Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Moroccan Kitchen

From Things Cooks Love: Implements. Ingredients. Recipes.

The MoroccanPantry

Morocco boasts a varied landscape: orchards of olives, almonds, and lemons; fishing boats crowding the seashore; and sheep and goats grazing on the mountainsides. Its colorful markets keep Moroccan pantries well stocked with exotic spices in every color and aroma. The intriguing cookware includes the couscoussière, a two-tiered metal pot for cooking couscous, and the tagine, a shallow earthenware pot with a tall, conical lid for cooking its famous stews. Here you will read about some of the staples of the Moroccan pantry and learn how to make bisteeya, a lavish savory pie with a buttery, paper-thin pastry, topped with a dusting of confectioners’ sugar—an appropriately sweet finish to your journey through the global kitchen.

Cumin is one of the most popular spices of the Moroccan kitchen. For the best flavor, always toast the whole seeds in a small, dry skillet to release their aroma before grinding them in either a mortar or an electric spice grinder.

When uncooked, couscous, small beads of rolled semolina, look like tiny pellets. When steamed, they swell and become soft and fluffy. Boxes of precooked couscous—often labeled “instant” or “quick cooking”—hold the same couscous you see sold in bulk in specialty-food shops, health-food stores, and many supermarkets. The box directions produce a satisfying but heavy starch, but when steamed in the traditional way (page 316), the results are lighter, fluffier, and more tender.

Flower Waters
Orange-flower water and rose water are used to flavor desserts, sweets, and beverages. Both waters are distilled from blossoms or buds and are sold in small bottles 312 in specialty-food shops and in some large liquor stores.

Made from chiles, garlic, and caraway, coriander, and/or cumin, harissa is a fiery sauce found on tables throughout North Africa. It can be purchased in jars or tubes, or made at home in a blender or with a mortar and pestle. Harissa is used as a condiment to flavor soups, stews,
couscous, and other dishes.

Preserved Lemons
Preserved lemons—slit whole lemons packed into jars with salt and lemon juice and left to mature—are indispensable in the Moroccan kitchen. The rinds are cut into small pieces to flavor tagines and other dishes, while the pulp is used to season sauces. They can be made at
home (page 328) or purchased in specialty-food shops.

Ras el Hanout
This blend of exotic spices is primarily used to flavor meat dishes, but it is also used in rice dishes and couscous. It can be made with as few as ten spices or more than three times that amount. Home cooks typically roast whole spices and then grind them to a fine powder
in a mortar or spice grinder. Look for ras el hanout in specialty-food shops.

The orange-yellow stigma of a purple crocus, saffron is used in the cooking of many countries around the Mediterranean and in the Middle East, including Morocco, where local cooks regularly add it to tagines. Stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark place, it will keep for up to 6 months before it begins to lose its pungency. (For more on saffron, see page 293.)

These paper-thin Greek pastry leaves are widely available frozen, typically rolled in plastic and packed into a long, narrow box. Phyllo is an excellent substitute for traditional Moroccan pastry when making bisteeya.

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