Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Moroccan Cuisine Rocks!

There is a large minority of folks with North African ancestry whose cuisine figures significantly in daily life here.  Couscous is one such dish and is an aesthetically presented main course, commanding all eyes to dwell on its major star attraction.  It has the distinction of being the third most favourite food in France.   Though having some common elements, couscous is prepared differently from family to family.

Our friends graciously catered a complete couscous dinner for us recently.  As the husband was unwrapping all the warm dishes his wife prepared, amidst my excited volley of ça sent bon, tout est tellement beau, c'est magnifique, I would ask more sedately from time to time, oh, what is that?  Moroccan bread.  And that?  Moroccan dessert.  And this here?  Moroccan sauce.

A meal emitting such tantalising smells like this one was not going to wait until my mania for knowing culinary facts were fulfilled.  But then again, the important keyword was Moroccan, so I figured I had a fighting chance of being able to identify some of the ingredients via web research as our friend needed to return home, and we needed to do justice to this splendid repast.  Hopefully my research is correct and if not, a kind reader will let me know!

The couscous had well browned, tender chicken legs, zucchini, carrots, chick peas, and cabbage quarters on a bed of couscous, everything being redolent of tumeric and cinnamon among other spices.  Veggies certainly have their appeal when crunchy, but they are also excellent if they are succulent and full of absorbed flavours.  The accompanying, golden sauce was made from the spicy water in which the veggies were cooked.  Its heat level was moderate, giving a wonderfully warming sensation on a dreary, rainy day.

That's the sauce in the upper left corner.

The warm bread was a flattish but yeast-raised, round loaf with a hint of whole grain goodness and a pleasing, anise-flavoured, rather open crumb.  It is traditionally used as a means of eating the food.  Its shape allows for a high proportion of tasty crust which was delightful.

Not all bread lends itself to be broken, but this one begged for such treatment.

The dessert was astounding:  scrumptious and gorgeously presented.  An elegant, paper-thin pastry enveloped a saturated-with-honey, pleasantly grainy filling of almond paste flavoured with rosewater and cinnamon.

This elegant pastry wrapper is called Warqa and was a revelation:  tender but crisp and formed to resemble petals caressing the delectable almond paste.

At first glance, I thought the wrapper was made from fondant as it is creamy, moist, and smooth to sight and touch, though upon tasting and closer observation, it was clearly baked with delicately browned bottoms and edges.

The pastries were decorated with sugar shot and edible glitter.

Two had the shape reminiscent of Cornes de Gazelle, but with way more elaboration as they were wrapped in a patterned Warqa pastry with their open ends dipped in roasted sesame seeds.

As much as I adore cooking, it was wonderful to be able just to sit down and dive right in.

Couscous of course also makes a delicious accompaniment for many dishes and here are basic instructions for making it.  I like encircling tuna-stuffed, garden-fresh tomatoes with couscous.

Several weeks of almost constant rain has made it impossible not only to be able to prepare the potager for the big plant nursery order soon to arrive, but also even to walk that much around the garden as there is no structure more fragile than sopping-wet earth.  Everything is dripping with cool rain, and Dayo tries to keep his paws off the drenched soil by staying on concrete paths/terracotta tile edgings.

There are still quite a few plump leeks to harvest!

I am thankful for some evergreen 'bones' like this flourishing patch of thyme.  When passing by, I often bend down and crush a handful which releases its bracing fragrance.  Then when returning to the kitchen, I toss them in boiling water, shut off the heat, and then steep covered for about five minutes.  I comfortably sit down at the dining table and put a towel over both my head and the pot while carefully breathing the soothing vapours which aid in keeping my respiratory tract from getting too dry in our centrally heated home.  Does The Calm One do this?  No way!  But he should...

Some pale-chartreuse daffodil buds are getting ready to flower fairly soon.

One broccoli plant remains which insists still on putting out edible side shoots as the main stalk has long since been harvested.

When I first join Dayo in the garden, he stays close by me, trying to help as much as he can.  Here he is investigating some hidden broccoli side shoots.

He also likes to keep me company in the potting room where I write up plans for the spring garden and sow indoors for eventual planting out.

Since receiving The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady as a gift from my super-sweet G+ friend, +Feisal Kamil, I periodically read the corresponding month from Edith Holden's charmingly illustrated book replete with her own calligraphy.  Her February entry focuses on the beginning signs of the major hustle and bustle soon to be found in gardens:  
I saw a little Robin gathering materials for its nest, at one place on the bank and further on, a Thrush with a beakful of long straw.  Everywhere the branches of the Willow bushes were tipped with downy white balls and the Alder-catkins were shewing very red.  In the garden of Packwood Hall adjoining the churchyard the borders were full of large clumps of single snowdrops.  I brought away a great bunch.  The farmer living there brought out a little lamb to show me, one of a family three born that morning.  I held it in my arms and it seemed quite fearless--poking its little black head up into my face.  Rode home seven miles, in a storm of sleet and snow.

Wild Arum is the middle plant illustrated by Holden.

Although there are no Willow trees nearby, there is a clump of wild Arum in the unkempt patch kept for small wildlifeThough it is too mucky to go there to take photos right now, it is nice to know that there is some overlapping between Holden's Edwardian world and ours here presently in France.

She ends her monthly account with these lines by George Meredith.
Now the North wind ceases;
The warm South-west awakes,
The heavens are out in fleeces
And earth's green banner shakes.

À bientôt!