Friday, 24 October 2014

Moroccan Chicken M'qualli with its sweet butternut paste: M'derbel of pumpkin

At this time of the year, pumpkin, butternut squash and co seem to be everywhere here in London. It was the same thing in Germany where I lived before. I've seen different shapes and form which I have never seen before in my life.

Being from Morocco, I'm more accustomed to the giant pumpkin and a another weird version mostly found in El Oualidia (a small coastal town in Morocco).

The other thing is that I always literally hated this vegetable along with its family and cousins. But never say never!

Having a little one in the house, I'm trying to be a good mother and get him to try every vegetable I can get hold of. Being Moroccan, we mostly like vegetables. Most of our Tagines, couscous and stews come with vegetables and we love them when they're in season. It won't go down well if my boy is not a big vegetable eater. So far so good.

Despite the fact that the recipe I'm posting today is usually topped with a pumpkin paste, I have used 100% butternut and another time 50% - 50% butternut-pumpkin. The only difference is in the colour and the level of natural sweetness but other than that, It won't hurt alternating or mixing the two (or any other similar sort).

This is another sweet-savoury tagine that you would want to add to your Moroccan cooking repertoire because it's a winner. It's initially served during Eid Al Mawlid in Fes, Meknes and the region, but we can have a feast whenever we want, can't we?

Although this recipe does not initially have Ras el hanout in it but you could add a good pinch in the stew but besides that, please do not add anything else if you intend to cook an authentic dish.

The other thing I would like to mention about this subtitle marriage of flavours is that the people of Fes and region who are famous with the sweet-savoury combos do not usually add garlic in a tagine or stew for which the topping tend to be sweetened. However, in this case, the 1 clove of garlic is ok since the pumpkin is not as sweet as a prune or a caramelized apricot.

Here are the ingredients for about 4 hungry people. However, as we usually do back home, we use our eyes and senses to measure.

Serves 4 to 6  

For the chicken M'qualli
  • 1 medium free range chicken cut in 6 pieces (or use tender lamb cuts) 
  • 2 larges yellow onions, finely chopped 
  • 2 tbsp of oil
  • 1 tsp of smen (Moroccan cured aged salted butter), optional
  • 1 tbsp of ground ginger
  • 1 tsp of turmeric
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • 1 clove of garlic, grated or finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp of black or white pepper
  • A good pinch of saffron threads 
For the pumpkin or/and butternut paste
  • 600 g of pumpkin flesh cut into chuncks  
  • 6 tbsp of plain vegetable oil 
  • 1/2 tsp of salt 
  • 1 to 2 tsps of ground cinnamon 
  • 2 to 4 tbsps of honey (or half-half honey-sugar for a better caramelization)
  • A pinch of gum arabic (optional)
To decorate
  • 1 tbsp of toasted sesame seeds 


Chicken M'qualli

Follow the directions of a normal chicken M'qualli as previously mentioned here but with today's ingredients.

This step should take about 60 minutes. Make sure the sauce is well reduced. In case the chicken (or meat) is cooked but you still have a significant amount of liquid, take it out and cover it while you reduce the sauce or Marka as we call it.

The chicken pieces can be served without roasting them but we prefer them roasted for 10 minutes at maximum temperature (use the grill/broiler), just for a nice colour.

Pumpkin/squash paste (can be made ahead and frozen)

This puree can be served in today's sweet and savoury tagine but it can also be served as a cooked salad, either cold or at room temperature.

Steam the chuncks, scrape off the flesh and mash it (discard the peeled stuff). You can make this ahead of time, I have some mashed butternut in my freezer as we speak (flattened in a ziploc bag).

To fry/caramelize the paste, you will need to dedicate a good 20 minutes to this task without leaving the pan unattended.

Over medium-high heat, keep stiring the mash until it's almost dry.

Add the rest of the ingredients and fry/caramelize at the same time for about 8 to 10 min or until you are satisfied with taste and texture of the paste.

The colour of the paste depends on the type of pumpkin family used but also on
 how much honey and sugar you add to it


Pour a few spoons of the onion sauce in the middle of the serving plate (or make a small thick puddle). Place the chicken/meat on top and then top with the pumpkin paste.

Sprinkle the dish with toasted sesame seeds. Serve any extra pumpkin/squash puree in a side dish.

Note: There is something special about the temperature of the layers served in this dish: while the chicken and its sauce should be served hot, the pumpkin/squash paste can be serve just about warm or at least at room temperature.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Indian-Pakistani inspired curry: a Tikka masala-meets-jalfrezi on a bed of basmati rice

Having missed the smell of Indian and Pakistani food in my flat and having my mother over for a month, I thought I'll introduce her to a food she thinks is over-spiced, hot and always containing fenugreek.

She was not happy that the folks in the Sub-Asian continent have something similar to our Mlaouis (in the form of parathas) and Tannourt bread ( in the form of Tandoori bread)..

Today's recipe is rather a combination of chicken tikka masala and jalfrezi curry on a bed of Basmati rice with Saffron, lemon, cumin seeds and green cardamom. All is layered and finished cooking in a dum biryani style. What's not to like? We were 2 hungry women and we didn't leave a single grain of rice behind.

This recipe looks too long but it's so easy to make. The result is just worth it. It's so comforting and very satisfying.

My mother loved it and she asked for another "sample" of Indian/Pakistani food..How is that for a result?

Oh, and for the record, I got her hooked to mango chutney and garlic naans. Pretty proud of myself!

Serves 3 to 4
Prep: 5 min – marination time: minimum 2 hrs- cooking: 30-45 min
  • About 500g of chicken cut into chuncks (bones in) and marinated for at least a couple of hours (see below)
For the chicken marinade
  • 1 tbsp of minced Ginger 
  • 1 tsp of crushed Garlic
  • ¼ tsp. of Red Chilli Powder
  • ¼ tsp. of Turmeric Powder 
  • 1 tbsp. of Lemon Juice 
  • 1 tbsp of Tandoori powder or good Garam Masala or 2 tbsp of a good Tikka paste
  • 2 tbsp. of Vegetable Oil
  • 2 tbps of plain yogurt
For the curry (in order of use)
  • 5 Tablespoons clarified butter
  • About 6 to 10 curry leaves
  • 1 tsp of black mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 Tablespoon jeera (cumin seeds)
  • 1 onion thinly sliced
  • About 10 cm cinnamon stick broken into 3
  • 2 Tablespoons garlic and ginger paste (or grate them fresh)
  • 1 Tablespoon coriander powder - preferably home roasted and ground
  • 1 Tablespoon red chilli powder
  • About 10 cm cinnamon stick broken into 3
  • 1 tbsp of tikka paste (or use garam masala before the end of simmering)
  • 3 medium tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 tsp of chopped hot chili

To add 2 minutes before the end of curry-cooking stage
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, cut lenthwise
  • 1/2 red and/or bell pepper, cut lengthwise
  • ½ medium onion cut in quarters then halves (which makes 8 chuncks)
  • 1 tomato roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp of garam masala (if you haven’t used the tikka paste in the curry)
  • For garnishing
  • 1 tsp of slivered fresh ginger
  • A handful of coriander leaves
For the rice (7 to 8 min cooking in boiling water)
  • 1 cup of basmati rice (soaked for 30 min and washed 3 until water is clear)
  • ½ tsp of cumin seeds
  • 3 or 4 green cardamoms
  • A pinch of saffron threads
  • Less than 1 tsp of salt
  • 1 cup of rice needs 1 ¾ of water to cook it
 For the yoghurt-harissa dip (Adapted from  Jamie Oliver)
  • 1 cup of yoghurt
  • 1 tbps of harissa 
  • 2 tbps of chopped cucumber
  • A sprinkle of salt
  • A sprinkle of cumin seeds
  • A hint of freshly grated ginger


The curry

Melt the ghee in a hot wok or large frying pan. Add the spices, curry leaves and onions and allow to sizzle for about 30 seconds.

Once the onions are translucid, add the ginger and garlic paste, add the tikka paste if using it and stir. 
Add tomatoes and about ¼ cup of water. Let simmer for about 10 mins.

Pick up the curry leaves and the cinnamon stick and liquidize the sauce with a mixer. Put them back and set aside.

In a another pan, shallow-fry the chicken (or bake it until halfway cooked).

Add the sauce on the top of the chicken and let simmer, covered.

A couple of minutes after the sauce has reduced, add the onion slices, bell pepper, green chillies and tomato. Set aside

The Spices-scented basmati rice

Cook the rice for 7 to 8 minutes in boiling water, covered.

Once the rice is dry and cooked through, transfer 1/3 to a pyrex dish (or similar), layer the reduced 
curry, cover with the rest of the rice. Bake in a preheated oven at maximum for 10 min. I usually 
cover the dish with aluminium foil to trap the steam and allow the rice to infuse, just like for a dum 

Garnish with slivered ginger and chopped coriander.

The yoghurt dip

Mix all ingredients and serve on the side.

Note: I used a decent store-bought tikka paste but you can use any other paste you like (Indian-inspired). If you can't get hold of any, here's Jamie Oliver's post of how to make some of them. The recipes cover Jalfrezi, Korma, Rogan josh, Tikka Masala paste ......

Friday, 3 October 2014

Marinated olives the Moroccan way: 6 ways of making "zitoun mchermel"

This post is all about how to marinate cured olives the Moroccan way. As I have promised in the previous post about Moroccan olives, I'll pass on to you some of our family recipes on how to reproduce the marinated olives you find in the Moroccan stalls and Moroccan olive shops.

From left to right: Moroccan pickles, green olives with spinach and herbs, green and violette olives with harissa and garlic, plain pitted green olives

We have a few recipes which are so easy to make. So if you love olives, then you're in the right place.

Harissa all the way!

I'll be using 250g of olives for all the following recipes. I must say that the additions are all a matter of choice, so adding or reducing garlic, harissa, herbs is all up to you.

Green olives with garlic and fresh parsley and coriander in the making

Like I mentioned here, unpitted olives which are not floating in tons of brines are the best thing to get but if you really (but really) can't then the others will do.

This is an amazing mix I bought from the olives guy, he mixed marinated green olives pickles and rice, This goes straight in sandwiches or is added to briouats and rolls fillings, to seafood bestillas...

Notes before getting started

1- Depending on how they've been handled, some olives might be harder than others. Nothing wrong with that. However, if you have hard olives in your hands (as opposed to soft), then make sure you place them in boiling water for 15 min at least twice then drain and pat-dry them before going ahead with the marination.

2- A pestle and mortar is much better to obtain the pastes used for the marinades. 

4- These recipes are mostly to guide you to on how to get some of those pastes commonly used by Casablanca olive shops (If you happen to be there, grab a taxi and head to Benjdia Market (7 am to 5 pm) in downtown Casablanca or Friday's market or Marche Jem'aa not far from El Houbous.

Today's recipes are all in here!

250g of unpitted olives (ideally done by you)
Prep: 5 min - No cooking required

1- Olives with chermoula (any kind)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or in paste
  • 3 tbps of fresh parsley and coriander, finely chopped 
  • 1 to 2 tbsp of preserved lemons with the core, chopped
  • 1 tsp of paprika
  • 1/2 tsp of cayenne or 1 heaped tsp of mild harissa,  or to taste
  • 1/2 tsp of cumin
  • 1 tbsp of lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • 3 tbsps of olive oil.
The soft black olives are marinated with chermoula made using a pestle and mortar (we were generous with the preserved lemons)

2- Olives with harissa
  • 2 tbsps of mild harissa or to taste
  • 1 to 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or in paste (optional)
  • 3 tbsps of olive oil
Harissa can be mild or hot. We prefer the mild version because it brings the flavour without disturbing the palate

3- Olives with thyme and garlic (goes well with soft Moroccan black olives)
  • 2 heaped tablespoons of dried thyme
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or in paste 
  • Enough olive oil to cover half of the olives (which I use for cooking or for salads)
  • Zest of 1 lemon (optional)

4- Olives with dried herbs and garlic (goes well with soft Moroccan black olives)
  • 2 heaped tablespoons of dried thyme, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, sage, bay leaf
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or in paste 
  • 3 tbsps of olive oil
  • Zest of 1 lemon (optional)

    5- Olives with tuna and harissa (ideally with sliced the green olives)
    • 50g of tuna (in a tin)
    • The oil from the tuna (optional, replace with olive oil)
    • 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or in paste (optional)
    • 1 tbsp of mild harissa
    • 2 tbps of chopped pickles including cauliflower, green and red pepper, carrots, gherkins, cabbage (optional)
    Usually, if the green olives and cut this way they catch more of the tuna marinade

    6- Pitted green olives with spinach paste (chopped green olives will do as well)
    • 1 cup of poached spinach and squeezed to drain, finally chopped (poach in hot water for 1 min then dip them in ice-cold water for another minute then put them in a strainer)
    • 2 -3 tbsp of olive oil
    • 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or in paste (optional)
    • 1/2 cup of parsley and coriander, in fine paste using a pestle and mortar
    • 1 tbps of preserved lemons with the core, finelly chopped (optional)
    You could more be generous with the spinach mix but this picture is showing the minimum you could go for
    how beautiful does this spinach and preserved lemon green olives cone looks?


    Mix all ingredients and keep in a clean jar for at least 48 hrs before serving. Keep in the fridge at all times.

    The version with tuna should be consumed within 3 days. For the rest, anywhere from 1 to 2 weeks.

    I can't have enough olives in my house!


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