Saturday, April 4, 2009

A Moroccan Style Meal

Last night I invited a few college friends that live in the city over for dinner and drinks. The past two weeks have been very nostalgic due to a sudden wave of college buddies passing through New York. Last night was very much in this vein, an especially wistful evening because my friends Shawna and Jessica had not seen each other since graduation. I was so pleased to provide the forum for their reunion and thrilled for the opportunity to finally cook for Shawna. I thought it would be interesting to present and serve dinner Moroccan style with dishes shared mutually mirroring the food I encountered during my travels around North Africa. When I was fourteen I went on a ten-day tour of Morocco with my two best friends and our mothers. It is hard to imagine three women touring an Arabic country with three young boys without a male escort but we did just that and had a great time doing it. We ate wonderful dishes like tagine and couscous, pastilla, and whole-roasted goat perfumed with all sorts of spices and native ingredients. The first of the trio of appetizers I prepared inspired by my time there was herbed ricotta with olive oil, oregano, parsley, and chives. Creamy fresh ricotta has a mild flavor that pairs excellently with flavorings, condiments, and seasonings like fresh herbs. The second appetizer was Italian hummus or white bean puree. Cannelloni beans are absolutely amazing blended with olive oil and garlic into a smooth puree with a luscious texture. The third was a blend of French and Tunisian olives symbolic of the culinary links between North Africa and France, one of the many lasting effects of colonialism. I served the three small dishes with tons of crispy crostini; a baguette thinly sliced and baked in the oven.

The main course was also inspired by the pungent and exotic flavors characteristic of Moroccan cuisine. I roasted a boneless leg of lamb stuffed with garlic and seasoned liberally with salt, pepper, and a touch of turmeric. To add another dimension of Moroccan flavor I made a yogurt dressing with ground cumin and chopped mint drizzled over the sliced meat; a refreshing sauce that dimmed down the gamey flavor of the lamb. The first side dish was a black radish slaw tossed with Dijon and cider vinaigrette boasting a powerful kick reminiscent of horseradish and hot mustard. The second side dish was French lentils simmered with shallots and beef stock intended to deepen their woody flavor. Overall the meal was quite a success though the white bean puree was the clear favorite. The plan was to reconnect with old friends and the Moroccan style presentation reinforced that commensal vibe. When you have people that you have not seen in a while a central plate is exactly what you want; good food shared communally with good friends. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

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