Ok, so this isn’t a real tagine because, well, I didn’t make it in a tagine. I used the word in the title because it’s so evocative of the flavors and cuisine I was trying to cook tonight. I do really want a tagine one of these days, along with all sorts of other cool kitchen items I currently don’t have (I’m looking at you molcajete, fancy chopsticks, wok, Chinese soup spoons…) Using a dutch oven is a reasonable approximation, so that’s what we went with today.
We both love the flavors of the greater Middle East/Northern Africa. You may have noticed that if you’ve read more of our blog than just this post via Pinterest. I would venture a guess that dishes from that part of the world make up the highest percentage of our blog, as compared to other regions. Check out some of our other creations… they range from main dishes like Bahraini Chicken Machboos or Syrian Mini Meatballs (Dawood Basha) to Spinach & Feta Gözleme, to some of Ally’s beloved soups like Persian Spiced Lentil Soup or North African Wedding Soup, to delicious snacks like Muhammara and Spicy Feta Dip, and even Baklava! So many amazing and varied dishes! The flavors here tonight are incredibly similar to our Tangy Moroccan Meatballs, which is one of Ally’s favorite meals we’ve ever made and shared on this blog. The main differences between the two are the addition of the chickpeas tonight, which allows the dish to easily stand alone without the addition of another starch, and the obvious fact that last time we made meatballs, while this time we braised some tender lamb chunks. It’s also a bit spicier and a bit less tangy than the meatball dish. Some variety is good! Last note – this, like many other braised/stewed dishes is SO much better the longer you let it sit. Yay leftovers!
One of the best things about writing this blog is the introduction to foods and dishes that I didn’t know about beforehand. Today, I learned about chermoula! (Or charmoula – like so many words translated from the original Arabic, this one has more than one spelling.) When we decided to make our Tangy Moroccan Meatballs yesterday, I wanted to stick with the flavors of Morocco for the entire dinner. This lead us to this recipe, from a lovely site that I think I’ll visit again – Taste of Maroc.
Chermoula itself is a condiment in the pesto family in terms of texture or consistency. It is traditional to North African countries like Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, and Libya, although the Moroccans claim original ownership. It’s one of those things where there is no one single recipe – there are regional variations, as well as changes from neighbor to neighbor. The basics include fresh herbs (parsley and cilantro), olive oil, and lemon juice. The other ingredients can range from basic spices like cumin, paprika, and coriander to harissa paste to onions or even pureed grapes (Tunisian tradition)! The paprika and cumin additions we used tonight seem to be fairly common in Morocco, at least as my internet perusing has informed me.
These carrots are basically just a vessel for the chermoula. It makes them (and anything else you might feel so inclined to cover with chermoula) into a bright and herbaceous dish. These are a perfect side dish to any meat, especially something that’s heavier or spicy. Furthermore, the flavor and lovely presentation belies the fact that it really takes you no time to prepare the dish. As I was eating (and enjoying!) this last night, I also thought that it probably would be equally as delicious and maybe a little fresher tasting if we’d cooked the carrots and just topped them with the chermoula without cooking the condiment at all. Note to self for next time.
(Adapted from Taste of Maroc)
6 large carrots
~1 cup chermoula
6 cloves garlic, sliced
1 1/2 cups fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
1 cup fresh parsley, roughly chopped
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp paprika
3 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
5 turns fresh ground black pepper
Slice the carrots on the bias, cutting pieces roughly the size of a baby carrot.
Steam the carrots in a pan. Depending on the size of your pan, add just enough water create a thin layer of water coating the bottom and place over medium heat. Add the carrots and cover with a lid to steam.
Cook the carrots for ~ 8-10 minutes, until they are al dente.
Meanwhile (or make ahead!), make the chermoula by combining all of the remaining ingredients in a food processor (or, if you’re cooler than we are and have a mortar & pestle, crush them that way!). Pulse briefly until you have a well-combined, but not obliterated sauce.
Pour the chermoula into the pan with the carrots. Cook, with the lid on, over low heat for an additional 5 minutes.
As a newbie blogger, I like to think I’m following all of the blogging etiquette rules out there. (Although honestly, I have no idea… I could be committing some blogger faux pas with every post for all I know… someone give us a heads up!) But one thing I do know – because it’s common sense for one – is that you don’t just copy and paste someone else’s content and share it verbatim as your own. Now, if you’ve read our blog prior to today, you’ll notice that we share a healthy mix of personal creations and recipes that originated with others. When we’re using someone else’s recipe, before sharing it on here, we take care to tweak it a bit to our personal and non-copyright-infringing tastes AND to share the recipe in our own words. What does this have to do with anything? Well, the original inspiration for tonight’s dish was a pin I found on Pinterest. It had a gorgeous picture of meatballs in a tagine and the recipe sounded delicious! As I was getting ready to work on the dish for tonight, I found this recipe from the BBC’s Good Food site – it is WORD FOR WORD the exact same as the blog post I originally saved. Ugh! 😡 Maybe it shouldn’t bother me so much, but I like following the rules. And then when I went back and looked at my pin, it appears that the picture in the pin is stolen as well! Double ugh! 😡😡 So I deleted my pin, and we’ll credit the real inspiration instead 😘 Thanks Good Food!
Anyways, back to the recipe! We love meatballs around here! One of these days I’ll share the meatballs I grew up on – very different from these and just about any others I’ve ever had. [Check out our other Bon Appetit Baby meatballs – from our Sultan Selim Kofte & Syrian Mini Meatballs (Dawood Basha) to our Thai Turkey Meatballs!] Tonight’s recipe caught my eye because of the unique (to me at least) ingredients – the lemon and the olives! I’m glad it did, because this recipe is one of my new favorites! It’s slightly spicy, but just beautifully bright and tangy from those olives and lemon. Fancy chefs on TV always talk about balance in dishes, and while I don’t always know how to achieve balance, this recipe definitely has it! You’ve got spice and tang and earthiness and just the slightest hint of sweetness. I think this is why I gravitate towards Middle Eastern/North African dishes – they never just hit one note – they’re always multi-faceted. Whatever you call it, these meatballs are a treat! I ate them over pearl couscous (highly recommend), while Selim just ate them plain and was pretty darn happy! I can also see them being delicious with some fresh baked flatbread. Maybe next time? Because there definitely will be a next time for these!
Tangy Moroccan Meatballs
(Adapted from BBC Good Food)
1 large onion, finely chopped – divided
1 lb ground lamb
1 large lemon (zested & juiced)
1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp paprika
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
Generous pinch of saffron threads
1 tsp cayenne
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 cup beef stock (or lamb if you have access to it)
1 cup kalamata olives, halved
Handful of fresh cilantro, roughly torn
In a large bowl, combine ~ half of the chopped onion, lamb, lemon zest, cumin, cinnamon, paprika, and parsley. Using your hands, form small meatballs – roughly the size of a ping-pong ball. Set them aside.
Now, heat the oil in a tagine if you’re cooler than us and have one, or a small dutch oven if you’re not.
Add the remaining onions, garlic, and ginger. Cook for just 2-3 minutes until starting to soften and become fragrant. Top with the saffron and cook just another additional minute.
Add the juice from the lemon, cayenne, tomato paste, stock, and olives and bring to a simmer.
Once the liquid has reached that simmer, lower the heat and gently add the meatballs. Cover and cook on low for 25 minutes. Halfway through, flip the meatballs over.
Remove the lid and raise the heat back to a simmer. Cook for 10-15 minutes, until the liquid has reduced and thickened. Toss in the cilantro right before serving.
This is another one of the recipes that we decided to make this blog for… It’s one of my favorite Pinterest finds, from what’s become a favorite blog – Little Spice Jar. We always tweak our recipes a little bit and this was no different. But, per usual, we’ve forgotten the changes we made from the last few times we made it. So this time, we’ll cross our fingers that it turns out to be the best version we’ve ever made and actually write it down.
These little meatballs are so full of flavorful spices, and the meatballs actually flavor the soup broth itself. This broth has such depth, and the aromas floating through your kitchen are so enticing. The flavors build and build the more you eat. And actually, this is one of those soups that is so much better as a leftover. Do what we did and eat it for dinner, but then enjoy the leftovers for lunch for the rest of the week. Feel free to tweak the spices based on your personal preferences, but keep it spice-heavy! It is not super spicy, so if you want it that way, go ahead and increase the spice level. You may have noticed if you’ve read our blog a lot that we love the flavors of the Middle East and Northern African. No exception here. If you’re not familiar with or unsure of the cuisine from this part of the world, please let this soup be your gateway drug. You won’t be disappointed!
Why is this called North African wedding soup? Well, every time we make it, it makes me think of Italian wedding soup – the small meatballs, couscous in place of the orzo, and of course, North African spices in place of Italian flavors. Even more confirmation for this name? Tomorrow is our wedding anniversary! North African wedding soup it is! (I have no idea if there is actually a traditional North African wedding soup – if there is, this is not it!)
In a bowl, mix together the beef, tomato paste, and spices through nutmeg. Combine well.
Then form into small meatballs and place on a lined cookie sheet. Bake for ~10 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat.
Add the garlic, onions, and carrots to the pot and top with several turns of black pepper, the Aleppo pepper, and the fresh thyme. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are fragrant/browning and carrots have begun to soften, ~10-12minutes.
Pour beef broth into the pot and adjust heat to a light simmer.
Add the meatballs and the couscous, partially cover if needed, and continue to lightly simmer for ~15 minutes, until the couscous is soft and tender.
Taste and adjust for salt as needed, then serve.
Quick response to a question I’m anticipating. Why bake the meatballs, won’t they cook in the broth? Yes, they would. Baking them briefly allows for two important things in my mind – 1) it helps the meatballs hold their shape and 2) allows the meat to leech some of its fat somewhere other than your broth. Yes the fat tastes delicious and yes, you’re losing some of the spiced flavors, but it can definitely make your soup cloudy and oily.
This recipe is another prime example of why we created this blog. We first made this recipe a few years ago for Selim’s father and sister. We all loved it then! I was thinking about how delicious it was the other day, but could not for the life of me remember where I got the recipe from! I was convinced it was from Jerusalem, an excellent cookbook of Middle Eastern recipes from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. I paged through it over and over trying to find the recipe to no avail. (Literally I did this for a good 45 minutes.) I followed this up by googling “chicken recipe braised harissa olives.” Google isn’t perfect after all… Turns out, I had the entirely wrong cookbook in mind.
This recipe is in fact from Best Ever Slow Cooking, another favorite of mine. This recipe brings the flavors of the Mediterranean and Northern Africa into a delicious braised one-pot dish. We made a fair amount of changes to the original recipes, but stayed pretty true to the flavors I think.
The aromas coming out of our Le Creuset evolved as this recipe progressed. Initially, you’re hit with the crackling of the chicken searing on the stove that fills the air with a warmth that only cooking fat brings. Once you toss in the onions and garlic, there is that familiar aroma of things to come. After adding all the ingredients to the pot, you’ll be flooded with African, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean scents as the cumin, harissa, cinnamon, citrus, and saffron meld together with the chicken fat, onions, and garlic. The little saffron threads will dominate as this recipe cooks for an hour or longer. Trust me, even as I write this well after dinner is done and we’re a few glasses into our lovely bottle of Virginia chardonnay from DelFosse, the whole house smells like saffron and we couldn’t be happier about that. We hope you’ll enjoy this recipe as much as we have.