Here is a sure fire recipe for a quick summer meal with all the irresistible exotic flavors of North Africa. The complex aromas of a roasting ras el hanout spiced chicken coming out of your kitchen belies the simple preparation of this no fuss meal.
Ras el hanout, meaning top of the shop in Arabic, is a North African spice mix usually associated with Moroccan cooking. Recipes for the mix vary widely as do the quantities of the spices and herbs used in the mix. What I would call essential ingredients include cumin, coriander seeds, cardamom, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, allspice, ginger, ground chile, paprika, turmeric, pepper, and fenugreek. Fortunately ras el hanout is readily available online from various vendors as are recipes if you want to try making your own mix. That said, a friend of mine gave me a tin of Tesco’s Ras el Hanout which I used for this recipe with, I must say, awesome results. So don’t be shy about buying ras el hanout as home cooks do the same in local markets across North Africa.
Preparation is minimal. Marinate the chicken in a mixture of lemon juice, garlic, olive oil, salt and chopped coriander leaves for several hours. Massage the chicken with a generous amount of ras el hanout spice mix. Roast in the oven for an hour and that’s all there is to it.
I like serving ras el hanout chicken, as pictured, with grilled and fire roasted seasonal vegetables (see recipe here) drizzled with hummus sauce (see recipe here), Greek yogurt, and pomegranate syrup.
A simple warm bulgur pilaf, or couscous, as a side nicely soaks up the spice laced pan juices from the roasted ras el hanout chicken.
Roasted Ras el Hanout Chicken serves 4
- 4 plump chicken legs with thigh attached (skin on)
- 1 large onion, peeled, quartered, and sliced
- 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and grated
- 1 teaspoon flaked sea salt
- 2 tablespoons chopped coriander leaves
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 4-6 tablespoons ras el hanout spice mix
Trim the chicken of excess fat and set aside.
Place the sliced onions in a non-reactive shallow baking dish just large enough to hold the chicken.
Add the lemon juice, garlic, salt, and coriander leaves and whisk together until the salt is dissolved. Then slowly whisk in the olive oil. Add the chicken to the pan and massage the marinade into the chicken and then turn the chicken skin side up. Cover with cling film and refrigerate for several hours.
Remove from the refrigerator about 20 minutes before roasting.
Preheat the oven to 400f/200c
Remove the chicken from the marinade and place in a bowl. Add the ras el hanout mix and massage the mix all over the chicken until the chicken is completely encrusted with the spice mix.
Spread out the onions evenly in the baking pan and place the chicken on top of the onions skin side up.
Transfer the chicken in the oven and roast for 30 minutes.
Remove the pan from the oven and baste the chicken with the pan juices. Add a little water to the pan to keep the chicken moist if needed for another 30 minutes of roasting. Return the pan to the oven and roast for another 30 to 40 minutes. Keep an eye on the chicken and cover loosely with foil if the skin is looking overly dark. Add water as needed. This may seem like a long roasting time, but you want the flesh to be very tender while the skin is dark and crispy.
Remove the chicken from the oven and set aside to rest while you assemble plates for serving.
Serving: Arrange the chicken, grilled and roasted vegetables, and the bulgur pilaf as pictured. Serve with additional hummus sauce on the table along with a small bowl of spiced mixed olives.
Grilling and flame roasting summer vegetables is a gorgeous way to intensify their flavors by caramelizing their natural sugars and adding a smoky accent to the vegetables that transforms them into a center piece for summer suppers. Dress them with an Eastern Mediterranean hummus sauce and a drizzle of pomegranate syrup and you have a dazzling platter of summer’s bounty to bring to the table.
A recipe is hardly called for here other than to highlight the importance of using fresh locally grown vegetables, applying various grilling and flame roasting techniques, and utilizing some bright zesty Eastern Mediterranean saucing suggestions.
It’s really all about the flavors of grilling and roasting so fire up that grill and get smokin!
Eastern Mediterranean Grilled and Roasted Vegetables serves 4 to 6
- 1 small pumpkin or squash
- 4 ears fresh sweet corn
- 4 small eggplants
- 4 medium size green and/ or yellow zucchini
- 2 red bell peppers
- 4 fresh green chilies ( New Mexico or jalapeno)
- 12 garlic cloves, skin on
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 lemon; zest and juice
- flaked sea salt (Maldon Smoked sea salt is ideal if available)
- freshly ground pepper
- fresh thyme leaves
- hummus sauce For hummus recipe (click here)
- Greek yogurt
- pomegranate syrup (available in Eastern Mediterranean shops).
If pomegranate syrup is not available simply reduce pomegranate juice to a syrup consistency.
Pumpkin or Squash: Quarter the pumpkin or squash and remove all the seeds and membrane. There is no need to remove the skin at this point. Brush the pumpkin with olive oil, place on a baking tray skin side down, and put in the oven. Roast until the pumpkin (or squash) is soft but still has a bit of bite, about 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool. When cool cut into bite size pieces. Remove the skin if you have used a thick skinned pumpkin and set the pumpkin aside to use later. For more on roasting pumpkin (click here)
Sweet Corn on the Cob: For the corn, remove the husk and silk and brush the ears with olive oil. Grill the ears over high heat until evenly colored and then set aside to cool. Once cool slice the corn into bite size rounds, divide each round in half. Add the corn half rounds to the tray of roasting pumpkin for at least 20 minutes of roasting time. Then set aside to cool.
Eggplant: The eggplant can be grilled whole or sliced into thick rounds. I prefer grilling the eggplant whole until the skin is completely charred. This method gives the eggplant flesh a beautiful smoked flavor. Simply remove the charred skin once the eggplant is cool and pull the flesh into strips and set aside. The pulled eggplant strips are not particularly attractive but their flavor more than makes up for their haphazard appearance. If you prefer grilling rounds of eggplant, brush with olive oil and grill over high heat until nicely marked, well colored, and soft. For more on roasting eggplant (click here)
Zucchini: For the zucchini, remove the stem and slice into thick strips lengthwise. Brush with olive oil and grill until nicely marked, well colored, and soft but still holding their shape. Slice the strips into bite size pieces and set aside.
Red Bell Peppers and Green Chiles: Roast the red bell peppers and green chiles over high heat or flame until evenly charred. Place in a bowl, seal with cling film, and sweat until cool enough to handle. Then peel off the skin, open lengthwise, remove the seeds and membrane, slice into strips, and divide strips in half and set aside. For more on flame roasting chilies and peppers (click here)
Garlic: Roast the unpeeled garlic in a dry pan until evenly colored. Set aside to cool. Then remove the skin and slice the cloves thinly lengthwise and set aside.
Assembling and Serving the grilled and roasted vegetable platter.
Place all the prepared vegetables in a large bowl. Pour the lemon juice over all and toss with your hands. Then drizzle with the olive oil while continuing to toss. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the thyme leaves and lemon zest and toss until well combined. Cover and refrigerate if not using immediately.
When ready to serve transfer the tossed vegetables to a serving platter and drizzle them generously with hummus sauce. Lightly drizzle Greek yogurt, and finally sparingly spoon pomegranate syrup over all and serve.
Serve with a small bowl of hummus sauce on the table as well as a bowl of spiced mixed olives.
Summer’s baby beets are an ideal starting point for conjuring up some inventive salad bowl mash ups that are sure to brighten up your summer table.
Garden to table without to much fuss is what summer eating is all about. With that in mind I put together this salad with what I found on a recent trip to my local organic farmers market and produce shop. Here in the tropics there is an abundance of vegetables, beautiful salad greens, and fruits to choose from year round. Oranges happen to be in season here at the moment and ideal for this salad, but apples, pears, or even melon would be a tantalizing choice. The romesco dressing is my own adaptation of the classic Catalonian romesco sauce that nicely ties all the salad ingredients together with a burst of nutty spiciness. For further reading on Romesco (click here)
Summer Baby Beet and Orange Salad with Romesco Dressing serves 4
Roasting mature beets in the fall does make perfect sense and delivers a deep beetroot flavor. However my preferred cooking method for these delicately flavored summer baby beets is a gentle boil with the added perk of not overheating your kitchen in the process.
Prepare the romesco dressing while the beets are cooking and refrigerate it so it is will be nicely chilled for dressing the salad later.
For the Salad
- 8 baby beets
- 1 small red onion or large red shallot
- 1 or 2 oranges
- 4 bunches romaine lettuce
- 1 large bunch of arugula (rocket)
- 1 small head crisp iceberg
- freshly ground pepper
- orange zest
Wash the beets and place in a sauce pan on the stove top. Bring to a boil, add salt, and reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Cook the beets until tender, about 30 to 40 minutes. Test by easily inserting a toothpick into the center of the beet. Remove the beets and set aside to cool. Reserve the cooking water to use later.
When the beets are cool enough to handle slip off the skins and trim off the root ends. Thinly slice the beets crosswise and place in a bowl. Drizzle with a little olive oil and set aside.
Remove the skin from the onion (or shallot) and thinly slice crosswise and separate into rings. Place in a bowl, cover with cold water, and refrigerate.
Zest the orange with a vegetable peeler. Very thinly slice the zest lengthwise and then slice very finely crosswise and set aside to use later for the dressing.
Peel the oranges, removing any pith, and slice crosswise into thin rounds. Halve the rounds, removing any seeds and place on a plate, cover, and refrigerate.
Wash all of the salad greens in salted ice water and spin dry. Cut the romaine leaves into bite size pieces and place in the salad bowl. Tear the iceberg and add to the bowl. Snap off any tough arugula stems and discard. Add the whole arugula leaves to the salad bowl unless they are very large, in which case tear them in half. Cover and refrigerate the salad greens until just before you are ready to serve.
Assembling the salad
Remove the bowl of salad greens from the refrigerator. Drain the onions and add to the chilled salad greens. Add the sliced beets and toss using your hands. Add some dressing and toss, adding more dressing as needed with out overdressing. Transfer the tossed salad to a large deep serving platter or individual serving plates. Tuck the sliced oranges into the salad and drizzle a little more dressing over the oranges. Lightly pepper the salad and scatter orange zest over all and serve.
- 8 partially sun dried tomatoes in olive oil (or reconstituted sun dried tomatoes
- 6 plump cloves garlic, skin on
- 1 dried red chile (New Mexico or 2 Thai)
- 1/4 cup sliced almonds, lightly toasted
- 1/2 teaspoon anise seeds, lightly toasted
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Jerez sherry vinegar
- sea salt, about 3/4 teaspoon or to taste
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 3/4 teaspoon honey
- beet cooking water (for thinning)
- 1 tablespoon orange zest
Roast the garlic in a dry pan until lightly colored on all sides. Remove from the pan and set aside to cool. Then peel off and discard the skin.
Using the same dry pan toast the chile on both sides, pressing the chile against the bottom of the pan. Remove promptly, cool slightly, and then slice open lengthwise and remove all the seeds and discard them. Crumble the chile and set aside.
Using the same pan briefly toast the anise seeds until aromatic. Set aside to cool.
And finally, using the same pan, lightly toast the slivered almonds, tossing them continuously, until lightly colored and aromatic. Set aside to cool.
Using a food processor (or blender) combine the sun-dried tomatoes, roasted garlic, crumbled dried chile, toasted almonds, and anise seeds and pulse until broken down and well combined. Add the wine and sherry vinegar and salt and pulse until incorporated.
Then with the motor running add the olive oil in a slow steady stream. The mixture will thicken into a stiff paste like inconstancy. Scrape down the sides of the processor and add the honey and a tablespoon of the beet cooking water. Pulse until combined. Then add another tablespoon beet cooking water and pulse. Continue adding the cooking water a tablespoon at a time until the dressing has the consistency of cream. You want the dressing to coat rather than clump to the salad ingredients.
Once the consistency is to your liking, taste and add more salt if needed. Then transfer the dressing to a non-reactive bowl and stir in the reserved orange zest. Cover and refrigerate until just before serving.
Once again summer has officially arrived and what always comes to mind this time of year are lemons for recipe after recipe after recipe. Be it for chicken, seafood, salads or soups, it is lemons and their juice that really bring so many dishes to life in the summertime.
This is my third recipe for a lemon soup, all inspired by Greece’s Avgolemono in one way or another.
For Greek Lemon Soup with Minted Lamb Keftedes (click here) and Lemon Soup with White Beans and Celeric (click here)
The recipe that follows is for a very simple and quick chilled lemon white bean soup that is perfect as an opener for summer meals. To save time I’ve used canned white beans and eliminated the somewhat tricky Greek custom of whisking eggs into the soup to thicken it which can be a little challenging. This soup can be pulled together with very little fuss in about 30 minutes.
Choose your lemon carefully. A thin skinned unwaxed organic lemon, such as Meyer, is ideal if available. I have used a local Chiangdao lemon here in Chiang Mai.
Chilled Lemony White Bean Soup makes 2 quarts
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 onion, peeled and diced (about 1 cup)
- 6 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- 5 cups chicken or fish stock
- 2 cans (400g each) white beans
- ½ teaspoon dried marjoram or lemon thyme
- sea salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
- zest and juice of 1 lemon
- sliced ciabatta or focaccio
- feta cheese (goat feta if available)
- lemon zest
Before you begin cooking zest your lemon into long strips using a vegetable peeler. Slice the zest strips very thinly lengthwise. Set aside about a quarter of the thin strips to use as garnish later. Slice the remaining strips into half inch batons and set aside. Then squeeze the lemon and set the juice aside.
Select a heavy bottomed soup pot and place it over medium heat on the stove top. Add the olive oil and when hot add the onions and saute for a minute. Reduce the heat to medium low and continue to cook the onions for about 8 minutes or until soft, stirring from time to time. Then add the garlic and cook another 2 minutes. Add the stock, the beans including their brine, and the marjoram or lemon thyme. Add a little salt and pepper and cook at a simmer for 25 minutes, stirring from time to time.
Remove the pan from the heat and puree the contents in the pot with a hand held immersion blender ( or transfer to a blender) and blend until smooth.
Return the pot to the heat and add the lemon zest batons and bring to a simmer. Adjust seasonings adding salt and pepper as needed. Then turn off the heat. Let sit for 10 minutes and then stir in lemon juice to suit your taste; about 6 to 8 tablespoons.
Transfer the soup to containers and cool to room temperature. Then cover and refrigerate.
Preheat the broiler
Before serving, Lightly toast the bread slices and top with thin slices of feta. Place under the broiler until the feta has melted a bit and lightly browned in spots. Remove from the oven and cut bread into bite size cubes.
Give the chilled soup a good stir and ladle into individual soup plates. Place 3 or 4 bread squares
in the center of the soup and garnish with lemon zest strips.