Authentic isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Not always, anyway. Do you ever read about a country’s food, imagine it in your mind, and then feel a bit let down when you actually taste it?
I do that all the time. Korean and native American food come to mind. If only there were a teensy bit less fermented gunk, or the mutton stew was made instead with lamb…..
I felt that way the first time I tasted a Moroccan tagine. The seasonings in the stew were kind of brilliant but the vegetables were sooo limp. Wrung out. Tasteless. Don’t get me wrong, I still eat tagine every chance I get and even bought a tagine cooker (it looks like an upside-down funnel). But wouldn’t it taste better if the vegetables were roasted to concentrate their flavors? And how about using that big-pearl couscous instead of the fine-grained stuff?
I haven’t bastardized a tagine to that extent yet, but I did take the elements and seasonings (one version of the seasonings; there are many) and combine them in a side dish/salad. Serve it warm or cold for my American take on a Moroccan classic.
Not to insult the entire country of Morocco or anything, but this is the kind of dish you’ll eat with a spoon, standing in front of the refrigerator, at 11 at night. It’s that good.
COUSCOUS SALAD WITH ROASTED VEGETABLES, ALMONDS AND RAISINS
1 bell pepper, cleaned and halved lengthwise
1 zucchini, about 8 inches long, halved lengthwise
1 Chinese eggplant, about 8 to 10 inches long, halved lengthwise
2/3 cup Israeli (large pearl) couscous
1/4 cup slivered blanched almonds
2 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup raisins
4 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. mace
1/8 tsp. ground cardamom
Spray a baking sheet with olive oil spray or lightly grease with olive oil. Place pepper, zucchini and eggplant on sheet and spray or lightly coat with olive oil. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes or until vegetables are soft but not mushy. The roasting time will depend on the thickness of the vegetables.
Meanwhile, cook couscous according to package directions. While it cooks, heat a heavy, medium-size skillet over high heat. Toast almonds in the skillet until light brown on the edges, stirring frequently. Remove from skillet and set aside.
Heat the 2 tablespoons olive oil in same skillet over medium heat. Sauté onions until softened but not brown. Scrape onions and oil in skillet into a medium-large serving bowl. When the couscous is done, stir into the onions and oil in the bowl.
Pour hot water over the raisins in a small bowl and set aside.
In a lidded jar, combine dressing ingredients and shake well. When vegetables are done, cut into 1-inch chunks. Place in the bowl with the couscous and stir well. Season with salt to taste. Drain raisins and stir into the couscous with the toasted almonds. Shake dressing again. Pour over salad and stir well.
Serve warm or cold. Makes about 6 servings.
What I cooked last week:
Genghis Khan (marinated, grilled thin-sliced lamb) over cauliflower rice with pan-grilled carrots, sugar-snap peas, onions and oyster mushrooms; baked shrimp with tomatoes and feta; roast pork tenderloin and couscous with roasted vegetables, almonds and raisins; baked potato and filet mignon cooked in and grilled over a backyard campfire.
What I ate out:
Chicken gyro at Continental Cuisine in Fairlawn; small popcorn, no butter at Regal Cinema; pancetta, lettuce and tomato flatbread sandwich, drip coffee at Cafe Arnone in Fairlawn; juicy, lemony grilled pork tenderloin, couscous salad with mushrooms, shaved Parmesan and truffle oil, and chunky vegetable salad at my friend Marty’s house; barbecued baby back ribs, kale slaw and homemade potato chips at Hoppin’ Frog Brewery in Akron; Caesar salad with grilled chicken at Mustard Seed Market in Highland Square; homemade tortilla chips with salsa, and tacos with carnitas and cactus salad at Taqueria Rancheros in Akron.
Thanks to those who wrote to commiserate about the weather, comment on past recipes (the crustless quiche was a hit) or just to say “Hi.” I no longer feel ignored.
I still don’t have mail to share, though, so I’m passing along a recipe from my friend, Joan Welsh, who brought the yummy dish to a gathering. Four of us meet once a month or so to laugh and, basically, eat. I know many of you have similar get-togethers. I’d love to have the recipe for the latest dish you’ve shared with YOUR friends.
Joan’s dish was heady with the aroma (and flavor) of truffles — no doubt because she used good truffle oil. She bought the oil at TruffleHunter on the Internet, she said.
ISRAELI COUSCOUS WITH MUSHROOMS AND LEMON TRUFFLE VINAIGRETTE
1 lb. assorted mushrooms, sliced
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 cup Israeli couscous
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 cup shaved parmesan
1/4 cup vinaigrette
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white truffle-infused olive oil
Pinch of salt and pepper
Combine vinaigrette ingredients in a jar and shake well.
Spread mushrooms in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast at 400 degrees until done.
Place couscous in a large frying pan and toast over medium heat. When the couscous starts to brown, add broth, cover and simmer according to package directions until cooked.
In a bowl combine room-temperature mushrooms and couscous. Shake dressing well, add 1/4 cup and toss. Add salt and pepper if needed. Top with shaved Parmesan just before serving.