If you can’t travel, bring the travel to you. Or, that is a philosophy I like to bring to the table when we are stuck at home and working to save money. That is how I found myself at the free Moroccan food cooking class at Williams Sonoma.
Sure the place was swarmed by throes of retirees and older housewives, but in the end it was the same. I was about to experience Morocco through my favorite way of taking in a new country – by stuffing food into my pie hole. I wholeheartedly believe that you can get to know a culture through your stomach.
Forewarning: This place is like a culinary heaven full of items, foodstuffs, and Kitchen Aids I will never be able to afford. If you’re saving money, make sure to come without your wallet.
Moroccan food is rich in flavor due to it’s location and history. With Arab, Berber, European, and African influences, it can be looked at as very fine fusion food. Some of the main flavors and spices are as follows:
Harissa: A spicy and smoky blend of tomato puree, olive oil, garlic, cayenne pepper, and other spices.
Ras el Hanout: Known as the best a spice merchant can offer, every cook has a secret blend of their own. This spice is complex, has a rich aroma, and is very similar to curry.
Preserved Lemon: Made by soaking the lemons in brine for a week. This flavor is found in many recipes.
Couscous: Made of semolina flour, it is a staple of Northern Africa.
Mint: Flavoring everything from teas to cakes, this is an important flavor. Used to greet people, mint tea is a social institution.
And the best part?
Here are my favorites from the class we took. I’m going to see how I can use these recipes for fusion food in the future!
(Taken from the Williams-Sonoma cooking class pamphlet.)
Moroccan-Style Carrot and Parsnip Salad
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground cumin
¼ tsp. ground coriander
⅛ tsp. ground ginger
3 large carrots
3 large parsnips
¼ cup lemon juice
1 tbsp. honey
¾ tsp. prepared harissa
1 tsp. sea salt
6 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
½ cup roasted pistachio nuts
⅔ cup raisins
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
⅔ up coarsely chopped cilantro or mint
In a small, heavy fry pan over medium-low heat, combine the cinnamon, cumin, coriander and ginger and toast, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.
Peel the carrots and parsnips and shred them on the large holes of a box grater-shredder. Set aside.
In a small nonreactive bowl, whisk together the toasted spices, the lemon juice, honey, harissa, and ½ tsp. salt. Slowly whisk in the olive oil to make a dressing. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
In a bowl, stir together the pistachios and a pinch of salt. Add the carrots and parsnips, raisins, ½ tsp. salt, several grindings of pepper and the dressing and toss well. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Transfer to a platter or serving bowl, sprinkle with the cilantro (or mint) and serve immediately. Serves 6.
Moroccan-Spiced Lamb Burgers
1 ½ lb. ground lean lamb
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
¾ cup fine fresh bread crumbs
½ cup chopped fresh mint
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tsp. ground cumin
¾ tsp. ground coriander
¾ tsp. salt, plus more, to taste
⅓ tsp. ground cayenne pepper
1 large tomato, ficed
3 tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
4 whole wheat pita breads
1 cup whole milk or low-fat plain yogurt
1 cup alfalfa sprouts
In a bowl, combine the lamb, onion, bread crumbs, mint, garlic, cumin, coriander, ¾ tsp. salt, and the cayenne. Using your hands, mix gently but thoroughly. Divide the mixture into 4 equal portions and form each into an oval patty about 4 ½ inches long and ¾ inches thick.
In a small bowl, stir together the tomato and cilantro and season with salt. Let the patties and the tomato mixture stand at room temperature for 15 minutes, or cover and refrigerate for up to 2 hours. If refrigerated, remove from the refrigerator 15 minutes before grilling.
Prepare a charcoal or gas grill for direct grilling over high heat.
Grill the burgers over the hottest part of the grill, turning once, until nicely charred and cooked to your liking, 5 to 6 minutes per side for medium. About 1 minute before the burgers are done, place the pita breads along the edges of the grill so they can warm.
To assemble the sandwiches, coat the pockets of the pita breads lightly with some yogurt, then slip a lamb burger into each bread. Add tomato mixture, sprouts, and remaining yogurt, or serve the condiments on the side. Serves 4.
The way to my heart is through my stomach – which is why I fall in love with countries so rich in flavor. From my tacos al pastor in Mexico to the asados of Argentina, some of my favorite memories of any country were through my plate.
What are some of your favorite culinary countries?
Disclosure: I was not paid in any shape, way, or form. I don’t think Williams Sonoma even knows I exist but thought I should give people a heads up to this awesome program.