What do you do when you invite 10 people over for dinner and only have eight dining room chairs? Well, when you’re eating Moroccan cuisine, why not do what the Moroccans do: Get cozy on cushions. Granted, most Moroccans use low tables with their cushions, but after 30 seconds of near panic, I decided to throw a blanket and a tablecloth on the floor, along with an abundance of pillows, and call it part of the dinner theme!
Although my daily diet is relatively simple (I’m a rice with dahl fan), I love taking the time to explore the flavors and cooking styles of various cultures. When my daughters surprised me at Christmas with the gift of a beautiful copper couscousiere (a large double boiler–type pot used specifically for steaming couscous) I knew that a Moroccan dinner party was in my future.
I’ve seen pictures of couscousieres before—the copper ones are especially beautiful—but I never really understood the point; I had always just boiled water, let the couscous soak it up, and called it a day. Why use a special pot that requires you to steam the couscous multiple times? All I can tell you is that this couscous is unlike any you’ve ever tasted! I looked up several recipes before I was truly convinced that the way to use one of these things was to mix the couscous with water and a bit of olive oil and steam it for 15 minutes, then remove and fluff it, add more water, and steam again—then repeat the entire process! The difference? Incredibly light and fluffy couscous. The couscous itself actually had a flavor even before I added almonds, cinnamon, and dried fruit. I’m sold—thank you, girls!
The extra-cool thing about the pot’s design is that the bottom part is used for making a stew, perfect to serve over the couscous. For this gathering of friends, two of whom are vegetarian, I made two stews: a vegetarian one (see recipe below) with chickpeas and vegetables, and a lamb one, which I made in another sexy-looking Moroccan pot: a tagine. You’ve probably seen a tagine: It’s a round clay pot with a dome-shaped (sometimes concave) lid. Jeremy, Kripalu’s Chef de Cuisine, and his partner, Amber, contributed a delectable piece of lamb for the dish that came from a lamb farmer right here in the Berkshires. I found a great recipe at Zamouri Spices (a wonderful website). Not only do they sell Moroccan spices and cookware (including couscousieres and tagines), but they also offer authentic recipes, some with video demonstrations.
My intention for this dinner was to make it a communal affair by inviting friends to either come early and cook with me or bring a Moroccan dish to share. My buddy (and former Kripalu Chef de Cuisine) Simeon decided to be adventurous and bring over ingredients for a dish he’d never made before: octopus! Though I always think of lamb, chickpea, and couscous when I think of Moroccan fare, the truth is, given Morocco’s scenic seaside location, seafood plays a big role there. So Simeon set about to make us something none of us had eaten before: octopus and kumquat salad. Wow, it was really, really good!
Our friends Chris (teacher by day, foodie by night) and his wife, Lisa, brought a yummy eggplant dip that was so much better than a typical baba gahnoush. Simeon also made a cucumber, tomato, and feta salad. Jim, my up-for-anything partner and designated master baker, had made what turned out to be perhaps the star dish of the evening: a fig tart with citrus whipped cream. But when we realized that no one had brought bread, we put him in charge of creating an olive loaf as well (he makes baking look easy, but that’s another story). At the last minute, we decided to sauté some lacinato kale with smoked paprika (I highly recommend trying this yourself). And our meal was complete.
After everyone arrived and the floor had been set and the Moroccan mint tea made, we gathered around and took a moment to savor the most important ingredient of the day: our love and gratitude for the bounty of food and friends. The rest is history as they say, especially in this case, as I had to take an oath that certain stories that get shared at my dinner parties, stay at my dinner parties (and well off this blog!). So I’ll end by encouraging you to invite friends over, keep it casual—sit on the floor if you must—and share stories of travel, food, and love. I promise you’ll get to know your friends, yourself, and the wonders of food a bit better.
Share a recent cooking adventure with us!
Here is the recipe from Deb’s Moroccan feast:
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon turmeric
2 teaspoons coriander
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1 cinnamon stick
1 small onion, medium diced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cups canned diced tomatoes
4 to 6 cups vegetables, large chopped (potatoes, carrots, peppers)
2 cups cooked (or canned and rinsed) chickpeas
1/4 to 1/6 cup golden raisins
2 pinches of saffron soaked in 2 cups of water
Salt and pepper to taste
Cilantro to garnish (optional)
Heat oil over medium in a large pot, clay pot, or slow cooker. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the garlic and ginger and stir for 15 seconds. Stir in cumin seeds; then add the turmeric, coriander, and paprika. Sauté 1 minute to open the spices and infuse the oil.
Add the cinnamon stick and onions to the spice mixture and sauté until onions start to tan, about 2–3 minutes. Add a pinch of salt and the tomato paste, and sauté another 2–3 minutes. Add the diced tomatoes, cut vegetables, chickpeas, and raisins, and stir to combine. When vegetables start to sweat, add a few pinches of salt and the saffron water. Cover pot, bring contents to a boil and then reduce heat to a low simmer.
If you are using a slow cooker, pick the heat seating that will coordinate with your desired serving time. If you are using a clay pot, place the pot in a 250 degree oven and allow to slow cook for 2 – 2 ½ hours. Alternatively set the oven at 375 degrees for 1 hour. If cooking on the stove top, reduce heat to a low temperature and cook until vegetables are tender, about 45 – 60 minutes. In all cases, add more water as needed or desired. Adjust seasoning near the end and garnish with cilantro.