A posting in today’s Daily Beast on Moroccan tajines.
Today I am the featured cookbook author on Cookstr - check it out. Quite a few recipes of mine are posted here. Browse around. A great site with lots of top chefs and authors.
I will begin posting some “recipes in progress” here. The first is from Morocco – I have been asked for it a dozen times since mentioning it here. Mostly, though, the recipes will be from closer to home, as I work on my new book The Country Cooking of Spain.
Moroccan Carrot and Cumin Salad
This “salad” is often eaten as an appetizer alongside herbed olives and even small cheese-filled triangular cheese- or onion-stuffed phyllo pastries called rghaifs. The carrots are best served chilled with toothpicks to prod.
8 ounces carrots, peeled, trimmed, and cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Ground black pepper
Juice of 1 lemon
2 heaped tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and add salt. Add the carrots and boil until just tender, about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, fill a basin with cold water. Transfer the carrots with a slotted spoon to the cold water to stop any further cooking. Once they have cooled, remove with a slotted spoon and drain. Spread out on absorbent paper towels to dry.
In a large sauté pan or skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the carrots, season with the cumin, paprika, and pepper, and add the sugar. Cook, stirring gently, for 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, add half of the lemon juice and dust with the parsley. Turn carrots over to evenly coat.
Transfer to a bowl and let cool. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled.
Just before serving, squeeze the remaining lemon juice over top and turn over to evenly coat. Serve chilled.
All recipes are copyright Jeff Koehler 2009 and may not be reproduced without his written permission.
It doesn’t take long – a few days sometimes, a week at most – when I begin craving what I had been eating on a recent trip. From in and around Marrakech last week it was a simple finger “salad” of Moroccan Carrots with Cumin that I first begin to desire back in Barcelona.
For dinner the other night I cut the carrots into rounds, blanched them, and then began tinkering with the spices and oil and lemon juice to get that (in my mouth) just-right tang of cumin of the ones I ate at La Maison Arabe with retaining an underlying sweetness like the ones from Amanjena.
The came out well, though the next day, properly chilled, there were even better – and closer to the taste I had been aiming. I ate them for lunch as a lead into to a bowl of (equally chilled) gazpacho. Perfect for the warm summer day but also my mood.
I am making them again in a few days’ time to take to a dinner we’re attending, and will continue to hone the recipe. Then, perhaps, I will post it here.
In the meantime, a lamb tajine with caramelized onions from Terres d’Amanar, in the western flanks of the High Atlas, is the second craving. I’ve drafted out the recipe and am off to the market. It’ll be tomorrow’s lunch.
A recent meal brought to mind this piece I wrote for the Washington Post a few years back on baking in a salt crust. Recipes for Salt-Baked Pork Loin with Creamy Roquefort Sauce and Salt-Baked Whole Red Snapper with Quick Pumpkin Puree follow. Enjoy.
Buried In Salt
By Jeff Koehler
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, March 24, 2004; Page F01
When I moved to Barcelona eight years ago, I joined a culture that celebrates the soul through its stomach. Food is a main ingredient in Catalan life, the center of nearly everything, and forms, with politics and futbol (soccer), the holy trinity of conversational topics.
Catalan cuisine strives to heighten — not disguise — the natural flavors of the freshest and finest products. Preparation is generally straightforward, and surprises, more often than not, are in the use of the ingredients — the mixing of meat and seafood, the regular inclusion of fruit in savory cooking — rather than in the method of preparation.
Nowhere is this style more apparent than in the creative use of salt.
Just after I moved here my wife and I went to lunch at friends of hers and were served lomo a la sal, pork loin baked encased in salt.
It was brought to the table still buried under a cylindrical mound of oven-browned salt. A hammer was theatrically produced and the shell cracked open. The large pieces of crust were pulled away, the lingering salt flakes brushed off, and a ruddy, dripping pork loin was lifted out.
The lomo was tender and juicy, robust in flavor with a slight gamy tang around the edges, and, perhaps most surprisingly, not salty. It was cut into finger-thin slices and served with small bowls of sauces — a creamy Roquefort sauce, a sweetened raspberry puree and applesauce — each counterpunching the full-bodied taste of the pork as well as each other.
The most important ingredient wasn’t the salt but the meat, and the same is true whether it’s seafood, chicken or vegetables encased in the crust. Salt-baking doesn’t create flavor from nothing but rather intensifies and heightens the flavor that is already there.
The mechanics are simple. A couple of pounds of coarse salt is mixed with a few egg whites. A thin layer of the mixture is spread on the bottom of a baking dish, the pork loin is placed on top and then completely covered with the remaining salt mixture. As it bakes, the salt forms a hard, impermeable shell snugly around the loin, sealing in the juices and keeping any of the natural flavors from dissipating.
Juame Fàbrega, the Catalan historian, journalist and cookbook author, thinks that salt-baking was brought to Catalonia from the south of Spain, possibly by the ancient Phoenicians, the first producers of salt in Spain. Some 3,000 years ago they settled Cadiz on the southern tip of the peninsula and began building salt pans to evaporate sea water in the sun to yield salt.
What they undoubtedly baked was fish, still the standard a la sal dish in Spain. The Spanish fish of choice is dorada (sea bream), perfectly suited with its firm white flesh, ideal size and thick skin that acts as a natural barrier keeping the flesh from getting salty. Sea bass is another excellent option; so is red snapper, though any non-oily white fish will work. It is one of the simplest ways to prepare these fish whole, and perhaps the best way to get a true, clean taste with subtle hints of brine.
The scales, head and tail are left intact, and the fish is gutted. My fishmonger in Barcelona does this in two ways: either by making a tiny keyhole incision in the belly and feeding the entrails out or by cutting out the gills and pulling the entrails through the mouth. But such a special skill isn’t necessary. The fish can be gutted normally and the opening closed with a toothpick before burying in salt. If the slit is quite large, a strip of aluminum foil can be placed over the cut. The goal is to keep the salt out of the body cavity.
The hardened crust needs to be broken apart more carefully with fish than with pork. Ideally, it should be cracked along one ridge and the whole top chunk pulled off in a single piece. Once the residue salt flakes are brushed away, the top side of the fish is lifted out onto a serving plate, the spine removed, and the bottom side lifted out. The fish can be served alone, simply in its own succulent, pooled juices, or with a squeeze of lemon or a drizzle of good quality olive oil. For sauces, we often opt for a subtle, almost sweet pumpkin puree.
Cooking a la sal isn’t exclusive to Spain. Eastward along the Mediterranean one finds daurade au gros sel (sea bream baked in salt) in France and branzino al sale (sea bass baked in salt) in Italy.
In China, salt baking is an age-old method of preparing chicken. In his exhaustive book “Salt: A World History” (Penguin, 2002), Mark Kurlansky writes that the Chinese were cooking in a salt crust more than 1,000 years ago. According to Eileen Yin-Fei Lo, author of, among a number of notable cookbooks, “The Chinese Kitchen” (Morrow, 1999), the nomadic Hakka people in Canton would make “ovens” in the ground by digging shallow holes in the earth, filling them with stones that were heated, and then adding whole chickens in sea salt.
At home we prefer the salt-baked flavor of smaller chickens (under 21/2 pounds) and Cornish game hens. Because of their shape, birds are trickier to evenly cover with salt than pork loin or fish. I mix in a bit of water to make the salt more pasty and take plenty of time, carefully pressing and sculpting the mixture around the birds. Once placed gently in the hot oven, the salt sets quickly and won’t crumble down the sides.
Before trussing and encasing the bird in salt, the cavity can be stuffed with unpeeled cloves of garlic and a sprig of thyme or rosemary. The meat comes out moist and tender, with a resonating taste of garlic and herbs, especially pronounced in the breast.
The range of what else can be prepared a la sal is wide. Eggplant, tomatoes and potatoes are all good. Medium-size White Rose or Yukon Gold potatoes take about 45 minutes to bake. An interesting fish option is burying a mess of sardines in salt. To make the extraction a bit easier, mark the space between each with a toothpick. Crack the shell and let everyone pull out the sardines, eating them with their fingers. The same process goes for shrimp. Use whole shrimp with the shells and, ideally, heads. Sardines and medium-size shrimp both take about 15 minutes in a 400-degree oven.
Because of the amount of salt used, this way of cooking, as Kurlansky observes in his book, was “for either the very rich or for a modern age of inexpensive salt.”
Indeed salt doesn’t command the exuberant and empire-building prices that it once did, but buying three pounds of imported sea salt can be expensive. Coarse kosher salt is more affordable — about $2 for a three-pound box — and works very well. The coarser the salt the easier it is to work with.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
In Spain, sardines are at their best right now. The peak runs de Virgen a Virgen (“from Virgin to Virgin”), that is, between the feast days of Carmen (July 16) and the Assumption of the Virgin Mary into Heaven (August 15).
Fresh sardines are perhaps best grilled over embers, but they are also lovely in rice dishes. Small ones, about 4 inches long and weighing a little under 1 ounce each, can be cooked whole in rice dishes and eaten with the fingers; anything larger, though, needs to be filleted. Here’s how:
Gently scale the sardines with a knife, then fillet them: hold a sardine with one hand and with the other rock the head first upwards breaking the neck, then downwards, and finally firmly pulling it away to draw out the entrails. Run a finger through the cavity to make sure it is clean. At the base of the tail, make an angled incision to the bone using a sharp knife. Slide a thumbnail under the fillet and gently pull it away from the spine. Repeat on other side. Check closely for any bones. Repeat with the remaining sardines. Rinse and pat dry with paper towels.
Today is Tots Sants (All Saints’ Day), a holiday in Barcelona, and, following tradition, I am making quince paste with the season’s first fruit. At home we like our codonyat (in Spanish it’s called membrillo) in a smoother, more spreadable form of confitura (preserve) and don’t bother leaving it out for a few days to firm up. (It’s delicious reheated slightly and spooned on top of vanilla ice cream.)
I will post a piece I wrote for the literary journal Tin House in 2005 on quince below.
Confitura de Codony (Catalan Quince Preserve)
2 pounds quinces
1 1/4 pounds sugar, or an equal weight to usable quince flesh
Fill a medium-sized container with cool water to place the peeled quince pieces as the flesh discolors very quickly.
Peel the quinces, quarter them, removing and reserving the heart and seeds. Put the pieces of flesh into the container of water.
Place the core and seeds in a heavy sauce pan and cover with at least 3 cups of water. Briskly boil, covered, for 45 minutes, or until the red jelly is released from the seeds. Add more water if needed. Strain and reserve the liquid, discarding the cores and seeds.
Cut the quince quarters into small pieces and add into the sauce pan. Add the sugar and 2 1/2 cups of the reserved liquid. Cook covered over a very low flame for 1 hour, stirring frequently to avoid burning. Add in more of the reserved water if necessary to avoid drying out or burning.
Remove from heat, let cool slightly, and puree. It should be thick and smooth, moist, granular. Splash in some more water if it is dry; conversely, if it is too moist, return the paste to the pan and cook uncovered, stirring constantly, until achieving the desired consistency.
Spoon the paste into a small ceramic dish and let set.
For longer storage, place the preserve in glass jars and sterilize them in a bain-marie for 10 minutes before sealing.