Spice It Up, Moroccan Style!

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RECIPES BY PAM SAWYER
PHOTOS BY TIM MAR

It’s springtime, and our summer gardens are just starting to show some promise. Even though we’re not quite ready to enjoy our summer recipes, we can easily add some excitement to our late-spring menus. Before the weather warms up and we only want to fire up our grills, there’s plenty of time to enjoy some satisfying indoor dishes. A simple way to create a burst of flavor in our cooking is by using a variety of herbs and spices. The addition of herb and spice blends to recipes can easily elevate ordinary soups, salads, and desserts and also add vibrant color. After expanding the variety and combinations of spices in your pantry, you will be ready to create dishes from all over the world.

For a Moroccan-inspired twist, these recipes will spice up your spring produce with exotic flavors, including ras el hanout and za’atar spice blends. We start out with a fattoush-style salad with sumac-spiked pita crisps, followed by an aromatic Moroccan chickpea soup. Cardamom strawberry Newtons are a light finish to our spiced-up spring meal.

SHOPPING LIST

12 large asparagus spears
5 stalks celery
2 large carrots
3 green onions
10 large radishes
1 medium fennel bulb
2 hearts of romaine lettuce
1 bunch kale
1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves
1 package fresh thyme
1 bunch fresh mint
1 large yellow onion
3 garlic cloves
2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes
4 cups vegetable broth
4 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon pomegranate molasses
1 cup strawberry jam (not preserves)
1 stick unsalted butter
1 large egg
1 pre-rolled frozen puff pastry sheet (about 1/2 pound)
2 10-inch pita pocket bread
1 cup cooked chickpeas

Spices and dried herbs

1 1/2 tablespoons ground sumac
1 tablespoon coriander seed
1/2 teaspoon anise seed or fennel seed
1 teaspoon cardamom seed
1 teaspoon allspice berries
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
1 tablespoon ground turmeric
1 whole nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons white sesame seeds
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano

From your pantry

fine sea salt
ground black pepper
extra-virgin olive oil
rice bran oil
all-purpose flour
vanilla extract
granulated sugar

RAS EL HANOUT SPICE BLEND

Makes 1/4 cup | Start to finish: 10 minutes

Ras el hanout literally translated means “head of the shop,” created from the best spices the Moroccan shop owners had to offer. Each shop typically has its own unique recipe that could include as many as 100 different spices and dried flowers. Ras el hanout works well on meat or fish, and to flavor soups, stews, tagines, rice. and couscous. Creating your own spice blend is simple. Make sure to purchase the freshest spices from a shop that turns their spices often. You can also purchase blended versions of ras el hanout from specialty stores in Seattle, such as World Merchant Spice, and at chefshop.com.

1 tablespoon coriander seed
1/2 teaspoon anise seed or fennel seed
1/2 teaspoon cardamom seed
1 teaspoon allspice berries
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
1 tablespoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon crumbled saffron threads

In a spice grinder, grind the coriander seed, anise or fennel seed, cardamom seed, allspice berries, black peppercorns, and cloves. Transfer the mixture to a small bowl and stir in the remaining ground spices and crumbled saffron threads. Store in an airtight container away from the heat for up to several months.

SPRING FATTOUSH SALAD WITH SUMAC PITA CHIPS

Serves 2 main course salads or 4 side salads | Start to finish: about 50 minutes

This is a Pacific Northwest twist on Fattoush using produce we have in season. Sumac is a Middle Eastern spice which adds a citrusy and tangy flavor profile. Fresh mint and parsley make for a refreshing salad. Simply switch to summer vegetables once the season moves into summer. Sumac can be found at specialty spice shops such as World Spice Merchants, Penzy’s or ChefShop.com.

Sumac pita chips

2 (10-inch) pita pocket bread
2 tablespoons rice bran oil
1 teaspoon ground sumac
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
Vinaigrette (makes about 1/2 cup)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon pomegranate molasses
1/2 teaspoon ground sumac
1 small garlic clove, minced
2 teaspoons fresh mint, finely chopped
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
fine sea salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste

Salad

12 large asparagus spears
2 teaspoons rice bran oil
fine sea salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
2 hearts of romaine, cut crosswise into 1- to 2-inch pieces (about 8 cups)
3 stalks of celery, thinly sliced
3 green onions, thinly sliced (about 1/3 cup)
4 large radishes, thinly sliced
8 large fresh mint leaves, chiffonade
1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves

Heat oven to 375°F

For the pita chips: Split open the pita pockets by slicing along the outer edge with a knife or scissors, and separate the top and bottom halves. Cut each of the halves into 1-inch strips, then crosswise into 1-inch squares. Place the pita pieces in a large bowl; evenly coat with the rice bran oil, sumac, and fine sea salt. Spread out in one layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Bake until lightly toasted, about 5 minutes. Do not over bake — you don’t want the pita to get too crisp. Cool pita chips a few minutes before tossing in the salad.

For the vinaigrette: In a small bowl whisk the lemon juice, pomegranate molasses, ground sumac, garlic, and mint. Gradually whisk in the olive oil until blended. Season to taste with fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

For the salad: Remove the tough woody ends of the asparagus by gently bending the end of each spear until it breaks. Place the asparagus on a baking sheet and evenly coat with the rice bran oil. Season lightly with fine sea salt and fresh ground black pepper. Roast at 375°F for 12–15 minutes, or until lightly browned and tender. Cool. Cut into 2-inch pieces.

In a large bowl, toss together the lettuce, celery, green onions, radishes, mint, parsley, roasted asparagus, and pita chips. Toss the salad with just enough of the vinaigrette to lightly dress. Serve salad immediately with additional vinaigrette on the side.

MOROCCAN CHICKPEA SOUP WITH ZA’ATAR STICKS

Serves 4 to 6 | Start to finish: about 1 hour

Whether you are vegetarian or not, this is a very satisfying soup, and it doesn’t take long to prepare. Packed with an abundance of vegetables, protein-rich chickpeas. and ras el hanout, it will instantly transpose you to a Marrakesh market. Za’atar sticks will quickly impress, yet are simply made with store-bought-ready puff pastry. Serve this dish alongside the fattoush salad. It pairs beautifully with a glass of rose wine.

2 tablespoons rice bran oil
1 large yellow onion, small dice (about 2 cups)
2 large garlic cloves, minced (1/2 teaspoon)
6 large sprigs of thyme, tied in a bundle with kitchen twine
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons ras el hanout spice blend (recipe follows)
1 tsp fine sea salt
2 large carrots, peeled, sliced on the bias, into 1-inch pieces (about 1 cup)
2 large stalks of celery, sliced on the bias, into 1-inch pieces (about 1 cup)
1 medium fennel bulb, medium dice (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces (about 2 cups)
1 cup cooked chickpeas
4 cups vegetable broth
6 large radishes, quartered lengthwise
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup kale, torn into 1-inch pieces

In a wide 6-quart pot, heat the rice bran oil, then add the onions, garlic, thyme sprigs, bay leaves, ras el hanout, and fine sea salt. Saute for a few minutes until fragrant and the onions are soft. Add the carrots, celery, fennel, potatoes, chickpeas, and vegetable broth. Bring up to a simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer gently for 20 minutes. Add the radishes, cover, and continue to cook until vegetables are tender, approximately 10–15 minutes longer. Remove the thyme sprigs and bay leaves, stir in the lemon juice and adjust seasoning to taste. Before serving, place a small handful of kale in each bowl, and ladle the soup over the kale to wilt. Serve immediately with za’atar sticks (recipe follows).

ZA’ATAR STICKS

za'atar sticksMakes about 25 sticks | Start to finish: about 30 minutes, plus thawing time

All-purpose flour for rolling out pastry
1 pre-rolled frozen puff pastry sheet (about 1/2 pound), thawed
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon za’atar spice (recipe follows)

Position an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat oven to 375°F.

Cut two pieces of parchment paper to fit inside a 13-inch by 18-inch baking sheet. Line the baking sheet with one piece of parchment paper. The other piece of parchment paper will be used when preparing the dough.

Thaw out the puff pastry sheet according to package instructions.

Working on a lightly floured surface, roll out the puff pastry horizontally into a rectangle about 9 inches by 12 inches and approximately 1/8-inch thick.

Brush the entire top surface of the puff pastry with half of the quantity of the olive oil. Sprinkle evenly with half of the za’atar spice. Carefully turn the pastry over onto the reserved pre-cut piece of parchment paper. As before, brush the entire surface of the pastry with the remaining half of the olive oil and sprinkle with the remainder of the za’atar spice.

Using a pizza cutter or sharp knife, cut the dough into thin strips, about 9 inches long and 1/2 inch wide. Carefully transfer each strip to the parchment-lined baking sheet, leaving about 1/2 inch be- tween each strip.

Bake in the center of the oven for approximately 20–25 minutes, or until they are puffed and golden brown. Rotate the baking sheet from front to back halfway through baking. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Za’atar Spice Blend

Makes 1/3 cup | Start to finish: 10 minutes

The Arabic word za’atar means thyme. Traditionally, it is a blend of dried thyme, oregano, or marjoram, along with sesame seeds and sumac, which adds a citrusy note. Za’atar is very simple to make and works well when added to vegetables, meats, breads, and dips.

2 tablespoons white sesame seeds
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon ground sumac
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

In a small, dry saute pan over medium heat, dry-toast the sesame seeds until lightly golden, making sure to shake the pan gently to keep the seeds from burning. Transfer to a small bowl to cool completely. Once cooled, combine the seeds with the remaining ingredients and gently crush with a mortar and pestle until the seeds have slightly broken down and the mixture becomes fragrant. Store za’atar in an airtight container until ready to use.

CARDAMOM STRAWBERRY NEWTONS

Makes: 32 1 1/2-inch cookies | Start to finish: about 1 hour, plus chilling time

newtonsThis is one of those favorite childhood cookies. This recipe is a nod to the Fig Newton, but switches for the season by using strawberry jam. Cardamom is commonly used in baking and adds a delicate aromatic note. Black cardamom seeds are small and easy to grind with a mortar and pestle or in a spice grinder. Enjoy these delicately scented cookies with a nice cup of mint or ginger tea.

Cookie Dough

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon ground black cardamom seeds
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg white
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup strawberry jam (not preserves)

Position the oven racks in the middle and lower third of the oven. Preheat oven to 350°F.

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, ground cardamom and black pepper.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl with a hand mixer), cream together the butter and sugar for 2–3 minutes on medium speed. Scrape down the bowl and paddle. Mix in the egg white and vanilla extract. Scrape down the bowl and paddle again.

Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and beat on low speed until the dough comes together. Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces and roll each piece evenly into a rope 12 inches long.

Cut a piece of parchment paper, 12 inches by 16 inches. Working with one rope of dough at a time, lightly flour the parchment paper, and roll out the dough into a 4-inch-wide by 12-inch-long rectangle. The dough will be less than 1/8-inch thick. With a small spatula or spoon, spread 1/4 cup of the jam in a 2-inch-wide band lengthwise down the center of the rectangle. Using the long parchment paper to manipulate the dough, gently fold the dough over to cover half of the jam filling. Fold the other side of the dough over to overlap in the middle by about 1/4-inch. Pinch the seam closed where the two edges of dough meet. Pinch the ends of the log to seal.

Carefully lift the parchment paper with the dough and gently roll the entire cylinder off of the parchment to one of the lined baking sheets, making sure the seam is on the bottom. Repeat with the remaining dough, placing 2 filled dough cylinders on each baking sheet. Gently flatten the cylinders of dough with the palm of your hand.

Bake the cookies until the dough is set and golden, about 20–25 minutes. Rotate the baking sheets from top rack to bottom rack and from front to back halfway through baking. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack. While still warm, using a serrated knife, trim the edges, and slice each cylinder into 1 1/2-inch length bars. Cool completely. The bars will keep, stored airtight, for 5 days. The bars also freeze well for 2 to 3 months.

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