Eating better food for less and other tales from a no-moneymoon

Friday, June 25, 2010

To Marrakesh, Stat!

Long before the drag queens, er I mean Ladies, of Sex and the City 2 ventured into a desert in their caftans, I was truly taken with Moroccan culture. (In case you want to see those dunes and souks they featured in the movie, it was filmed in Morocco.) I loved the tiles, the fabrics, the little leather slippers, the poof-like footstools and, of course, most of all, the food.

After many years of hunting Moroccan food in Manhattan, I had the chance to go and try the real deal: Casablanca, Fez, Marrakesh. It was a whirlwind trip and everything you imagine a trip to an exotic locale will be. And the food? Divine.

With the recent heat wave, I've been thinking a lot about that trip to the desert and the cool refreshing dishes that Moroccan feasts kick off with. The traditional five salad starter has dozens of variations, so the combos are seemingly limitless, and are all veggie-loaded and health-friendly.

Plus they use a lot of the same ingredients in different combinations, so it's easy on the budget. Here's the ingredient list for the whole thing:
Veggie drawer: beets, carrots, eggplant, onion/scallion, cucumber, celery, tomato,
Fridge staples: garlic, parsley, mint, yogurt, capers, *always* lemons
Pantry pals: cumin, cayenne pepper, olive oil, vinegar (white, balsamic), bulgur wheat

These are all so easy, I went with some recipe short hand.

Moroccan Beet Salad

Roast cleaned, trimmed beets (3-4) at 375F for 1 hour individually wrapped in foil. Cool. Peel: the skins rub off with paper towel, which also protects your hands from getting dyed. Cut into 1/2 inch pieces.

Combine with 1/2 teaspoon cumin + half the juice of a lemon + 2 Tablespoons olive oil + 1 clove garlic, minced + salt and pepper.

Make at least 2 hours to one day ahead.

Cucumber Salad

Peel and dice 1 small or 1/2 medium large cucumber.

Combine with 1/2 cup plain yogurt + salt + half juice of a lemon + 1/2 clove of garlic, grated + 6 mint leaves, cut into a chiffonade

This can be thrown together quickly right before serving.

Moroccan Carrot Salad

This is my favorite of the bunch and the salad I'd been dreaming of for a while. I found this recipe with video instruction. I'm not sure what it is about this video, but I find the chef so charming. He seems to care a lot about these carrots. Maybe I'm projecting.

I cut his recipe in half and skipped the cilantro. In short: steam 4-5 sliced carrots. Mix while hot with 1 Tablespoon white vinegar + 1 Tablespoons olive oil + 1 cup parsley minced fine + juice of half a lemon + 4 grated cloves of garlic + sprinkle cayenne pepper + 2 teaspoons ground cumin + salt.

Let it sit overnight. The carrots soak up the sauce. Yum.

Eggplant Caponata

Ok, more Med than Moroccan, but it was too hot to roast the eggplant for Baba ganoush.

Saute half an onion, diced, and 1 rib celery, diced, in 2 Tablespoons olive oil.

Cut 1 small-medium eggplant into 1-inch pieces and add to pan. Salt and pepper, and cook stirring until eggplant turns yellowish brown and is soft. Over medium heat this takes about 15 minutes. Then again, I have an electric stove, so gas-guzzlers you'll be done in no time.

Add 1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar + 1 Tablespoon capers and lower heat. Add 1 tomato, diced. Simmer for 10 minutes.


Pour 1 cup boiling water over 1 cup bulgur wheat. Bulgur wheat is a Always Lemons Allstar: a cheap, healthy, quick, pantry dweller. Let stand 15 minutes.

Mix in: juice of 1 lemon + 2 Tablespoons olive oil + 1 scallion sliced into disks + 1 cup parsley minced + 1/2 cucumber peeled and diced + 2 cloves of garlic grated.

I have a lot of variations on this. Sometimes I add mint. Sometimes I add celery in place of cucumber. I've seen recipes that add tomato. The main flavors are the wheat, parsley, lemon and garlic. Add what you like. Feta, olives, and so on.

Serve with pita.

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