My brother-in-law Khaled is from Ouzoud in Morocco, a picturesque village nestled in the foothills of the Atlas mountains. It’s a beautiful part of the world; there’s a magnificent waterfall, huge valleys filled with olive trees and barley, all surrounded by the red earth of the rolling hills. It’s one of the loveliest, most relaxing places I’ve ever been to. Of course, there are some excellent things to eat there too!
Clearly, one of the main attractions of Morocco, for me, is the food. It’s famed for the Tagine, the iconic red clay dish with a conical lid, and many dishes will be cooked and also served in it. This omelette was a regular brunch during our stay in Ouzoud, and I love the simplicity of it. There are a fair number of ingredients, but the process is straight forward; it’s essentially a rustic, lightly spiced ragout made from peppers, tomatoes and lemon, and finished with some lightly beaten eggs. I love the addition of chopped lemon, pith and skin and all. It adds a wonderful zing and depth of flavour.
You’ll need either a tagine or a heavy based frying pan with lid, measuring about 22cm in diameter.
- 4 eggs
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 small red onion, chopped
- 2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2 large tomatoes, chopped
- 1 small red pepper, chopped
- 1 small green pepper, chopped
- ½ lemon
- 3 fresh green chillies, chopped
- 4 tsp ground cumin
- 2 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- ½ tsp ground turmeric
- 150ml vegetable stock or water
- sea salt
- 1 small bunch coriander, roughly chopped
- 1 spring onion, finely sliced
Place the tagine (or frying pan) over a medium heat and add the olive oil. Once the oil is hot, add the onion and garlic, along with a pinch of salt. Stir and fry for about 10 minutes, until the onion is nice and soft and starting to turn brown at the edges. Meanwhile, measure out the spices into a bowl and set aside.
Zest the half lemon and chop the rest into about 5mm pieces, pith and all. Set the zest aside, but add the chopped lemon to the tagine with the onions, along with the red and green peppers, chilli peppers and another pinch of salt. Stir and fry for 1 minute, then add the spices. Stir for about 2 minutes until the spices start to stick a little bit, then add the tomatoes and stock (or water). Mix well, then taste. Add more salt as required; it’ll take more than you think. Partially cover with lid, then turn the heat to low and cook gently without disturbing for 15 minutes.
Beat the eggs lightly in a bowl and add a pinch of salt. When the vegetables are almost dry, pour the eggs over the top and replace the lid. Cook for a further 5 minutes, or until the eggs are fully cooked. Finally, scatter the coriander, spring onions and lemon zest over the top to finish.
Neglected bananas are a sorry sight. I had three of them in my fruit bowl this morning and they were at an advanced stage of ripeness; way past speckly-brown, they were completely black, and were beginning to go moldy on the outside. I was about to throw them in the bin, but out of curiosity I peeled one open to have a look, and it seemed fine, if a bit sticky and caramelised. They would be perfect for banana bread.
I’m quite particular when it comes to bananas as a snack; for me, they must be only just ripe; the greenness gone but still slightly firm inside. That’s a perfect banana. When a banana passes this stage, I’m pretty disinclined to peel it open for a snack. I think subconsciously I know I can make banana bread if I wait for it to go soft sticky, and overripe, and it doesn’t have to go to waste! I’ll admit; I actually prefer banana bread to a banana on its own. It’s not quite as healthy, I know, but that’s rarely a priority for me. It tastes better, and that’s what really counts.
- 125g salted butter
- 125g caster sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 2 large ripe bananas, the riper the better
- 190g self raising flour
- ½ tsp baking powder
- 60ml whole milk
- ¼ tsp icing sugar, for dusting
Heat the oven to 175C and line a 1kg loaf tin with baking parchment.
Place the butter, sugar and vanilla essence in a pot and melt over a medium heat, stirring frequently. Add the bananas and egg and mix. Now add the flour and milk, and mix thoroughly to combine. Pour everything into the lined loaf tin then immediately place in the center of the oven. Cook for around 30-40 minutes. To test if it’s cooked, insert a skewer into the centre of the loaf; if it comes out with no raw batter stuck to it then it’s ready. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack. Use a small sieve to dust the top with the icing sugar.
Dal is the Indian name given to lentils or beans. In India you can find a huge variety, and many more delicious savory concoctions made from them. When I visited the country, I was astounded at the depth of flavour that could be found in a dal; they were undeniably tasty, and had a powerful savoriness that I had previously thought wasn’t possible in a dish with no meat.
As lentils and beans are relatively inexpensive, they are used in everyday meals for lunch and dinner. This dal, made from black urid beans however, is a bit more special. Due to the toughness of these beans, they must be soaked for several hours, then slowly simmered over a gentle heat for several hours more. Of course, a customary mixture of garlic, onion and spices is added to the mixture, and the result is a dark earthy bean stew that has a hint of smokiness. It’s very rich, there’s no denying it, so I have finished it with a swirl of yoghurt and some freshly chopped coriander.
- 200g urid beans, soaked in water for at least 6 hours
- 30g unsalted butter
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 20g root ginger, grated to a pulp
- 3 tbsp tomato puree
- 1 ¼ tsp salt
- ½ tsp cayenne pepper
- ¼ tsp ground asafoetida
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- ½ tsp garam masala
- 15g unsalted butter
- 1 bunch fresh coriander
- 3 tbsp natural yoghurt
Drain the beans and rinse. Place in a pot and add water until just covered. Add ½ tsp salt, then bring to the boil, skimming off and discarding all the scum that rises. Simmer gently for 45 mins, topping up with water if necessary.
While the beans are simmering, add the 30g of butter to a separate pot and place over a medium heat. Once the butter has melted, add the onions and ¼ tsp salt. Turn the heat to low and fry gently for 20 minutes until soft and sweet. Add the garlic and ginger and continue to cook for a further 5 minutes. Now add the tomato puree, cayenne pepper, asafoetida, ground cumin, ground coriander. Stir thoroughly and cook for a further 5 minutes on a low heat. Now add the beans, the remaining ½ tsp of salt 300ml water. Bring to the boil, then turn to a gentle simmer and cook, stirring frequently, for 2 hours, topping up with water if necessary. By the end, it should be dark in colour and fairly thick; almost but not quite as thick as porridge.
To finish, add the 15g butter and mix vigorously to thicken the dal. If, at this point, it seems too thick just add a splash of water. Mix the yoghurt in at the last second to create a marble effect. Roughly chop the coriander and scatter over, along with the garam masala.
Risotto of Winter Greens
It’s one of my comfort foods, the risotto. I’ve become very fond of this classic dish over the years, possibly because it’s a fairly quick, easy meal that can be rustled up at a moment’s notice. A plain risotto bianco is hard to beat I reckon, especially when served alongside a simple green salad and a glass of crisp white wine. And it only takes a little more than 30 minutes from start to finish. This risotto is a little more involved, however. It’s a proper winter dish, making good use of cavolo nero, that classic vegetable so loved by the Italians, and tough winter herbs thyme and rosemary to give a depth of earthiness.
Cavolo nero has wonderful textured leaves that are strikingly dark green, hence its English name “black kale”. The more nutrition-conscious out there will know of its status as a superfood, but it’s also got an intense savouriness that goes perfectly with something bold like a risotto. I fried some in hot oil until crispy, and sprinkled it with sea salt. A perfect garnish for the risotto as it adds a nice bit of texture. Be careful when frying it though because it will sizzle violently!
For this recipe you’ll need 3 pots; one for the risotto, one for the chicken stock and one for the fried cavolo nero. If you’re organised though you could fry the cavolo nero beforehand and wash the pot.
- 140g risotto rice
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 glassful dry white wine
- 1 bunch thyme
- 2 sprigs rosemary
- 1 handful baby spinach
- 750g cavolo nero (black kale)
- 40g parmesan cheese, finely grated
- 40g unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
- 1 litre chicken stock
- vegetable oil, for frying
The secret to a good risotto is to stir it continuously as the rice is cooking. This is the only way of getting the ultimate glossy and thick texture. So we’ll measure all the ingredients out and get everything chopped before we start.
Pick the leaves from the thyme, being careful to leave behind the woody stalks. Place them in a bowl, then pick the leaves from the rosemary, and chop them finely. Line up the long rosemary stalks in batches, which makes for easier chopping. Add to the bowl with the thyme. You should have approx 2 full tablespoons of chopped/picked herbs. Remove the tough central stalks from the cavolo nero leaves. Take approximately a third of the leaves and cut them into roughly squares. Roughly chop the rest of it into small shreds. Bring the chicken stock to the boil. Make sure your garlic and onion are finely chopped, ready to go.
The final preparation step is to fry the squares of cavolo nero for our garnish. In a medium high-sided pot, add vegetable oil to 1cm depth and place over a medium-high heat. Wait about 3 minutes for the oil to heat up (might take longer, depending on the size of your pot), then add the cavolo nero. It will spit hot oil at you violently; be careful! When the cavolo nero has almost stopped sizzling, it’s crispy. Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon or spider and drain on a plate lined with kitchen paper.
Now, to start cooking. Place a medium high-sided pot or pan over a medium high heat and add the olive oil. Wait until the oil is hot, about 1 minute, then add the onion and garlic along with a pinch of salt. Immediately turn down the heat and cook slowly for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft and sweet. This is the soffrito.
Now turn the heat to high and add the rice. Stir vigorously for about 30 seconds to coat the rice in the flavour of the soffrito, then add the wine. Turn the heat to medium-high and continue to stir until all the liquid has gone. From this point the risotto will take about 15 minutes. Set a timer for 10 minutes, which is when we’ll add the shredded cavolo nero and herbs. Continue to add the chicken stock, 1 ladleful at time, stirring continuously to massage and coax the starch from the rice. This creates the heavenly unctuous sauce of the risotto. When the timer goes off, add the shredded cavolo nero and herbs. Stir, and continue cooking.
After about 15 minutes, the risotto should be ready. When you taste a grain of rice, there should be a slight bite to it. If it’s still quite hard, continue cooking for a bit longer. Add the baby spinach and stir until it’s wilted. Turn the heat off, then add the chilled butter and parmesan gradually, whilst beating the risotto to emulsify it into a lovely creamy texture. If it seems too thick, add a bit of stock. As Giorgio Locatelli says “It should ripple like waves on the sea”. If you run out of stock, just use boiling water.
Portion the risotto into bowls and garnish with the fried cavolo nero. The risotto does not keep well, so eat immediately.