meal together.
Harissa’s is a rich earthy red chile laced sauce found all over Morocco. (see recipe here). Always on hand in my kitchen as it will most likely be in yours once you have tasted it. Make your own. I promise you, you will become addicted.
Moroccan food really is easy to prepare, mostly in advance, with only a few final flourish that won’t leave you frazzled and exhausted just as your guests arrive. I have included the menu for a Moroccan supper for twelve that I recently cooked for a friend’s birthday party. The flavors of Morocco were duly relished by all!
Summer Moroccan Supper
Hummus (see recipe here) with Bread Sticks
Spiced Moroccan Lemon Chicken
Roasted Pumpkin with Red Onions & Roasted Spiced Cauliflower
Smoked Eggplant with Garlic Flat bread
Fresh cherry frangipane Tart (see recipe here)
Moroccan Spiced Lemon chicken serves 4
- 4 boneless organic chicken thighs
- 1 onion, finely diced
- 3 garlic cloves, finely grated
- 2 tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger root
- 1 tablespoon toasted cumin seeds, coarsely ground
- 1 tablespoon toasted coriander seeds, coarsely ground
- 1 teaspoon toasted black peppercorns, coarsely ground
- ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
- 2 teaspoons sweet paprika (Spanish if available)
- ¼ to ½ teaspoon chile flakes
- 2 teaspoons sea salt, divided
- 2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cups stock (or water)
- 1 lemon 1 tablespoon honey
- roasted red chile strips (optional)
In a large non-reactive bowl combine the onions, garlic, ginger, cumin, coriander, black pepper, turmeric, paprika, chile flakes, 1 teaspoons sea salt, lemon juice, and olive oil. Mix until combined.
Add the chicken thighs to the bowl and massage the marinade into the thighs. Flatten the contents of the bowl so the thighs are completely submerged in the marinade. Cover with cling film and set aside for at least an hour or refrigerate for several hours.
Trim the ends off the lemon and thinly slice the lemon crosswise into rounds. Place the rounds in a skillet in a single layer and add water to just cover. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt and place the skillet over medium heat and Simmer for 5 minutes.
Remove the skillet from the stove and drain off the water. Drizzle the honey over the slices and set aside to use later.
Preheat the oven to 400 f / 200 c Adjust the oven rack to the upper half of the oven.
Bring the marinated thighs to room temperature if they have been refrigerated.
Place the thighs, skin side up, in a deep baking tray or oven proof dish. Pat the remaining marinade over and around the sides of the thighs. Add enough stock to the tray to come about half way up the sides of the thighs. Transfer to the oven and roast for 15 minutes.
Divide the prepared lemon slices in half.
Open the oven, rotate the tray, and place lemon slices on top of thighs. Garnish each thigh with strips of roast red chiles (optional). Close the oven door and roast another 15 minutes.
Then remove the tray from the oven and pour the remaining cooking liquid into a small saucepan. Cover the chicken lightly with foil and set aside to rest.
Place the saucepan of cooking liquid on the stove top and add an additional cup of stock to the pan. Set the pan over medium high heat and cook until reduced by half.
Plate the thighs and spoon pan juices over the thighs.
As suggested, serve with roasted pumpkin (see recipe here) and spiced roasted cauliflower (or other seasonal vegetables), couscous, and harissa as pictured. Place the reduced pan juices in a bowl placed on the table for ladling over all.
In Italian capelli d’angelo con asparagi e limone has such a lovely melodic lilt to it that conjures up sun drenched plates of pasta bursting with all the essential fresh flavors of a summery pasta served up in the Italian countryside. Italians have such a lovely way with food that deliciously captures elegance in simplicity.
This is a very simple dish to prepare and an ideal way to take full advantage of summer’s farm to table garden fresh herbs and produce. I have included chicken in this recipe, but is entirely optional. This is a pasta that shines either way.
Angel Hair with Asparagus, Lemon, and Fresh Herbs Serves 4
- 2 plump chicken breasts, poached (optional)
- 12 oz organic young asparagus stalks, trimmed, steamed, and cut into 2 inch pieces
- 6 oz dry angel hair pasta
- 1/3 cup good quality Italian olive oil
- 2 lemons, zest and juice
- ¾ cup finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano
- sea salt and freshly ground pepper
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled, thinly sliced lengthwise, and again crosswise
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 3 tablespoons thinly sliced Italian parsley leaves
- 2 tablespoons whole baby mint leaves
- wild rocket (arugula) leaves
If you plan to include poached chicken in the recipe prepare it in advance. Fill a medium sauce pan three quarters full of water. Bring water to a full boil, add a teaspoon of salt, and put the breasts in the pot. Bring back to a boil, lower to a simmer and cook about 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, cover with a lid, and set aside for 30 minutes. Then transfer breasts to a bowl to cool. When cool enough to handle, pull the meat apart into bite size strips. Place in a bowl, cover with cooking broth, and set aside, or cover and refrigerate for later use.
Likewise steam the asparagus in advance. Place the trimmed asparagus in a steamer tray, cover and steam until the asparagus is tender, but not limp. Allow to cool, then cut into 2 inch pieces and set aside.
Place a stock pot three quarters full of water on the stove over high heat and bring to a full boil. Lower the heat to a low simmer and hold until you are ready to cook the pasta.
While the water is heating combine the olive oil, about three quarters of the lemon juice, and the Parmigiano in a mixing bowl. Whisk until well combined and the cheese is incorporated. Taste and season with salt and pepper, and more lemon juice if needed to taste. Set aside.
When ready to cook the pasta turn the heat back up to high. When the water reaches a rolling boil add a tablespoon of salt. Stir and add the angel hair. Stir until the pasta separates and floats freely in the boiling water. Cook about 8 to 10 minutes, stirring now and again, until the pasta is al dente. Drain the pasta in a colander just before you are ready to combine it with the sauce .
Place a large skillet over medium heat and add the butter. Once the butter is melted and bubbling add the garlic and saute 1 minute. Then add the poached chicken and saute 3 minutes. Add the asparagus and toss. Reduce the heat to low and pour the olive oil lemon juice cheese sauce over all and toss 1 minute. Add the drained pasta and toss until evenly coated with sauce. Add the parsley, mint leaves, about a tablespoon of lemon zest, and toss until well to combined. Taste and season as needed.
Transfer the pasta to a large serving bowl or individual pasta plates. Try to arrange most of the asparagus on top of the pasta. Place wild rocket on top in the center, add some lemon zest and serve! The pasta needn’t be piping hot. Warm rather than hot brings out the freshness of the combined flavors.
This is certainly one of the Yuctan’s most unique contributions to the world of Mexican cuisine. The Mayan version of tortilla soup that includes two unique ingredients from the Yucatan peninsula, citrus limetta (limon dulce) and habanero chilies. Citron Limetta is neither a lemon nor a lime as we know them, but an aromatic mildly tart lemon lime like citrus fruit with a mild tropical aromatic sweetness native to the Yucatan. The habanero chile is considered one of the hottest chilies in the world and the Yucatan’s most important agricultural export. The flavor has a hint of fruitiness as well as a heat delivery that is unrivaled. Alas, both of these ingredients will be hard to find unless you are lucky enough to have a Central American grocer where you live.
But not to worry, the best substitute for citrus limetta is either using Meyer lemons or Florida Key limes. Their juice mixed with a dash of Seville orange juice nearly replicates the flavor of citron limetta. In a pinch, using lemons or limes with a dash of orange juice will be just fine.
Likewise, the best substitute for the habanero chile is replacing it with 3 or 4 small red Thai thin skinned chiles.
Sopa de Lima is uniquely flavored with spices that have been used in the local cuisine dating back to the early Mayan culture. There are versions of Sopa de Lima found throughout Mexico, but once you have tasted the Yucatecan version you will appreciate the subtlety of this refreshing tropical soup that cools you down in the hot and humid climate of the Yucatan or warms you in the middle of winter further north. A visit to this lush tropical peninsula that sits between the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea lulls you into slowing down and letting the Mayan cultures of the past as well as the present wash over you. Merida is a beautiful colonial town where you can easily fall into the rhythm of the local’s lifestyle and enjoy some of the most beautiful markets and delicious foods in all of Mexico.
Sopa de Lima serves 4
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 4 garlic cloves, roasted, peeled, and chopped
- roots of 3 cilantro stalks, crushed
- ½ teaspoon dried marjoram leaves, lightly toasted
- 8 whole peppercorns
- 2 bay leaves, lightly toasted
- 3 whole cloves
- 2 inch piece cinnamon bark (canella)
- 4 allspice berries
- 1 ½ teaspoons sea salt + more as needed
- 10 cups water plus more if needed
- 1 pound/450g chicken breasts (or turkey breast), skinless and boneless
- 8oz/225g chicken livers (optional)
- 2 teaspoons lard or vegetable oil
- 1 red onion, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- 1 sweet green bell pepper, seeds and membrane removed, thinly sliced into strips and halved
- 1 habanero chile, minced (or 4 small thin skinned Thai red chillies, minced)
- 2 vine ripe tomatoes, skinned, seeded, and diced
- 4 citrus limetta (or alternatives as mentioned above)
- 6 corn tortillas, cut into thin strips
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- ½ cup finely chopped serrano or jalapeno chilies, including seeds
- 2 ripe Haas avocados, sliced
- a handful of fresh cilantro leaves
To make the broth, place onions, roasted garlic cloves, cilantro roots, marjoram, peppercorns, bay leaves, whole cloves, cinnamon bark, allspice berries, sea salt, and water in a stock pot and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
Then add the chicken breasts (or turkey breast which is a local favorite) and lower the heat to a simmer and poach for 20 to 30 minutes. Timing will depend on the size of the breasts. As soon as the breast are tender remove them from the broth and set aside to cool. Once the chicken is cool enough to handle pull the flesh apart into pieces and set aside.
While the breasts are poaching you can cook the chicken livers. Rinse the livers and place them in a small sauce pan. Ladle in just enough broth from the stock pot to cover the livers and bring to a simmer. Cook about 8 to 10 minutes only. Using a slotted spoon transfer the livers to a bowl and set aside. Pour the broth back into the stock pot. When the livers are cool cut them into a fine dice and set aside.
Using a fine mesh strainer, strain the broth into a large bowl. Discard the solids left in the strainer and return the strained broth to a cleaned stock pot and set it back on the stove over very low heat.
To make the soffrito place the lard or vegetable oil in a skillet placed over medium heat. When hot add the onions, garlic, bell peppers, habanero chile or (Thai chiles), and a pinch of salt. Saute for 8 to 10 minutes or until the vegetables are wilted and very soft without browning.
Meanwhile blanche the tomatoes in boiling water for 45 seconds or until the skin begins to split. Promptly remove the tomatoes and set aside to cool a couple of minutes. Then slip of the skin off and discard. Quarter the tomatoes and remove the seeds and core and discard. Finely dice the tomatoes and place them in a bowl along with juices.
Then stir the diced tomatoes into the soffrito and cook a couple more minutes. Then transfer the mixture to the broth in the stock pot and bring back to to a simmer. Continue simmering the soup for about 20 minutes, stirring from time to time.
Meanwhile juice 2 of the citrus limetta and thinly slice the 2 remaining and set aside.
In a small saucepan heat the vegetable oil for frying the tortilla strips. When the oil is hot add the strips a fry until golden, about 45 seconds. Set the fried tortilla strips on paper towels and set aside.
When you are nearly ready to serve add the pulled chicken and the chicken livers (if using) to the simmering soup and cook another couple of minutes.
Best to serve the soup in individual bowls as pictured above. Have all of the finishing condiments ready and within reach.
Just before serving add the citrus limetta juice to the soup and stir to combine. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed.
Ladle portions of the hot soup into each bowl and tuck several slices of citrus limetta into the soup. Put the remaining sliced limetta in a small bowl to serve along with the soup at the table.
Place 3 slices of fresh avocado over each serving and top with tortilla strips. Scatter some serrano or jalapeno chilies and fresh cilantro leaves over each serving and serve promptly! Serve with the remaining serrano or jalapeno chilies in a bowl on the table.
Buen provecho y feliz cinco de Mayo!
We’re already heading into the hottest months of the year here in Thailand and I can’t think of a better way to beat the heat than cooking up a fiery Jamaican Jerk. It’s hot, its ‘spicy, it’s smokin, and it’s a sure bet for breaking into a sweat that’s going to cool you right down Jamaica style!
I realize you all who live further north are still getting battered by some fierce late winter storms, but what better way to escape winter’s travails than chowing down on a seriously hot and lively Jamaican Jerk. Hold onto that thought! This is the kind of in your face spirited food that interjects a partying mood with every mind blowing bite anytime of the year!
Jerk refers to the local Jamaican cooking methods as well as the spice mixture, including locally grown allspice, that is used as a rub or marinade that seasons the chicken or pork before cooking. The allspice tree is an evergreen shrub that grows throughout the Greater Antilles, Southern Mexico, and Central America. The wood is used for cooking and smoking while the allspice berries (pimento) are dried, ground and combined with other spices for the Jamaican Jerk rub or marinade.
Jamaican jerk evolved using cooking methods brought to the island by enslaved Africans combined with indigenous Taino traditional pit roasting. Once metal barrels arrived on the island, vertical barrels were adapted for grilling and smoking the jerk simultaneously. Eventually barrel cookery was reinvented by splitting the barrel horizontally. The bottom half of the barrel is stoked with charcoal and fired up. The hot embers are then topped with allspice wood or sweet wood (laurel). The chicken or pork is then placed on top of the smoldering wood. The upper half of the barrel is then pulled down to create an intense chamber of aromatic smoke emitting from the red hot embers and smoldering wood. This combination of flavors and aromas is what makes Jamaican Jerk so unique and popular in Jerk joints on the island as well as in Jamaican enclaves in the US, Canada, the UK, and other Caribbean islands.
The other essential ingredient for any authentic Jamaican jerk is the island’s notoriously hot Scotch Bonnet chilies! These chilies have a distinct fruity flavor, but it is their 100,000 Scoville units of spicy heat that ranks them as the hottest chilies on the planet! But don’t let that scare you off. Risk is, after all, the very spice of life!
The recipe that follows is for Jamaican jerk chicken for the home cook. Obviously home cooks are not going to have a barrel cooker or maybe not even a grill for that matter. Not to worry! The oven method that follows will deliver an authentic mahogany colored Jamaican Jerk scented with allspice and sweet wood (bay laurel) that you will be proud to serve and a sure fire crowd-pleaser to use year round.
Jamaican Jerk Chicken serves 4
Prepare the marinade mixture and marinate the chicken for at least 24 hours or up to 48 hours before roasting.
Scotch bonnet chilies will be hard to find unless you happen to live near a Jamaican enclave. If they are not available, Habanero chilies are very similar and available in Latino markets. Otherwise using a combination of hot Thai chilies will nicely replicate the flavor and heat of the Scotch Bonnet chilies.
You can use a whole chicken with backbone removed, a chicken cut into pieces, legs and thighs only, or just skin on breasts. Breasts in particular, using this cooking method, are beautifully succulent and juicy.
For the marinade/rub:
- 2-4 Scotch Bonnet chilies or Habanero chilies, seeds removed and chopped
- If Scotch Bonnet or Habanero chilies are not available, use 2 yellow Thai chilies and 6-8 red and/ or green Thai chilies, seeds removed and chopped
- 6 scallions, trimmed and finely chopped
- 4 large garlic cloves, peeled and finely grated
- 1 inch knob of fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
- 1 teaspoon dried crumbled thyme leaves
- 2 tablespoons ground allspice
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon finely ground bay leaves (ground in an electric spice mill)
- 3 tablespoons natural dark brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
- 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
- ¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
- 2 tablespoons dark rum
- 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon sea salt or to taste
Using a food processor or blender, combine the chilies, scallions, garlic, ginger, thyme, allspice, nutmeg, pepper, cinnamon, bay leaves, and brown sugar. Pulse until the mixture is well combined and nearly pureed.
In a small bowl whisk together the vinegar, orange juice, lime juice, rum, and soy sauce until well combined. With the food processor or blender running add the liquid mixture until well combined.
Then with the machine running add the oil in a slow steady stream until just incorporated.
Add the salt and pulse to mix. Taste and add more salt if needed.
Transfer the marinade to a non-reactive bowl or tray large enough to hold the chicken and set aside.
You can either poke holes into the chicken using a skewer or, if using breasts, slash the underside of the breasts with a very sharp knife on the diagonal. This will allow the marinade to penetrate deeply into the flesh.
Massage and press the chicken into the marinade until completely covered. Cover the dish with cling film and refrigerate for 24 to 48 hours.
Remove the marinated chicken from the refrigerator 30 minutes before you intend to roast.
Preheat the oven to 475 f/ 245 c
Select a deep roasting pan and a rack that will fit into the roasting pan snugly.
- ½ cup broken bay laurel leaves
- ¼ cup allspice berries or
- 2 tablespoons ground allspice
- ½ cup water
Scatter the bay leaves evenly over the bottom of the roasting pan. Top evenly with the allspice berries or ground allspice. Add the water to the pan and place the rack into the pan. Transfer to the preheating oven.
Once the oven is up to the required heat, remove the roasting pan from the oven. Shake off excess marinade from the chicken and place the chicken onto the hot rack skin side down. Promptly return the pan to the oven and roast for 15 minutes.
While the chicken is roasting, transfer the remaining marinade to a sauce pan and reduce until the marinade is the consistency of a paste. Remove from the heat and set aside.
After 15 minutes remove the pan from the oven and turn the chicken over, skin side up. Baste generously and return the pan to the oven for 15 minutes. Then open the oven and baste the chicken once again. Turn the pan to ensure even roasting and roast for another 15 to 20 minutes. The chicken should have an almost mahogany charred color. Do not be concerned. The chicken has not burned, the brown sugar has merely darkened the marinade during roasting.
Remove from the oven, cover lightly with foil and rest for 5 minutes before serving.
Traditionally Jerk is served with rice and beans, and sometimes with a spicy fruit salsa as pictured. Be sure to spoon pan juices over the chicken before serving.
Any tropical fruit salsa laced with chilies adds a fresh sweetness to the sliced jerk chicken.