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.
This will be my fifth post on beets! Obvious enough that I have a real passion for these gorgeous garnet red gems plucked out of the ground. When roasted their sweet earthy flavor and aroma affirms their comforting and nourishing simple goodness.
Very easy to prepare. Basically from oven to table is all there is to it.
Here I have roasted the beets, unpeeled garlic, and a few sprigs of thyme tossed with extra virgin olive oil. The preserved lemon and oil cured olives are added towards the end of the roasting. Served warm from the oven, leaving the skins on the beets, with a splash of preserved lemon brine, a sprinkle of toasted cumin seeds, and a light shower of smoked sea salt.
Roasted Beets with Preserved Lemon
For preserved lemons (see here)
- 8 medium sized beets
- 16 garlic cloves, skin on
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup preserved lemon strips (or 1 tablespoon lemon zest)
- ½ cup small oil cured black olives
- 1 tablespoon preserved lemon brine (or lemon juice)
- ½ teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted
- Maldon smoked sea salt (or flaked sea salt)
- freshly ground black pepper
- fresh flat leaf parsley sprigs.
Preheat the oven to 400f/210c
Cook’s note: A small ( 5”x 1½ “) soft bristled laundry brush, which costs a pittance, is indispensable in my kitchen and ideal for scrubbing vegetables. No need to pay a handsome price for a fancy one at a cookery shop.
Place the beets, garlic cloves, and thyme sprigs in a baking pan just large enough to hold all the ingredients. Pour the oil over all and toss with your hands, being sure to evenly coat all the ingredients. Cover the pan with foil, crimping the foil around the edges of the pan to make a tight seal.
Place in the oven and roast for 45 minutes to1 hour or until the beets are soft and tender when pierced with a wooden skewer.
After testing, add the preserved lemon and olives and toss to combine with the other ingredients. Reseal the pan with the foil and roast another 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and set aside for 10 minutes.
There is no need to peel the beets before serving. The skin is very soft and adds a hearty earthiness to the overall flavor of the finished dish.
Serving: Remove the foil from the pan, pick out the thyme sprigs, and discard. Add the toasted cumin seeds and toss. Splash the preserved lemon brine (or lemon juice) over all and toss. You can then serve on a platter or plate individual servings. Finish with the flaked salt, freshly ground black pepper, and fresh parsley sprigs.
Note: A delicious flourish for this dish is a scattering of crumbled creamy goat cheese that softens over the warm beets!
Harissa is a Tunisian hot red chile sauce that evolved after the Spanish introduced chillies from the new world into North Africa and the Mediterranean in the mid 1500’s. Harissa’s popularity spread across North Africa, including Libya, Algeria, and Morocco and eventually across the Middle East with adaptations for regional tastes.
The basic ingredients for harissa are, first and foremost, chilies, both fresh and dried, as well as garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, cumin and coriander seeds, and salt. Variations may also include caraway seeds, mint, tomatoes, and even cinnamon. This is hot stuff and meant to be, so don’t be timid! Used with grilled meats and fish, stirred into soups and tagines, and especially favored as a condiment with couscous.
Hariisa is produced commercially, but I have yet to taste one that even approaches a freshly made harissa. There is, to be honest, some preparation involved, but the rewards are well worth the effort. You may want to make larger batches and freeze for later use.
Harissa makes 1 ¼ cups
- 3 long fresh hot red chilies
- 1 small red sweet pepper (optional)
- 1 vine ripe tomato
- 4-6 long dried hot red chilies
- 6 small hot red dried chilies
- 4 plump garlic cloves, skin on
- ½ teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted
- ½ teaspoon coriander seeds, toasted
- ¼ teaspoon caraway seeds, toasted (optional)
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- 3/4 teaspoon sea salt + more as needed
- 3 to 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil + more for preserving.
Before you begin, you will want to flame roast the fresh chilies, bell pepper, (if using) and tomato, as well as dry toast the dried chilies, garlic, and seeds.
Flame roast the fresh hot red chilies, sweet bell pepper (if using), and vine ripe tomato before you proceed with the recipe. (see here). Once they are roasted and sweated, peel off the skins of the chilies and bell pepper, remove the seeds, and chop. Peel the tomato and remove the seeds, pith and juice, and mince.
Prepare the dried chilies. Place them in a dry hot skillet over medium heat, pressing them against the bottom of the skillet with a spatula for about 30 seconds. Flip them over and again press them against the bottom of the skillet for another 30 seconds. Promptly remove them and set aside to cool. Once they are cool, slit them open, remove stems and most of the seeds and place them in a bowl. Pour boiled water over them and set aside for 20 minutes to soften. Drain off the water and finely chop.
And finally, lightly toast the garlic cloves, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, and caraway seeds (if using) in a dry heated skillet until they are aromatic and lightly toasted. Peel the skin off the garlic and set aside. Finely grind the toasted seeds in a mortar and set aside.
You are now ready to proceed with preparing the harissa.
Place the chopped flame roasted fresh chilies, chopped flame roasted sweet pepper (if using), chopped tomato, chopped toasted dry red chilies, and the roasted garlic in a food processor. Pulse until the ingredients resemble a course puree.
Add the toasted ground cumin, coriander, and caraway (if using), lemon juice, and salt and pulse until well combined. Then, with the machine running, begin adding the olive oil in a slow steady stream until the harissa is thick and relatively smooth. Taste, adding more salt as needed and pulse until combined.
Transfer the harissa to a sterilized jar and jiggle the jar to even out the surface. Pour a little olive oil over the surface which seals in the flavor. Seal the jar tightly and refrigerate for up to 6 weeks or more.
Preserved lemons are most often associated with Moroccan cooking, but a long tradition of preserving lemons is found across North Africa, the Middle East, as well as South and South East Asia. The process is remarkably simple. Salted lemons are placed in a preserving jar, compressed, covered with additional lemon juice, sealed, and set aside for a month or so to soften. The resulting flavor is intensely lemony, while mildly sweet sans tartness, with heavenly perfume that intoxicates the senses. It is a cooks dream! A secret ingredient that elevates any dish to the extraordinary!
You need not limit yourself to using preserved lemons in Moroccan, Middle Eastern, or Asian traditional dishes either. Apply them as you would to any dish that you might normally add a splash of lemon juice to bring it to life. You will be amazed that such a subtle slight of hand can produce a whole new perspective to cooking with lemons. A staple you will want to have on hand in your larder at all times, keeping in mind it will take a month to replenish as your cache dwindles.
Needed: a sterilized preserving jar with tight fitting lid.
- 6 fresh lemons
- crystalline sea salt (or kosher salt)
- 2 lemons, juiced as needed
Choose the freshest unblemished lemons you can find. Scrub them with a soft brush under running water.
Heat some water until hot, but not boiling. Place the scrubbed lemons in a bowl and pour the hot water over them and set aside for a day. Repeat the same process for 2 more days. This will soften the skins and make the lemons more porous for preserving, especially if the lemons are thick skinned.
Pat the lemons dry and using a sharp knife cut deep slices into the lemon lengthwise, starting just below the stem and cutting to within a quarter inch of the bottom. This will hold the lemons together for salting. Repeat, slicing the remaining three sides of the lemon and set aside. Repeat, with five more lemons, reserving 2 for juicing later.
Using your fingers press salt into the slices in the lemons generously.
Sprinkle a little salt in the bottom of the preserving jar and press 2 of the lemons into the bottom of the jar, using a wooden pestle or a wooden bean masher if you happen to have one. Press the lemons until they release their juice. Sprinkle a little salt over the lemons and add 2 more lemons on top. Press them vigorously, again until they release their juice. Sprinkle with salt and add the remaining 2 lemons and press them down into the jar. Continue pressing until the lemons are tightly packed into the jar and their juices nearly covering them.
Add enough squeezed lemon juice to completely cover the lemons. Give them one more final press, seal the jar and set aside.
For the next several days, open the jar and press the lemons down into the jar daily, redistributing the juice around the lemons. From this point on simply turn the jar upside down each day for about a month.
To use the lemons once they are well preserved, remove a lemon and cut into quarters. Remove the pulpy flesh (which can, by the way, be used to flavor soups and stews, as can the brine) and seeds. Slice the lemon skins into strips to be used in whatever applications you have in mind.
Reseal the jar and set aside for several months at room temperature. Occasionally, a white mold may appear on parts of the lemons that are not submerged in the brine. It is harmless! Just remove it should it appear.
Voila! A whole new ingredient to add to your kitchen repertoire.