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SaltWire Dinner Party: Enjoy the flavours of fine North African cuisine

The North African table is rich in colour and flavour. 123RF STOCK PHOTO
The North African table is rich in colour and flavour. 123RF STOCK PHOTO

This month, I’ve been on a culinary journey around the world, embracing the flavours of Mexico, the Middle East and now North Africa.

North Africa cuisine has yet to permeate Atlantic Canada culture, or North American for that matter. While it remains a mystery to many of us it shouldn’t be intimidating. According to Abdelmalek Saoudi, co-owner of Casablanca Authentic Moroccan Cuisine in Halifax, “the Moroccan table is full of spices but it isn’t ‘spicy.’ It’s also completely unique.”

Spices such as cinnamon, cumin, paprika, saffron, ginger, coriander, paprika and others figure prominently in dishes from northwestern Africa. Saoudi says “ras el hanoot, which is often a blend of up to 12 spices form the base of many dishes. Each region within Morocco has its own interpretation and even individual chefs have their own recipes.”

As for a meal to entertain friends and family, Saoudi describes a dinner party like a wedding. Guests would be welcomed with dishes such as briouates (savoury pastries often filled with chicken or seafood), olives and salads. For the main course he recommends pastilla (sort of a Moroccan version of chicken pot pie) or tagine. Saoudi serves his lamb tagine with apricots, beef tagine with prunes and chicken with lemon confit but says it’s all up to individual interpretation. We’ve accompanied our tagine recipe with couscous but Saoudi explains “couscous is traditionally only served on Fridays, after prayer.”

Finally, for dessert Saoudi suggests serving a collection of sweets with seasonal fruit. His favourite is watermelon as he says “Morocco has the most flavourful watermelon in the world” but he recommends whatever fruit is in season.


The Menu

  • Starters: Marinated Olives & Warm Eggplant Dip (Zaaloouk)
  • Appetizer: Grilled Carrots with Chermoula Sauce
  • Main: North African Braised Chicken
  • Dessert: Almond Cookies (Ghriba)

The pairings

Much of North Africa is Muslim, as such alcohol is not typically found on the dinner table for most of the population. Saoudi says “most often soft drinks are enjoyed during the meal and teas served as digestif.” However, thanks to the French Imperialism there have been periods of time when countries such as Morocco, Tunisia and particularly Algeria where amongst the largest producers of wine in the world, albeit producing wine not primarily for domestic consumption but to blend into colour deficient French wines seeks a boost of character.

Even now, these countries continue to produce a modest amount of wine and are still influenced by French traditions. Grape varieties such as Syrah, Carignan and Cinsaut are popular. While we don’t have North African wines for sale in Atlantic Canada, look to Southern France for inspiration or New World countries producing wines from Southern French grape varietals, such as Viognier. For beer serve a fragrant India Pale Ale (IPA) or Double IPA. Of course, you can simply omit the alcohol and enjoy mint tea.

Mint Tea

Mint tea is typically served after dinner as a digestif. 123RF STOCK PHOTO - SaltWire Network
Mint tea is typically served after dinner as a digestif. 123RF STOCK PHOTO - SaltWire Network

Add 3 green tea bags to a teapot, followed by a cup of boiling water. Let steep for a few minutes. Add 1/2 cup sugar and 2 to 3 cups of mint leaves. Top with 3 more cups of boiling water. Let steep for another 3 to 5 minutes. Serve warm in heat proof glasses.

  • Gerard Bertrand Cotes du Roses (NSLC, $19.98, NLC, $19.98)
  • This Grenache-based pale pink hued wine is subtly fragrant
  • Guigal Cotes du Rhone Rouge (NSLC, $25.99, NLC, $26.98)

The Recipes

North African Spiced Olives

Makes 2 jars

3 cups mixed olives

1 lemon, zest, juice

1 tablespoon harissa*

4 cloves garlic

4 sprigs thyme

1/2 cup olive oil

Directions: Toss olives with lemon zest and harissa. Place in mason jars. Add 2 cloves garlic and 2 sprigs thyme to each jar and equal amounts of lemon juice and olive oil. Seal and let marinate for 48 hours before serving.


Eggplant Dip (inspired by Zaaloouk)

A warm dip of roast eggplant and tomato makes an excellent appetizer for a dinner party. 123RF STOCK PHOTO - SaltWire Network
A warm dip of roast eggplant and tomato makes an excellent appetizer for a dinner party. 123RF STOCK PHOTO - SaltWire Network

 

  • 2 eggplants, peeled, cubed
  • 5 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp each paprika, cumin
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 6 vine ripened tomatoes, peeled, seeded, chopped
  • Fresh cilantro, chopped, to serve
  • Pita, or other flat bread, to serve

Directions: Preheat oven to 400 F. Toss eggplant with garlic, 3 tablespoons olive oil and salt. Roast for 40 minutes, or until soft. While the eggplant is roasting place remaining olive oil in a pot set over medium-low heat. Add paprika, cumin and garlic. Sauté until fragrant (about 30 seconds). Add the tomatoes. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes. Add the roasted eggplant. Mash with a potato masher. Finish with cilantro. Serve warm with pita bread or crusty bread.


Grilled Carrots with Chermoula Sauce

Chermoula Sauce recipe provided by Chef Greg Burns, GIO

Ingredients (sauce):

  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tsp coriander
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 2 tsp red chili flakes
  • 1 cup chopped parsley
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 lemon, zest and juice

Ingredients (carrot salad):

  • 2 bunches carrots, peeled, sliced lengthwise, carrots tops washed and reserved.
  • 2-3 tbsp olive oil
  • Carrot top pesto*
  • 4 tbsp pine nuts, lightly toasted
  • Microgreens, optional, for garnish

Directions: To make the sauce add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to a small saucepan set over medium heat. Add shallots and sauté for 1 minute until soft. Add the garlic and dry spices and sauté for 30 seconds. In a bowl combine the chopped parsley, salt, and lemon juice and zest. Add the toasted shallots, garlic and spices to the bowl and mix. Blanch carrots in salted water for 8 to 10 minutes. Dry on paper towel. Set a griddle or cast iron pan over medium-high heat. Season carrots with salt. Add olive oil to pan. Grill carrots for 2 minutes per side. Work in batches, and add more oil, as required. To plate add a few generous tablespoons of chermoula sauce to plates. Top with equal amounts of carrots. Top each with a generous tablespoon of carrot pesto, a sprinkle of pine nuts and finish with microgreens.

*Blanch carrots top for 2 to 3 minutes in salted water. Set on paper towel to drain excess water. Place the blanched carrot tops, 1 tsp minced garlic, juice of 1/2 lemon, 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts, 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and 3 tablespoons olive oil in a blender. Blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.


Chicken and Apricot Tagine

Tagine is a classic dish to serve as a main course. 123RF STOCK PHOTO - SaltWire Network
Tagine is a classic dish to serve as a main course. 123RF STOCK PHOTO - SaltWire Network

 

6 servings

  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 2 tsp coriander, ground
  • 2 tsp cumin, ground
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 6-8 chicken thighs
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-inch piece fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp saffron threads
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 lemon, juice, zest
  • 1 cup dried apricots, chopped
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • Honey roasted carrots, to serve
  • 2 tbsp chopped parsley, to serve

Directions: Mix together the flour, paprika, 1 teaspoon coriander, 1 teaspoon cumin, salt and ground ginger. Add chicken to mixture and toss. Heat oil in a Dutch oven or tagine over medium high heat. Working in batches, brown the chicken on both sides. Remove from the pan. Add the onions and cook 5 to 8 minutes, until browned. Add the garlic, grated ginger, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1 teaspoon ground coriander, cinnamon and saffron. Cook another 1-2 minutes. Add the stock and lemon juice. Scrape the bottom of the pan to remove any browned pieces. Return the chicken to the pan and add the apricots. Drizzle the honey on top. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cover. Cook 30-45 minutes until tender. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add in lemon zest and chopped parsley to serve. Accompany with couscous or rice.


Honey Roasted Carrots

  • 1 lb small carrots, peeled, trimmed
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • Pinch salt
  • Pinch pepper

Directions: Preheat oven to 400 F. Toss carrots in olive oil and honey. Season with salt and pepper. Roast for approximately 30 minutes.


Almond Cookies (Ghriba)

Almond cookies and other sweets are typically served with fresh seasonal fruit for dessert. - Contributed
Almond cookies and other sweets are typically served with fresh seasonal fruit for dessert. - Contributed

 

  • 3 cups almond flour (or finely ground almonds)
  • ⅓ cup white sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 cup powdered sugar

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 F. Place ground almonds, sugar, eggs, butter, baking powder, rose water and salt in a bowl. Mix until a dough is formed. Remove a heaping tablespoon of dough and form into a ball. Roll the ball in the powdered sugar. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Repeat until all the dough has been used. Lightly press on them before placing oven. Bake for 15 minutes.


Mark DeWolf is a connoisseur of all things food and drink. He's a creative director with SaltWire and local fare is his specialty. You can subscribe to his Follow a Foodie newsletter here.

Watch Mark whip up seasonal plates in his video series, In a Jiffy, and go deeper with food trends and kitchen challenges weekly.

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