the moroccan table

parsley

Blogging is a funny thing. When I first began Laura’s Mess back in May 2012, it was predominantly intended as a personal record of my scribbled recipes, photographs and stories. Twenty months later, I’ve produced eighty six posts, learned how to use photo editing programs and formed friendships all around the world that are predominantly based on a mutual passion for home cooking, writing, local produce and nourishing those we love.

In recent months, one of the most precious benefits of blogging has been the formation of new friendships with a group of talented Perth bloggers, most of whom I met at the Eat Drink Blog conference in November 2013. To name just a few, there’s Laura (Laura Moseley), Bryton (Food in Literature), Whitney (Dine Whit Me), Matt (Abstract Gourmet) and Ai-Ling (Food Endeavours of the Blue Apocalypse).

However, among the crowd of eighty-odd people, there were two bloggers that I instantly hit it off with: Matt (Inspired Food) and Jemima (Feed Your Soul, Perth). Since the conference, we’ve kept up a continued foodie dialogue whilst also meeting on occasions for good eats and company.

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APPLEMINT

I expect it’s something to do with our youthful enthusiasm, a mutual love of food (evidence below) and our growing cookbook collections. Whatever it is, I feel blessed and inspired to be part of it.

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Where there’s food, there’s us.

A few weeks ago, Matt, Jem and I decided that it was time to hold a joint dinner party for our favourite long-suffering taste testers: Matt’s girlfriend Alyssa, Jem’s sister Lexi and my Aaron. After some initial brainstorming, we decided on a loose Moroccan theme packed with spices, nuts and grains.

The date was set for Sunday, 19th January 2014. Matt and Jem chose mains whilst I volunteered for appetizers and dessert. The excitement grew. And we waited.

herbs

The day finally arrived in a flurry of heat, sweat and activity. Matt and I completed most of the food preparation at our respective homes before arriving with Alyssa and Aaron at Jem and Lexi’s in the late afternoon. The evening was warm, sticky and bright. We sipped on apple and gin cocktails, waiting for the sun to set whilst chatting about our dishes, food blogging and life in general.

Aaron, Lexi and Alyssa chatted too; mostly about the shared pains of living with a food blogger (and the benefits, thank goodness!).

pome2 pomegranate

As the night continued, we cooked, laughed and consumed a beautiful array of dishes ranging from spiced chicken tagine to delicate orange salad. Jem and Lexi’s home smelt like a Middle Eastern market, rich with cinnamon, vine fruits and orange blossom.

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It was a privilege to see my friends ‘in action’, cooking and styling their dishes for service and photographic presentation. After cooking together, I’ve been even more inspired by their natural talent, culinary knowledge and genuine love of food.

I’ve included the full menu from our night below. As the appetizer and dessert recipes were mine, you’ll find them attached at the base of this post. For main dish recipes (and to say hello to Jemima and Matt) please click on the hyperlinks below.

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Drink:

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Appetizer:

  • Split pea bessara dip with smoked paprika
  • Burnt eggplant with tahini and pomegranate
  • Moroccan flat bread (khobz) with za’atar

meatballs

Mains:

icecream

Dessert:

  • Pistachio and rose ice cream
  • Cardamom and orange blossom ice cream
  • Almond pistachio shortbread cookies

As you’ve probably guessed by now, this is one of the longest posts I’ve ever written, containing five recipes in detail. However, after reading through and following the hyperlinks, I assure you that you’ll have everything you need to throw a Moroccan-themed dinner party just like we did.

I do hope you enjoy our recipe link-up as you join us around our virtual shared ‘Moroccan Table’. Thanks again to Matt, Alyssa, Jemima, Lexi and Aaron for the beautiful company, conversation, foodie inspiration and wonderful, fragrant dishes that entice the senses.

breaddips

Split Pea Bessara Dip

Adapted from a recipe by Hassan M’Souli

  • 125 ml (1/3 cup) extra virgin olive oil, plus extra to serve
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 250g dried green peas, rinsed
  • 45g harissa (Moroccan chili paste)
  • 1/4 tsp sweet paprika
  • sea salt

Place a large saucepan over medium heat. Add in the olive oil and crushed garlic, cooking for 1 minute or until fragrant. Add in the peas and cumin; cook, stirring regularly, for 3 minutes. Pour in 2 cups (500ml) of water and bring to the boil.

Cook for 10 minutes or until the mixture starts looking dry and the peas have absorbed most of the water. Add in another 2 cups (500ml) of water and cook for a further 30 minutes or until the peas are soft and easily pressed between your fingers.

Remove from the heat and allow to stand for 15 minutes. At this stage, you can puree the dip if you’d like it smooth. Otherwise, return the pan to medium heat and simmer for 10 minutes or until the peas start to split and completely soft. Stir in the harissa, then season to taste.

Cool slightly before serving, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with smoked paprika.

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Burnt Aubergine with Tahini and Pomegranate

This recipe was made exactly from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s Jerusalem cookbook. I’m not going to rewrite it here, however many other bloggers have including Brian Samuels (see link here). It’s a beautiful, bold and piquant dip. If you’d like a tutorial for something similar, see my baba ghanouj post.

Moroccan flatbread (Khobz)

This is a slightly bastardized version, seeing as I’ve never been to Morocco. It’s been adapted from several recipes around the web, including this one.

  • 1 1/2 cups warm water
  • 7g envelope active dry yeast
  • 1 tbsp raw honey
  • 4 cups bread flour flour
  • 2-3 tsp flaked sea salt, to taste
  • 1 tbsp caraway seeds, toasted and crushed in a mortar and pestle
  • 1/4 cup light olive oil
  • optional: 1 free-range egg + 1 tbsp water, to brush
  • optional: 1 tbsp za’atar, to sprinkle

In a small bowl, stir together 1/2 cup of the warm water and the raw honey. Sprinkle the yeast over the top and let the mixture stand for about 10 minutes, or until foamy.

Place the flour into a large bowl and stir in the salt and caraway seeds. Make a well in the center and pour in the oil and yeast mixture.

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Start mixing the dough together, adding small amounts of the remaining water until you have a smooth, soft dough that can be easily handled (I had about 1/4 cup water left over).

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 5-10 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Return the flour to a clean, oiled bowl before covering with a wet tea towel. Place in a warm, draught-free position and let rise for 1 hour or until doubled in size.

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Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (356 degrees f) and heat two flat, heavy-based oven trays. Deflate the risen dough before dividing it into two equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, then flatten into an oval that is about 2cm thick. Use a butter knife to draw three slashes upon the top of each loaf.

If glazing your loaves, quickly beat together the egg and water in a small bowl. Brush each loaf with the mixture and sprinkle with za’atar.

Splash each hot tray with a little oil, then carefully transfer your loaves onto the trays. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the loaves are shiny and golden brown. Serve warm with the above dips or some good-quality olive oil for dipping.

baked

Pistachio and Almond Shortbread

Makes about 16 cookies

  • 115g butter, room temperature
  • 110g icing sugar (confectioner’s sugar)
  • 1 pinch flaked sea salt
  • 165g plain flour, sifted
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup toasted mixed pistachios and almonds, crushed coarsely

Place the plain flour into a bowl with the icing sugar, cinnamon and salt. Rub in the butter until you have a firm dough. Mix through the toasted nuts.

dough2

Shape the dough into one long log (about 8 inches long) and tightly wrap in plastic. Freeze until firm, about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C (365 degrees f). Line a heavy-based baking tray or cookie sheet. Cut the dough into 1cm thick slices and transfer each slice to the lined tray.

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Bake for 15-20 minutes or until set and slightly golden at the edges. Cool on wire racks before serving, sprinkled with a little extra cinnamon if desired.

Pistachio and Rosewater Ice Cream

Adapted from this recipe by The Food Network

Makes about 1 litre

  • 150g shelled, toasted pistachios, crushed finely
  • 450ml whole (full fat) milk
  • 300ml double cream
  • 150g sugar, divided into two
  • Pinch of flaked sea salt
  • 1 tbsp rosewater
  • 4 free-range egg yolks

Place the pistachios, milk, cream, half the sugar and salt into a large saucepan and set over medium heat. Bring to the boil. Allow to boil for 1 minute before removing the pot from the heat and covering it with a lid. Allow the mixture to infuse for 30-60 minutes, or until the milk clearly tastes like pistachio nuts.

Pour the mixture through a fine strainer and discard the nut pulp.

drain2

Place the milk mixture back into the pan over medium heat. Bring to the boil. Meanwhile, place the egg yolks into a medium bowl with the sugar and whisk until pale and thick.

When the milk starts to boil, take it off the heat and slowly add about half of it to your egg mixture, whisking continuously. Add the egg and milk mixture back into the rest of the milk in the saucepan, whisking well until combined. Return the pan to the heat, continually whisking until thickened slightly (the mix should coat the back of a spoon). Allow to cool, then add in the rosewater.

Chill well (preferably overnight) before processing the custard in your ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Serve topped with some more crushed, toasted pistachios and crumbled dried rose petals.

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Cardamom and Orange Blossom Fleur de Lait Ice Cream

Adapted from this recipe by Food 52. ‘Fleur de Lait’ is ice cream with custard that is made from cornflour instead of egg yolks.

Makes about 1 litre

  • 2 cups (500ml) heavy cream
  • 1 cup (250ml) whole (full fat) milk
  • 2/3 cup raw honey
  • 1 pinch sea salt flakes
  • 3-4 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed (or 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom)
  • 2 tbsp cornflour (cornstarch)
  • 1 tbsp orange blossom water
  • 1 tbsp Cointreau, Grand Marnier or another triple sec (substitute another tbsp of orange blossom water)

Combine the cream over medium heat with the honey, salt and cardamom pods.

honey
Whisk the cornflour into the milk until well dissolved, then add to the warmed cream. Heat, stirring constantly until the mixture comes to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens to coat the back of a spoon. Strain into a bowl and leave to cool. Add the orange blossom water, then chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour or preferably overnight.When adequately cooled, process in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If using alcohol, add the triple sec to the mixture just as the ice cream begins to freeze.

Store in the freezer or serve immediately (be aware that this ice cream melts much quicker than those made with egg yolk custard. Don’t leave it out for too long).

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baba ghanouj

table

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’d be aware that I have a slight obsession with smoky, creamy baba ghanouj. It’s become a staple favourite for weeknight dinners, games nights, picnics and after work snacks. I’d almost go as far as saying that it’s replaced my hummus addiction, but… well, it hasn’t. Yet.

lemonrind

lemonBaba ghanouj is a Levantine dish made from mashed aubergines mixed with olive oil, garlic, tahini and other seasonings. It’s eaten in various forms all over the Middle East as a starter, appetizer or side dish, occasionally topped with pomegranate molasses, mint, fruity olive oil or spiced tomatoes.

Though baba ghanouj is traditionally made with raw garlic, I recently tried it with roasted, sweet garlic cloves for a softer, more fragrant result. If you’re unaccustomed to eating raw garlic, I’d encourage you to try this method for a less in-your-face garlic sweetness: just splash a good amount of olive oil into a small pan, toss in some unpeeled garlic cloves and roast the lot on medium heat (180 degrees C/360 degrees f) for 15-20 minutes or until the cloves are softened and slightly golden. Squeeze the cloves from their skins before use (these roasted garlic cloves are also fantastic spread onto charred ciabatta with some sea salt, avocado slices and extra virgin olive oil. Yum).

garliccooking garliccup garlicpeeling

Despite the charring process, baba ghanouj is relatively easy to make. It takes about 30 minutes from start to finish and each second is completely worth the investment.

Try it next time you intend to make hummus as a smoky, creamy and delicious alternative. You’ll be glad that you did.

tahini

dip4Baba Ghanouj

Makes about 2 cups

  • 2 medium aubergines (eggplant)
  • 2 tbsp tahini
  • juice and zest of half a lemon (equivalent to about 1 tbsp juice)
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, crushed (roast prior to crushing for a milder garlic flavour)
  • 1-2 tsp sea salt, to taste
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (if roasting your garlic cloves, use the oil from the roasting pan)
  • 1/4 tsp toasted cumin seeds
  • 1/4 tsp chilli flakes
  • to serve: extra virgin olive oil, za’atar, sumac or smoked paprika

Carefully grill the aubergines over an open gas flame, turning them with tongs until the skin is evenly blistered and the flesh is soft.

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Refrigerate or soak in cold water for ten minutes to cool.

Peel the blackened skin from the aubergines and place them into a bowl or colander. Leave them to drain for 20-30 minutes.

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When drained of fluid, chop coarsely and place into the bowl of a food processor.

chopped

Pound lemon zest, chilli flakes and cumin in a mortar and pestle, then add to the food processor bowl with the remaining ingredients. Process until well combined and creamy.

mortar crushed blender

Taste and adjust flavours as required; you may wish to add extra tahini, lemon juice, chilli or salt.

Scoop the baba ghanouj into a serving bowl and make a small ‘well’ in the centre. Pour over some extra olive oil and sprinkle with za’atar, sumac or smoked paprika to serve.

dip3 debrisdipping fin

potato and aubergine moussaka

eggplantsoakedAs a child of six years and little courage, I had limited tolerance for bitter, sour or slimy vegetables. Most vegetables, in fact, other than super sweet baby carrots, green peas and cheesy mashed potatoes. In particular, I held animosity towards aubergines, the large purple eggs known sensibly as ‘eggplant’ in American English. My childish eyes viewed them as the blight of the vegetable world, with their thick, bitter skins, sponge-like interiors and lines of acerbic crunchy seeds.

Unfortunately for me, my mother held an entirely different view on this member of the nightshade family. She loved them, both for culinary and nutritional reasons, and cooked them regularly in our family dinner rotation. Her default dish was ratatouille made with fragrant basil, olive oil, crushed garlic and Italian tomatoes, simmered for an hour in a cast iron pan. Sometimes I’d excitedly mistake the bubbling mixture for my favourite dish, Bolognese. I was sorely disappointed when chunks of aubergine appeared, traumatically infiltrating my spaghetti or steamed rice.

eggplant herbs

During each aubergine dinner, I’d approach the table with pleading eyes, tired words and a bubbling stomach. My mother would smile patiently across the table, watching my gaze flicker between the fresh pasta, rich sauce and steaming chunks of aubergine mush. “Just two bites”, she would say, gradually demolishing her own plate of ratatouille. I would grimace silently in protest, aggressively poking my aubergine with a fork until it disintegrated.

After what seemed like hours, my juvenile deprecation waned. I would relent, scooping two bites into my mouth before joyously leaving the dinner table to play. But with time, those two bites became an entire meal, then ‘seconds’, then ‘…just a bit more’. My mother’s assiduous determination transformed my hatred of aubergines into an unyielding love that endures in my own family kitchen. For this reason amongst others, I will forever be in her debt.

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onions

Over the past two years, I’ve become particularly fond of Middle Eastern ways to eat aubergines, such as smooth, smoky baba ghanouj, spicy mutabbal and grilled stuffed eggplants with lamb, yoghurt and fragrant za’atar. However, within this post you will find my first ever ‘favourite’ aubergine dish, Greek moussaka or layered aubergine bake. With layers of soft potatoes, seasoned mince, crumbed aubergine and creamy béchamel, this dish is rich, warm and filling, perfect for cold nights and ravenous appetites.

I’d suggest eating this dish in small, thick wedges with a pile of fresh greens, lemony grilled artichokes and some hot, buttered Greek bread (such as the delicious hard-crusted psomi). It’s a fine use of aubergines that’s sure to win over the harshest of critics.

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Potato and Aubergine Moussaka

Serves 8-10

Allow 2 hours preparation + 45-60 minutes cooking

  • 4 large aubergines (eggplant), approx 1.2kg
  • 500g waxy/low starch potatoes (eg. Nadine, Bintje, Nicola or Kipfler)
  • 1 kg ground lamb mince
  • 2 large onions, finely diced
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced finely
  • 1/2 cup good quality red wine
  • 1/4 cup Italian parsley, chopped
  • 1 tbsp thyme, leaves picked
  • 1 tbsp finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground allspice
  • 400g can crushed Roma tomatoes
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1-2 tsp brown sugar, to taste
  • 1/4 cup sea salt flakes, for salting the eggplant (+ extra, to taste)
  • freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 cups panko breadcrumbs
  • 8 egg whites, lightly beaten (reserve yolks for béchamel, below)
  • 1 1/2 cups finely grated kefalograviera cheese (substitute Parmesan or Romano)
  • béchamel sauce, recipe to follow

With a small paring knife, remove 1-inch-wide strips of aubergine peel from the green stem to the tail end. Slice the aubergines into 1cm thick rounds. Place your prepared slices into a colander or bowl, then salt them liberally. Cover them with an inverted plate to weigh down the slices, then set aside for 1 hour (this process, known as ‘degorging’, draws the excess moisture and bitterness out of the aubergines).

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Meanwhile, peel the potatoes and boil them whole in a pot of salted water. Cook until just tender (a knife should slide through with only slight resistance). Drain, cool, then slice each potato into 0.5cm thick slices. Set aside.

potatoes

potatosoak

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees C (390 degrees f). Line two baking trays with aluminium foil, then grease them with a light spray of olive oil. Place the egg whites and a splash of ice water in a small bowl. Beat lightly with a fork, then set aside for coating your aubergine slices.

eggwash

Rinse your pressed slices of aubergine to remove some of the salt, then pat them dry with a clean paper towel. Tip the panko breadcrumbs onto a flat plate, then place them alongside your pile of aubergine slices and the beaten egg whites.

Working quickly, dip each slice of aubergine into the egg wash, then the panko breadcrumbs. Press down to coat each side adequately. Place the slice of crumbed eggplant onto a prepared tray, then repeat the process with the rest of the aubergine, egg wash and breadcrumbs.

crumbing2 crumbing

Bake the aubergine slices at 200 degrees C (390 degrees f) for 30-40 minutes, turning them once during cooking. When the aubergine is firm but tender and the breadcrumbs are golden, remove the trays from the oven and allow them to cool slightly.

cooking

Whilst your aubergine is roasting, prepare your seasoned mince. Place a large, heavy-based pan over medium heat. Brown the lamb mince in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, then add in the onion, garlic and spices. Cook for about 1 minute, or the onion is translucent and the mixture is fragrant.

Add in the wine, tomato paste, parsley, thyme, crushed tomatoes and a sprinkle of sugar. Season to taste.

cookingmince

Allow the mixture to simmer, uncovered, for approximately 20 minutes. When reduced sufficiently (the mixture needs to be reasonably thick and dry so that the finished moussaka won’t be waterlogged), stir through the lemon zest, then set aside to cool slightly before assembling the layers.

It should look like this:

mincecooked

To assemble: lightly grease a large, 6-8 cup capacity lasagne pan or baking dish (mine appears smaller as I made two separate trays of moussaka).

construction

Leaving a 1cm space around the edges of the pan, place a single, flat layer of potatoes on the base. Top with a layer of aubergine slices, then 1/2 the seasoned mince. Sprinkle with one third of the cheese. Add another layer of aubergine slices, then top with half of the béchamel sauce (see recipe to follow; ensure that the béchamel fills the sides and corners of the pan). Repeat the above layers (potato, aubergine, mince, cheese, aubergine), then top with a final layer of béchamel and grated cheese.

Bake in a 180 degrees C (350 degrees f) oven for 45-60 minutes or until the béchamel is golden and the cheese is bubbling. Allow to cool for 15 – 20 minutes before slicing to serve.

bechamelfin

Béchamel Sauce

  • 225g salted butter
  • 1 cup (150g) flour
  • 4 cups milk, warmed
  • 8 egg yolks, lightly beaten
  • Pinch of ground nutmeg

In a small pan, melt the butter over low heat. Gradually add the flour to the melted butter, whisking continuously to make a smooth paste. Allow the flour to cook for a minute (do not allow it to brown). It should look like this:

bechamelroux

Add the warmed milk in a steady stream. Whisk continuously to combine, then simmer the mixture, stirring consistently, until it thickens slightly. Remove from the heat, then add in the egg yolks and nutmeg. Return over low heat, whisking continuously until the mixture thickens.

Use as specified above to assemble the moussaka.

*This dish was eaten very late in the evening with a throw-together salad and a glass of Stella Bella’s Suckfizzle 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon. Hungry stomachs led to fleeting photographs taken with poor overhead lighting. As there were negligible leftovers (and the dish took three+ hours to make) I’ll leave the proper photoshoot to your imagination. Until next time.

finbaked aarons plate

Notes:

  • Kefalograviera is a hard, salty Greek cheese made from sheep or goats milk. It is available from some supermarkets and specialty delicatessens, however Parmesan and Romano are fine substitutes.
  • This dish can be assembled, covered and refrigerated for 1-2 days before cooking. Return to room temperature prior to baking (alternately, cover with foil for 30 minutes if baking directly from the refrigerator. Add an extra 15 minutes onto the cooking time).
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