It has been a while since we went to Morocco. Sometimes the menus that come to me are a mix of cuisines. Sometimes the themes are "Quick and Easy" or "Top of the Pops." This week it was clear to me that I should again travel to the distant shores of Morocco. I have never been there, at least in this lifetime. For those of you who are not bothered by that brief hint at reincarnation and are still with me, follow me down a dusty side street of the imagination to the Moroccan Spice Market...
Imagine walking down the narrow and crowded streets of a Moroccan market. The bustle, clamor, and dust can be overwhelming for those of us accustomed to wide aisles and fluorescent lights, the sterile American shopping experience. Here at the spice vendor, the merchant will, like all his fellow merchants, exert maximum effort to ensure that you buy as many of his wares as possible. If you are a connoisseur of food and spices, you will indulge him, thinking of the indescribable, special something your creations will have, after infusing them with these fresh-from-the-source spices. Or you may feel accosted by the mingling of pungent, sweet, and bitter aromas, the heat and the press of people, inclined to run away towards the quiet safety of space (if you can find that in a third-world country). Even if you are one who could not stomach the market experience, you might remember it while perusing the spice aisle at the grocery store, lined with plastic bottles of those spices that originate in another world and time, a world more visceral, alive with the pulsing rhythm of survival itself.
To pay proper homage to our North African experience, we are departing ever so slightly from our gluten-free stance by offering Lemon Mint Couscous, in addition to brown rice. Couscous comes from wheat and is the traditional grain of choice in Morocco.
Entree #1 - Marrakesh Vegetable Curry. We invoke the mercy of the spice merchant for this fabulous Moroccan treat. It is loaded with vegetables like sweet potato, eggplant, zucchini, carrot, spinach, and bell peppers. (Is that all?!) Add in protein from the chickpeas; sweet flavors from raisins, almonds, and orange juice; the exotic flavor of Moroccan spices, and you get a dish that is mind-blowingly flavorful. I guarantee that this entree will transport you with its mystique to (photo allrecipes.com) the sultry shores of North Africa, even while you remain in the safety of your own dining room.*GF, soy-free
Entree #2 - Moroccan Lentil, Carrot & Sweet Potato Soup. When I was poring over my virtual recipe box, looking for the right recipes to compliment the Marrakesh, I remembered this soup. It is made with sweet potato, carrot, and red lentils, and blended with the distinctive Moroccan flavors of Harissa and Ras el Hanout. I can hear you asking right now what those spices are. Harissa is a paste of chilies, the North African version of hot sauce. Ras el Hanout, which translates as "top of the shop," is a Moroccan spice mix that can contain tens of spices. This recipe uses only 14, including cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, coriander, cumin, and paprika. Hmm... no wonder I find Moroccan cuisine so exciting! *GF, soy-free
Entree #3 - Whole Mung and Tomato Dal. This dal is a classic recipe, a standard in the Hillsborough Krishna temple I "grew up" in. It is mildly spiced with cumin, ginger, parsley, and fresh lemon juice. Whole mung beans are extremely healthy and have long been prized in Ayurveda (traditional Indian medicine) because they are high in protein, vitamins A, C, & E, magnesium, phosphorous, iron, calcium, and potassium. Mung beans are also unusually easy to digest. They are often recommended for anyone with a delicate immune system - children, the elderly, or anyone recovering from an illness. Of course you don't need to be someone with a compromised immune system in order to simply love the comforting taste of mung. *GF, soy-free
Green beans & Carrots in Charmoula Sauce - The internet is such a magical place! I went a-Googling for "Moroccan side dishes," and found this website, www.finecooking.com, that had a whole page of about a dozen wonderful looking side dishes. It was a tough choice to narrow down the one lucky recipe that would make it into this menu. I settled on this one because it is gorgeous and because I couldn't wait to try making Charmoula Sauce, the Moroccan version of pesto. Mmm! *GF, soy-free
Moroccan Fruit Salad - Apparently fruit salad with yogurt (in our case, soy yogurt) is a common dessert in Morocco, where fruit is both abundant and inexpensive. It is also a wonderfully light and cooling way to end a meal when it is hot and sticky out. Since our NC weather is heading that direction, and since strawberries are in season, this recipe choice seemed meant to be. This slight infusion of vanilla flavoring into this fruit salad makes it even more irresistible. *GF