Rock the casbah any night with the intoxicating flavorful traditions of the Middle East. Serve up your stews in clay pots and fresh fruits on a tiered petit four dish often used for small fancy dessert cakes, for an authentic table-setting fit for a King!
During a trip to Marrakech, I was overwhelmed by this ancient city’s charm. Few places on earth were more hypnotically inclined than the inner courts of the walled city of Medina where snake charmers, conjurors, beggars and water-carriers all traffic the crowded open-air Arabian market called a souk.
Many foods and spices of the Middle Eastern region will entice you. With this party menu, your taste buds will take flight on a rare and rewarding, magic culinary carpet ride.
FRESH BASIL MOJITO
Place torn basil leaves into bottom of high ball glass. Add lime juice and simple syrup.
Muddle together with muddler or back a large spoon to bruise leaves and release flavor.
Fill the remainder of the glass with ice shards and add rum. Top off with club soda.
Serve in a chilled highball glass.
Originally from Morocco and reserved for royal hosts and visiting dignitaries, Medjool dates are extra-large sweet dates. Today, they can be found in most gourmet markets including Whole Foods or Fairway. You can also substitute Medjool dates with any large sweet date.
STUFFED MEDJOOL DATES
Prepared in 15 minutes or less.
Preheat oven to 425°F.
Using small knife, make small cut in side of each date; remove pit. Insert 1 piece of cheese into each date. Brush bacon slices generously on 1 side with smoked paprika.
Wrap each date with 1 piece of bacon, with paprika side against date. Secure bacon with toothpick.
Arrange dates on rimmed baking sheet. Roast until bacon is browned on bottom, about 6 minutes. Turn dates; roast until bacon is cooked, about 6 minutes longer. Transfer to plate; cool slightly. Remove toothpicks. Serve immediately.
Option: For a spicier version substitute bacon with thin slices of chorizo.
Basmati rice, a long grain white rice great for soaking up stews and sauces, and cous cous are widely popular in Middle Eastern cuisine. Notable for their delicate fragrance and taste, Basmati rice and couscous recipes reign high on my entertainer’s must serve list.
BASMATI RICE WITH RAISINS, NUTS AND PEAS
Prepared in 30 minutes or less plus 20 minutes to simmer.
In a colander, rinse basmati rice under cold running water. Drain then place rice in a large bowl. Add enough cold water to cover rice by 3 inches. Let stand 20 minutes before draining.
In a large saucepan, heat oil. Add onions; sauté until golden, about 5-7 minutes. Add bouquet garni and cumin, and sauté until onions are brown, about 5 minutes. Add rice to onion spiced mixture and stir 2 minutes.
Add chicken stock, cream, salt and saffron threads. Bring to boil then reduce heat to low. Cover saucepan almost completely and simmer until almost all liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes.
Add raisins and frozen peas to rice
Cover and simmer until rice is tender, about 5 more minutes.
Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with nuts and serve immediately. Serves 6.
Prepared in 20 minutes or less.
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add bay leaf, onion, zucchini, yellow squash, carrots, cauliflower and garlic to the pan. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until lightly brown and softened, about 7 minutes, stirring frequently.
Add broth to the pan and stir to combine. Add cumin and coriander to pan and bring broth to a boil.
Add couscous to the pan, stir, and cover. Remove pan from heat and let stand 5 minutes. Remove lid from pan and add chopped tomato and fresh herbs. Toss with a fork to combine ingredients. Arrange the couscous on a large serving platter and garnish with chopped fresh herbs. Serve immediately. Serves 6.
MOROCCAN LAMB TAGINE WITH APRICOTS, DATES AND HONEY
Prepared in 20 minutes or less plus overnight to marinate and 2 hours to cook.
Preheat oven to 300°F.
Place the cayenne, black pepper, paprika, ginger, turmeric and cinnamon into a small bowl and mix to combine. Place the lamb in a large bowl and toss together with half of the spice mix. Cover and leave overnight in the fridge.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon of argan oil in a large casserole dish. Add the grated onion and the remaining spice mix and cook over a gentle heat for 10 minutes so that the onions are soft but not coloured. Add the crushed garlic for the final 3 minutes.
Heat the remaining oil in a separate frying pan and brown the cubes of lamb on all sides then add the browned meat to the casserole dish. Deglaze the frying pan with ¼ of the tomato juice and add these juices to the pan. Add the remaining tomato juice, chopped tomatoes, apricots, dates, raisins, sliced almonds, saffron, chicken broth and honey to the casserole dish. Bring to the boil, cover with a fitted lid, place in the oven and cook for 2-2½ hours or until the meat is meltingly tender.
Place the lamb in a tagine or large serving dish and sprinkle with chopped coriander and parsley. Serve immediately. Serves 4-6.
A sweet recipe with roots in Persia, an ancient empire of southern Asia founded in the 6th Century BC by Cyrus the Great, this refreshing homemade ice cream will seduce your tastebuds and dance in your mouth.
ROSE WATER AND SAFFRON ICE CREAM
Prepared in 20 minutes or less plus 3 hours in the freezer.
In a double boiler, slowly heat the milk over medium heat while stirring with a whisk.
Add the vanilla and saffron.
Continue to cook on low heat stirring occasionally while executing the next steps.
With a handheld mixer, in a bowl beat the egg yolks with the sugar until smooth and foamy.
Gently and slowly, pour the egg mixture into the warm milk. Make sure to stir it rapidly with a wooden spoon until thickened. (It should remain foamy and coat the spoon).
Pour this custard-like mixture into a large bowl immersed in ice water. Once cold, stir in the chilled cream and rose water extract until completely incorporated.
Lastly, churn in an ice cream maker until finished. If you don’t have one, stick in the freezer and vigorously stir every 30 minutes to break up ice crystals, until the ice cream is homogenous and frozen.
Serve with toasted sliced almonds, fresh apricots, luscious cherries and succulent strawberries. Serves 4-6.
The best saffron comes from Iran and is sold in New York City by Sharifi, The Saffron King. Option: garnish ice cream with rose petals and unsalted chopped pistachio nuts.
Served in small glass cups filled half-full and often poured from a great height in a steaming stream of aroma, hot Moroccan tea appears at every meal and every marketplace. It’s served with sprigs of fresh mint and copious amounts of sugar.
On a trip through the ancient Ourika Valley high in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains, a warm and welcoming family invited me inside their “cave” home and taught me how to make and properly serve their country’s popular drink, hot mint tea.
MOROCCAN MINT TEA
In a teapot combine mint leaves, sugar, and tea and add boiling water. Let tea steep 5 to 10 minutes. Strain tea trough a fine sieve into a large pitcher. If serving hot, pour into small glasses immediately and garnish with fresh mint sprigs.
Allow to cool in refrigerator. Before pouring, add ice to glasses and garnish with mint sprigs.