MarocMama

eat well, travel often, dream big!

Couscous is one of the national dishes of Morocco however, it’s a dish that I rarely make.  This is not because I don’t love it (because I do!)  It does take some time to make the couscous and it also takes a little practice to get the flavors right.  I have been told that you can use the instant couscous that is much like minute rice, BUT I really don’t think it tastes the same.  If it’s your first time making couscous this might not be the best time to have 20 guests over for a dinner party and serve this, as even with a good recipe (like the one I’m going to share!) the first attempt is a bit of trial and error especially when it comes to the steaming process. 

You will need a couscousiere (French for a couscous cooking pot).  You may be able to get away with a steamer insert if the holes are small.  Although I will list the vegetables that I used, the good part about this dish is really any vegetable or combination of vegetables will work.  It’s a great dish to clear out the vegetable drawers. 

Chicken Couscous

Ingredients:

Couscous Preparation

2c dry couscous
salt
water
smen

Topping for couscous

3 tsp olive oil                                                                                                          2-3 chicken breasts or 1 lb any other cut of chicken
2 potatoes peeled and quartered
1/2 lb green peas shelled
1/2 lb carrots peeled and halved
3 zucchini’s peeled and halved
1 onion peeled and cut into 1/8ths
(some other vegetables that could be used; sweet potatoes, fresh fava beans, chickpeas, cabbage, okra, eggplant, parsnips, rutabega, peppers)
bouquet garni of 2/3 italian parsley to 1/3 cilantro
3 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt
1 tsp white pepper (1 1/2 tsp black pepper)
2 tsp ginger
1 1/2 tsp garlic
5 threads of saffron
1/2 tsp tumeric
water

Directions:

To prepare couscous;
In a large bowl pour in couscous and cover with water, rolling couscous with your hand to seperate the grains.  Add some salt to the water (less than 1/2 teaspoon, just to season the water).  Allow to soak while preparing the topping for the bottom pan.  couscous2

couscous 

To prepare topping;
Peel and cut all vegetables.  Separate vegetables by cooking time.  (i.e potatoes will take longer to cook than green peas).  In the bottom of the couscousiere add the chicken and the vegetables that will take the longest to cook, potatoes, carrots, and onions.  Add 4-5 cups of water, enough to cover the vegetables.  Add all of the spices and the bouquet garni.  Turn the heat on medium high.  Place the top of the couscousiere on the top of the pot and cover.  Allow to cook for 20-25 minutes.

After 20 minutes check the couscous, all excess water should be cooked off and the grains should be starting to feel soft.  Remove the top of the pot and pour into a large bowl.  In a separate bowl mix water and salt to make a salt water spritz.  Using your hand spritz the couscous with the saltwater.  *the couscous will be very hot but the grains need to be separated*  Use your hand and carefully roll the couscous to separate the grains as much as possible.  You can continue to spritz the couscous during this process.  Once complete place back in the top of the couscousiere and back onto the heat, cover and allow 20 more minutes of steaming. 

Once the couscous is removed after the second steaming add the quicker cooking vegetables to the bottom of the couscousiere (peas, zucchini, etc).  Check the water and add more if levels are low.  There should be sauce left at the end.  Spritz the couscous again after the second steaming, this time add smen while separating the grains.  (If you do not have smen you could use olive oil or regular butter or you do not have to add anything).  Steam the couscous for the final 20 minutes. 

In a large serving dish, pour out the couscous and make a well in the middle of the couscous.  Using a slotted spoon remove the meat from the couscousiere and place into the well of couscous.  Next remove the vegetables and arrange around the couscous.  Remove and throw out the bouquet garni.  Once all of the vegetables have been removed, pour half of the remaining sauce on the meat and couscous and the other half in a dish for serving with the meal. 

Couscous is traditionally eaten family style using the hands or eaten with spoons.  However it can be served onto individual plates.  The extra sauce is served on the side with guests taking additional sauce as desired. 

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Moroccan Fried Rice

This meal was devised out of pure desperation.  I was starving, there wasn’t much in the fridge and I didn’t want to order out.  Luckily I had some random things in the fridge and was able to throw this together.  I don’t think that it would have tasted as good if I would have planned it.

Moroccan fried rice

Ingredients:

  • 1-2 cups cooked rice
  • 1 egg
  • leftover chicken tajine (anything will work but that’s what I had!)
  • steamed fresh vegetables or frozen vegetables
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1/2 tsp each of cumin, salt, pepper and ginger

Directions:

In a skillet heat up the vegetable oil and add the rice.  Cook for 2-3 minutes.  Add in the meat, vegetables and spices.  Cook until heated through.  Remove from skillet and add a little more oil.  Add in the egg and scramble.  When egg is cooked add the rice mixture back in and combine.  Enjoy!

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The Tajine Tales: Cooking a Tajine on the Grill

Tajine is a staple of Moroccan cooking and food.  There are a million ways to make one and no right or wrong way to put one together.  Unless you ask my husband.  Let’s call him a tajine purist.  Certain spices and vegetables “go” with chicken, and the same with beef, lamb, fish, and every other protein.  I operate off of that principle and learning what goes with what was a great learning tool.  However I know that in the home kitchens of Morocco, women operate on the same principle we have here – use what you have!  That’s the school of thought that this tajine came from.  Mr. Purist absconded me saying that it wouldn’t work on our little backyard charcoal grill but I persisted knowing that it was the closest version of the Moroccan brazier (the authentic cooking apparatus) we had!  


Suffice to say – he was wrong and I was right.  His first bite of it he closed his eyes and said “this hobi, this is real Moroccan tajine”.  If you’ve got a few hours, a bunch of friends and a love of charcoal this tajine is for you.  Feel free to mix up the vegetables with what you have on hand or like.  

Ingredients

(I use organic, free range products whenever possible for the best taste)

 2-3 chicken breasts (bone in or out – any chicken will work fine in this)

3 Russet Potatoes

4 large carrots, peeled and quartered

1 large tomato cut into eighths

2 1/4 pieces of msiya (preserved lemons)

1 medium onion chopped

3 cloves of garlic chopped

3 tsp high quality olive oil

3 tsp cumin

1 1/2 tsp pepper

2 tsp turmeric

2 tsp ginger

 

Directions

Clean, peel and cut all vegetables into wedges (see pictures).  Clean the chicken.  In the bottom of the tajine, add half of the oil and the chopped up onion and garlic.  Place the chicken on top of the onions and garlic.  Cut each of the pieces of lemon in half and place one strip between each piece of chicken.  Add half of the spice mixture (cumin, pepper, tumeric, ginger) on top of the chicken.  Place the vegetable wedges around the chicken like the spokes of a bicycle, alternating potato, carrot, tomato (see picture).  Add the rest of the spices on top of the vegetables and drizzle the remaining oil.

Prepare your grill, adding in charcoal and allowing it to warm up for 10-15 minutes.  Cover the tajine and place onto the grill.  The liquid may bubble out – don’t worry.  In the beginning the liquids from the vegetables and meat will be plentiful but as it cooks they will reduce.  If you feel like it is getting dry you can add some water into the tajine.  Do not open the cover of the tajine more than 1 or 2 times during cooking.  The lid circulates heat around the dish and that is what cooks the meal.  It will take between 2-3 hours to cook.  This depends a lot on the heat of the grill, the vegetables you are using, and how often the tajine has been opened. The meat and vegetables should be very tender and there should be some sauce left in the tajine.  Eat hot, with Moroccan bread.

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Farmer’s Market and BBQ Pizza
I know that I have shared my love for farmer’s market’s here before.  I’ve been trying to go every weekend since it has been opened to get at least part of my groceries.  I know I could get them all from the grocery but I like to support local growers and the quality of produce I get at the farmer’s market is so much better!  Not to mention the price is usually way better!  I’ll be talking more about great sourcing options for whole foods in upcoming posts in my whole foods series.  
 
So last weekend this is what we brought home;
- bag of romaine lettuce ($2)
- Green pepper and 2 tomatoes (3.50)
- small white onions ($1)
- 1lb sugar snap peas ($2)
- Regular lettuce ($2)
- Mint ($1)
- Cilantro ($1)
- Free range lamb sausages with synthetic casing ($5)
- Olive and caper cheese (Taste of Athens) ($5)
- 1/2 gallon organic milk ($3.50)
 
Thank goodness that summer is here and the options are more varied!  I was spoiled on the east coast with year round produce!!  I’m looking forward to the rest of the summer for sure.  The strawberries just started being harvested last weekend and I’m planning a trip with the kids to go and pick some soon.  
 
One of the meals that I made from this trip was a BBQ pizza.  It was something I threw together after work in about 10 minutes.  It also got rave reviews!


Ingredients:

  • Your favorite pizza dough 
  • 2 chicken breasts
  • Your favorite BBQ or wing sauce
  • 1 green pepper sliced thinly
  • 2-3 small onions sliced thinly
  • 1 package mozzarella or cheddar cheese

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 350F.
  • Roll out the pizza dough to the thickness desired and place on a cookie sheet or pizza stone.
  • Prick and bake the crust for about 5-8 minutes so that its partly baked.
  • On the stovetop cook the chicken breasts for about 4 minutes on each side.  You don’t need to have them cooked all the way through but they should be about 3/4 of the way cooked.
  • In a bowl add your favorite bbq sauce.
  • When the chicken is cooked cut into chunks and then toss in the sauce.
  • Remove the crust and use bbq sauce for the base sauce on the pizza.
  • I used a hot wing sauce on the chicken and a 1/2 sweet sauce and 1/2 hot sauce for the base.
  • Add the chicken next as well as the green pepper and onions.
  • Top with cheese.
  • Continue baking, about 10-12 minutes until the cheese melts and crust is brown.

You might need to adjust baking time for the thickness of your crust.  


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Pan Fried Chicken Breasts with Zucchini Coins

I wrote out the entire ingredient list and proportions for this recipe and just deleted it (on accident of course).  I’m not sure if I want to cry or rip my hair out!!  But fear not I have fixed it and it’s worth it I promise!!!  This is a variation on a traditional djej m’hammer recipe.  I know fried food is not so good for you, but this is a good sometimes recipe!!

Ingredients:

  • 3 chicken breasts 
  • 2 small zucchini’s sliced thinly 
  • 1/2 tsp smen
  • (2) 1/4 wedges of preserved lemon
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tbsp chopped garlic
  • 1 sm onion diced finely
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 6-8 stalks Italian parsley chopped finely
  • 2 tsp vegetable oil + veg oil for frying
  • 1 1/2 tsp ginger powder
  • flour mixed with 1/2 tsp each salt and pepper for dredging

Directions:

  • In a medium/large sized pot or a pressure cooker add the 2 tsp vegetable oil and the chopped onion and diced garlic.
  • Saute on medium heat until translucent – about 5 minutes.  
  • Add the chicken and spices, the parsley and the preserved lemon wedges.  
  • Stir to combine and allow the chicken to be browned.  This should only take a few minutes as you do not want the other ingredients to burn.  
  • Add enough water to cover the chicken about 3/4 of the way.
  • If using a pressure cooker cover at this point and cook on medium for 20 minutes.  If using a pot, cover and allow to cook about 40 minutes.  The chicken should be cooked through and tender although not falling apart.  
  • When the chicken is at this point, remove it from the liquid and allow it to dry about 15 minutes.  While waiting peel the zucchini and slice as thinly as possible.  Keep in salted water until ready to fry.  

    In a saute pan heat 4-5 tbsp of oil to fry the chicken and zucchini in.  Fry one chicken breast at a time, making sure that each side is nice and brown.  Keep the reserved liquid from the chicken in the pot, stir in the smen and continue cooking on medium heat to reduce to a thick sauce.  To cook the zucchini dredge each piece in a mixture of flour with salt and pepper mixed in.  Then place into the oil frying briefly until brown.  Remove from oil and place onto paper toweling to dry off any excess oil.

To arrange the plate, place the chicken breasts on the plate and pour the liquid around the chicken (not on top!)  Place the zucchini coins around the chicken breasts.  Serve with crusty bread to scoop up the chicken and sauce.  

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Low(er) Fat Lasagna

A bit of a departure from Moroccan fare but who doesn’t love a lasagna?  I grew up eating fabulous Italian food and can’t imagine a life without pasta in it.  Lasagna is not a low-fat food at all but I’ve managed to figure out a great recipe that cuts out a lot of the calories and fat normally found in this dish.  The good news is it’s just as tasty (and I think it even tastes better!)

 Ingredients:

  • 1 lb ground chicken
  • 3 cloves chopped garlic
  • 2 tsp onion powder or 1 small onion diced
  • 8 oz mushrooms washed and sliced
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 2 cans low sodium marinara sauce (or your own sauce – about 32-40 oz)
  • 1 pkg whole wheat lasagna noodles
  • 16oz shredded mozzarella
  • 32 oz low fat ricotta cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp each salt and pepper
  • 4 oz grated parmesan cheese

Directions:
In a large pot, start boiling water.  Add noodles once the water is at a rolling boil.  Cook until al dente, remove and drain the water.

While the noodles are cooking, in a large sauté pan add ½ the olive oil and ½ the garlic and heat on medium.  Also add the onion and cook until the onion is translucent.  If using the onion powder just heat for 2-3 minutes with the garlic.  Next add the sliced mushrooms and cook until soft.  Remove from heat and place in a separate bowl.

Add the remaining olive oil, garlic, 1 tsp salt and 1 tsp. pepper and the ground chicken.  Cook until the meat is no
longer pink.  Add the mushroom mixture back in with the chicken and cook a few more minutes, while stirring to combine.   Remove from heat and set aside.

In another bowl combine the ricotta, mozzarella (leaving 2 handfuls to use on top of lasagna), parmesan, eggs, and the remaining salt and pepper.  Mix well.

In a large baking dish, begin by pouring sauce on the bottom of the pan, enough to cover the surface.  Next place the lasagna noodles in the pan, making sure that they cover the bottom.  Top with a portion of the chicken, the cheese mixture and then the sauce.  Use the back of a spoon to spread evenly.

Repeat the layering process until the ingredients are used up.  On the last layer of noodles top with sauce and then sprinkle the held-over 2 handfuls of mozzarella.

Bake on 350 for 30-45 minutes until the cheese is bubbling on top.

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Roasted Chicken with Moroccan 6 Spices

Roast chicken seems to me to be an often overlooked meal.  There are few times when I buy a whole chicken but whenever I do the meal is always warmly received.  This recipe is no different.  At my engagement party in Morocco my sister in law cooked the most amazing chicken dish.  To this day it’s still my favorite meal and whenever we’re visiting it’s usually one of the first things that they make.  I haven’t been able to replicate it – I have a feeling it’s one of those dishes that only taste as good where they are served and from a certain set of hands.  That’s why I’m not going to try and re-create it.  It would take some of the beauty away from a simple meal. Instead I’ll share my own take on the dish

Ingredients
1 whole free range chicken
juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon paprika
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp tumeric
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
2-3 tsp olive oil

Directions

Clean chicken well and remove skin.  I use paper towels to dry off the outside of the chicken and the cavity.  Too much liquid causes the marinade to drip off. 

Add lemon juice to spice mixture and stir.  Slowly add olive oil.  You may not need the full amount (depending on how much juice your lemons yielded).  Your mixture should be between watery and pasty.

Cover chicken with marinade, making sure to get all areas of the chicken covered.  Any remaining marinade can be used to rub inside of the cavity.  Insert the lemon rinds into the cavity of the chicken.  This will help it keep it’s shape and also infuse flavor.   At this point the chicken can a) marinade in the fridge for between 30 minutes – overnight or b) go straight into a preheated 350F oven for 30-45 minutes.  The outside should be a golden color when cooked through.

I also make a sauce reduction using the drippings from the pan and 1 cup of chicken broth in a sauce pan.  Flavor with some more of the 6 spice mixture.  Cook on medium high until it reduces to a thick sauce.  You could also add some cornstarch in the beginning to thicken and ensure you have enough sauce.  Olives can also be added to the sauce mixture.


This can be served with a salad such as a Moroccan potato salad or a simple green salad.  Serve with bread, or it can be eaten with a fork and knife.

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A few weeks ago a friend suggested Tyler Florence’s Brick Chicken with Apricot Couscous.  Sure sounded yummy to me!  I didn’t have the things on hand that are used in this recipe so I made several changes to go with what I did have.  This is a pretty fast and very tasty recipe.  It uses a lot of spices and this lends to a very full bodied flavor.  I will add when my husband and children were watching me make this they laughed because of the process but there were no complaints when it came to eating it!

Ingredients:
2 large chicken breasts, bone in with or without leg
2 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp white pepper
1 tbsp ground corriander
1/2 tbsp hot paprika
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 lemon juiced

Ingredients for sauce:
1 cup of greek yogurt drained
1-2 tsp olive oil
1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp honey
shake of salt and pepper 

Ingredients for Couscous:
1 cup of whole wheat couscous
3-4 apricots chopped into small pieces
1/4c chopped nut of your choice (pistachio or almond works good)
1/2 c chicken stock/ 1/2 c water
lemon zest
salt and pepper

Directions

Mix the spice mixture with the lemon juice to make a paste (you may need to add a little olive oil if it is very dry).  You can use either chicken with the skin on or removed – I always take the skin off but it’s a matter of what you prefer.  Coat the chicken breasts in the spice mixture.  You can marinate them in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight.  But if you’re short on time they can go right into the pan.  Use a large skillet pan or a grill pan to cook the chicken.  Place in breast side down.  Tyler uses a brick but I don’t have any of those lying around so I used my very heavy duty le crueset soup pan on top instead.  The point is to use something that is heavy enough to push down the chicken sealing in the flavors as well as cooking it more quickly.  While it is cooking you can prepare the sauce by simply mixing all of the ingredients together. 

<span class="Apple-style-span" style="font-family: Georgia, 'Times
New Roman', serif;">This is also a good time to start cooking the couscous.  I need to insert here that I am not a fan of instant couscous.  Once you have eaten real couscous instant does not cut the mustard.  But it works alright in this.  Cook the couscous according the package instructions.  I use half water and half chicken stock when making it for extra flavor.  I also use olive oil instead of butter to keep the grains from sticking together.  While this is setting up go ahead and chop up the apricots and nuts.  When it’s cooked (about 5 minutes), mix in the apricots and nuts.  I like to add a little salt and pepper, cumin and a pinch or hot paprika but that’s is totally optional.  

Check on your chicken and flip it over.  It probably will take about 20 minutes on the stove to cook through, but it will depend on the thickness of the chicken you are using.  I’m not going to say how long, just keep checking, using a meat thermometer if you’re unsure if it’s cooking through.  When it’s cooked, plate the couscous, with a chicken breast on top and use the yogurt sauce as a condiment.  

Enjoy!!

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