There’s Indian food and then there’s Indian food. If you know what I mean.
Everyone seemed excited with my plans for an Indian Easter, but I had my doubts. New recipes all over the place. Would they like it? Would it be too authentic (sans fiery heat, of course)? Would it be too healthy? (ha!) Too many beans? (never!)
Would my Mom, the coconut-hater, taste the coconut in the Mulligatawny?
[NOOOOO!! I honestly had my doubts..]
Would my Mom, the cauliflower-hater, resist the cauliflower in the pakoras?
[NO!! But I couldn't taste it either, so I wasn't worried]
Do we have any closet cilantro-haters?
[NO!!! Thank goodness, we all got those good genes!]
Would anyone shun the tofu in the chocolate-tofu mousse pie?
[NOOO! Mom even said she wanted the recipe]
Just in case, though, I decided to break out one of my family’s favourite potluck dishes: a curried couscous pilaf salad. A salad I knew they would like. Throughout its reign at barbecues and potlucks, the recipe has been requested numerous times but it was put on the backburner for a while. Quinoa is the new potluck food, shunning couscous. A bit of googling taught me the recipe was originally from Canadian Living back from July 1994!
With some whole wheat couscous still lurking in my pantry, I decided to break it out for the gang. I put my own twist on the recipe, but only made minor changes (currants for raisins, toasting the spices, etc). You could easily substitute quinoa or millet for this salad, as well.
This is a quick salad to put together, but you still get the benefits from assembling each part separately. First, toast your couscous/quinoa/millet and cook it with stock to up its flavour. Next, saute some onions and add some zip from the toasted curry powder, cumin and a hint of cinnamon. Peas make this a filling salad and currants add a touch of sweetness to balance out the dish. I can see why this is such a knock-out salad at potlucks!
This is my submission to Ivonne at Cream Puffs in Venice for Magazine Mondays, to Ricki’s Weekend Wellness to this week’s Presto Pasta Nights, hosted by Alisha and to Deb for this week’s Souper Sundays.
I will admit that I was a bit sick of Moroccan cuisine after being profoundly immersed into it for 2 weeks straight. For every meal, I would seek out a new dish that I hadn’t yet tried. As we meandered from Casablanca, to Marrakesh, through the Berber inland towards the Sahara desert, up to Fes and Meknes, there was always something new to try. However, it was mostly meat. I remember asking if I could get a couscous dish without meat, and the waiter told me I could have it with chicken instead. That’s not what I had wanted, either, actually.
My friend and I scoped out some vegetarian restaurants (Clock Cafe in Fes, and Earth Cafe in Marrakech), but vegetarians options (nevermind vegan options) were hard to come by. So, I plunged myself into Moroccan culture, and ate like the Moroccans. And ate my meat quota for the year.
However, perusing the web, there are bountiful recipes with exotic Moroccan-spiced vegetarians dishes. I just didn’t find them in abundance while in Morocco!
While I still have yet to recreate the traditional flavourful and spicy chickpea and lentil Moroccan soup (harira), I busted out nearly everything in my spice cabinet to create this ultimate winter couscous (christened as such by Yotam Ottolenghi). I adapted the recipe I found in Plenty, but a similar recipe was originally posted in his column at the Guardian.
At the same time both savoury and sweet, it embodies my favourite aspects of Moroccan cuisine. The base of the vegetable tagine is made of butternut squash, carrots, parsnips and chickpeas and it is pleasantly spiced with cinnamon, ginger, sweet paprika, bay leaves, turmeric and chili flakes. It could be made even hotter with harissa, but I opted to keep it more tame. The sweetness comes from the dried apricots which are simmered in the broth with the spiced vegetables. Feel free to sprinkle with fresh lemon juice, or use the suggested preserved lemon.
Couscous is prepared separately, but once combined, you have a good textural contrast. Chopped cilantro adds the fresh, finishing touch.
Sometimes cooking in your own kitchen brings you places you never thought. And in this case, my kitchen is a better place to experiment with vegetarian Moroccan cuisine. And trust me, there will be plenty more. :)
I have written about the Nutrition Action Health Letter before, which I describe as the consumer reports of healthy food. I used to borrow my mom’s old copies, but since she has stopped her subscription, I have resorted to reading the free online archives. I am so glad I did because I stumbled upon their vegetable ratings from early 2009. They ranked vegetables according to how much a serving of each vegetable contributes to our dietary reference intake of calcium, iron, potassium, folate, vitamin C and vitamin K, plus the percentage contributing towards our daily value of iron and the daily targets for lutein and other carotenoids. Certainly there isn’t a bad vegetable (mushrooms? eggplant? I still love them!) but there are superstars, too.
Their winner of the veggies, by a landslide at that, was KALE! With just a cup of cooked kale, you exceed your daily requirements for vitamin K (1300%!) and vitamin A. It is also an excellent source of vitamin C and manganese.
I still had two pounds of kale left over from the Cranberry Bean Mole with Roasted Butternut Squash, so I searched for more ways to use kale. I had bookmarked Susan’s African Pineapple Peanut Stew a long time ago, and I stumbled upon it again while flipping through Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home. Unlike the mole, this was a quick and easy dish to prepare.
This is an unusual dish, not a typical stew by far, but let me assure you that this tastes great. The flavours work wonderfully together. First and foremost, this is a kale stew. I enjoyed the coarse chopped kale, as there was a nice texture to bulk up the dish. Others may prefer it shredded, like in a curry, so I’ll let you investigate. Sweet, crushed pineapple is added, and it is cooked in a slightly spicy, creamy peanut butter sauce. Be careful when you add in the peanut butter – it can do a doozy to the bottom of your frypan. You might not think this is filling, but trust me the peanut butter does the trick here.
Continuing with an African theme, I served this alongside couscous, and found that this really made the dish stand out. The little pellets of couscous paired well with the creamy kale stew. This could be served with rice or any other grain you have on hand.
Creamy Kale Soup at Vegan Yum Yum
North African Chickpea and Kale Soup at Fat Free Vegan
Fall Minestrone with Kale and Butternut Squash from The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters
Quinoa, White Bean and Kale Stew at Post Punk Kitchen
Creamy Millet and Kale Salad by YumUniverse
Spicy Kale and Wheat Berry Salad at Phoo-D
Kale, Chickpeas and Israeli Couscous by Cate’s World Kitchen
Spicy Chickpeas with Ginger and Kale in a Lime Yogurt Sauce at Dana Treat
Caribbean Gingered Squash, Rice and Kale at Fat Free Vegan
Pennette with Kale Ragu at Eats Well With Others
Has anyone else ever had arguments about whether couscous is a pasta or a grain? It is probably just me…
I am in the couscous is a pasta camp, and have tried to sway others. Sometimes we just agree to disagree and I don’t really feel like arguing about something a bit trivial. We can both agree that couscous is delicious, though.
Couscous is made from coarse durum wheat semolina, which comes from the endosperm of the durum wheat kernel. The traditional recipe uses durum wheat and semolina with a bit of salt. Water is added by the handful to moisten the mixture. The couscous pellets are sieved multiple times.
It sounds like pasta to me, but created with a healthier whole-grain flour. Compared to traditional pasta, it has a 25% reduced glycemic load per gram and contains higher amounts of protein and vitamins like riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, and thiamin.
Couscous is prominent in North African cuisine, including Morocco, but also Algeria, Libya and Tunisia. Each country flavours it differently – Moroccans flavour it with saffron and use it as a side to their tagines, Algerian made add tomatoes and Tunisians made add tomatoes. Earlier this year, I made a side of cinnamon-scented couscous with my Moroccan Lamb Tagine with Dates and Almonds and really appreciated how it became fluffy with the additional steam in the oven. Couscous is easily found commercially-made, and available in different sizes: fine, medium and coarse.
This time, I wanted to try something different with Israeli (pearl, or coarse) couscous. Adapted from Raising the Salad Bar by Catherine Walthers, I liked how the roasted vegetables paired with the plump couscous, and the lemon added a lightness and brightness to the dish.
I love having a food blog because it chronicles what I eat. And so I know this to be true.
This is monumental: I made my second meat dish since I started the blog!
(The first being sinfully delicious German beef rolls).
I am not vegetarian, but mainly prepare vegetarian dishes at home. I love fish, so that definitely prevents me from becoming a vegetarian. I have been going through many Middle Eastern cookbooks and food blogs, and was itching to make a tagine. Slow-simmered meat with savoury ingredients sounded really good and I have yet to come across a good vegetarian alternative yet. Claudia Roden’s Moroccan Lamb Tagine with Dates and Almonds screamed out at me. “Make me!”, it said.
I obviously have a thing or two to learn about cooking meat, though.
So what does boned mean? I figured deboned meant meat without a bone, and boned meant with a bone.
When I went to buy 3 lb of boned lamb shoulder for the tagine, I bought bone-in lamb shoulder. That’s what the recipe says, right? Well, when I came home, my mom was not pleased. It was $18 but that wasn’t what displeased her. Boned lamb means WITHOUT bones. Gah! Thankfully she helped rid the excess fat and bone so it was ready for the tagine.
Technically a tagine is made in a tagine clay pot and Roden explains in Arabesque that a lidded, heavy-bottomed casserole or stainless steel pan is preferred for making a tagine. I feel that a large wide pan is preferred so you have a single layer of meat and this limits the amount of water needed to cover the meat to allow it to simmer. This water is completely reduced by the end, producing a thick, rich sauce. My pot was a bit narrow so we had a lot of liquid. We ended up taking out the meat and boiling the heck out of the sauce.. I mean we reduced the sauce over high heat. ;)
After nearly 2 hours of simmering and sputtering, sometimes being watched, oftentimes not, we were able to enjoy this succulent lamb tagine. It was wonderful. The lamb was melt-in-your-mouth and the cinnamon, honey and dates made a delicious sweet and savoury sauce. Roasted almonds add the finishing crunch.
As a side to the tagine, we served couscous. But this wasn’t any couscous. I always thought you made couscous by adding boiling water, covering for 10 minutes and then fluffing it with a fork. I always found it bland and dry, so I was hoping to spruce things up a bit. I noticed Roden had a different way of preparing basic couscous, including a 15-20 minute bake in the oven, and when I stumbled upon a spiced couscous side at Confessions of a Cardamom Addict, I also added in cinnamon and raisins to the mixture. It was definitely not bland and dry. It was mighty tasty.
Together, we had a winning combo.
If anyone has a recommendation for a great vegetable tagine, I am all ears. :)
Here is an interesting twist for breakfast: a bowlful of pearl (Israeli) couscous with coconut, almond and honey. I found it difficult to find Israeli couscous, but eventually found it at Loblaws in a Jewish neighbourhood. I am not really sure how it is related to the traditional, smaller couscous, but let me state this: it is NOT a grain. Many people erroneously believe couscous holds healthy properties, but it is merely pasta . Israeli couscous is a wheat-based pasta (with wholewheat/wholemeal varieties too), similar to orzo, and reminds me of tapioca pearls. They grow in to large plump balls of pasta-goodness.
Toasting Israeli couscous gives it a nice nutty taste, which is perfect when it is paired with coconut and almonds with a bit of sweetness from honey. I based the recipe from A Sweet Spoonful and while it doesn’t look like it feeds four, it does as it is quite heavy with the coconut milk. Like most breakfast dishes, it is best the day it is made.