Thursday 6 September 2007

Reminiscing about a trip to Morocco

I made a trip to Morocco two years ago during spring break when I was in business school. I know, Morocco is not your typical spring break locale but honestly, since I was no longer in college but in grad school, I really didn’t need to be doing the whole Cancun / Miami beach party scene. There were about 14 of us on this trip which lasted 8 or 9 days and took us through Casablanca, Rabat, Ouzarzate and Marrakesh. It was my first time in Morocco and I found myself mesmerized by what I saw. In particular, I remember vividly a camel ride through the Sahara dessert to watch the sunrise, the souks that were filled with all kinds of vendors hawking their wares and the food.

While many of my friends quickly got bored with the never-ending supply of tagine, I found that I could eat it day in and day out, each variation more delicious than the next. Thus, when Arabesque by Claudia Roden was released, I knew I had to get myself a copy and try to recreate the flavours of Morocco at home.

One of my favourite recipes from this book is the couscous with lamb, onion and raisins which combines a meltingly tender lamb stew with a caramelized onion and raisin compote of sorts. Although this dish takes a fairly long time to make, due mostly to the need to simmer the lamb till it falls apart when you touch it, the actual preparation involved is fairly easy. The presentation of this dish also looks quite impressive (I'm afraid my photography skills don't do it justice) so it’s a great dish to make whenever you’re entertaining and that’s exactly what I did when M and I had guests over this past weekend.

The first time I made this I accidentally put in an extra teaspoon of cinnamon in the lamb. I was worried that this would make the cinnamon taste overpowering but having since compared this with a version made with the amount of cinnamon called for in the recipe, I would actually recommend adding a little more cinnamon if you like the taste.

Couscous with lamb, onions and raisins
From Arabesque

1 kg lamb, boned shoulder or leg
1.25 kg onions
salt and black pepper
1/2 - 1 tsp ground ginger
2 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
4 cloves
1/2 tsp saffron threads or powder
40g butter
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp clear honey
150g raisins, soaked in water for 20 minutes
200g blanched almonds

Prepare the meat broth in a large pan. Put in the meat, with about 250g of the onions, chopped, and cover with 1.75 litres of water. Bring to the boil and remove the scum. Add salt and pepper, ginger, 1 teaspoon cinnamon and the cloves. Simmer for 1 1/2 hours. At this point, add the saffron and more water if necessary, and simmer for another 30 minutes or until the meat is so tender you can pull it apart with your fingers.

At the same time, prepare the honeyed onion tfaya. Cut the remaining onions in half and slice them. Put them into a pan with 250ml water. Put the lid on and cook over a low heat for about 30 minutes until the onions are very soft. Remove the lid and cook further until the liquid has evaporated. Add the butter and oil and cook until the onions are golden. Stir in the honey and the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon, the drained raisins and a pinch of salt. Continue cooking for another 10 minutes or until the onions caramelize and become brown.

Separately, prepare the couscous according to your favourite recipe.

Fry the almonds in a drop of oil until golden, turning them over, then drain on kitchen paper and coarsely chop about half of them.

To serve, place the couscous in a baking dish or large round platter. Moisten the couscous with a ladle of broth and mix in the chopped almonds. Shape the couscous into a mound, and make a wide shallow hollow in the centre. Put the meat into the hollow, cover with the onion and raisin tfaya, and sprinkle with the remaining whole fried almonds. Serve the broth separately.

Serves 4-6

No comments: