August 28, 2010

Moroccan Vegetable Ragout

Moroccan cuisine is often characterized as one of the most refined cuisines of Africa. Due its long history as an important crossroad of the Western and Oriental world, the country has over centuries created an interesting, unique style of cuisine. Starting from the rural traditions of the indigenous Berber population of Morocco to strong influences by the invading Arabs, particular the culinary culture of Baghdad, the Moroccan cuisine later got a strong Spanish influence since many Moroccan Berbers were part of the Arabic armies who invaded and occupied Spain for several centuries.

Many Moroccan dishes often use strong spices, like cumin, coriander, cinnamon but at the same time savory dishes get enhanced by the simultaneous use of sweet components as honey or fresh/dried dates, figs, raisins. This unusual but well balanced flavor combination gives many Moroccan dishes a unique signature which clearly separates this cuisine from many others.

When we were thinking of trying to emulate this characteristic flavor profile we thought that this recipe for Moroccan vegetable ragout would be a good starting point. It had all the characteristics of Moroccan cuisine such as cinnamon and cumin as well as honey and fresh orange juice as the sweet counterbalance for the spices. We also found the included vegetables, kale, sweet potatoes and chickpeas, promising as fitting ingredients for this dish. Appropriately for the Moroccan theme of the meal we served the ragout with couscous, most likely the most famous staple of the Moroccan cuisine. We opted to serve it with toasted almonds but skipped the often included raisins since we thought it would make the dish overly sweet. Overall we were pleased with the Moroccan vegetable ragout but if we would repeat this recipe we would increase the amount of spices and at the same time use less honey. Even though the dish wasn’t overly sweet we felt that the spices could have been more pronounced.

Heat oil in large pot over medium heat and cook onions for about five minutes until softened.

Add cinnamon stick and cumin and cook for about one minute until spices are fragrant.

Add sweet potatoes, chickpeas and tomatoes, olives, orange juice, honey and three cups of water. Bring mixture to boil, reduce temperature and simmer covered for about 15 minutes.

Stir in the kale and continue simmering for about 10 minutes until sweet potatoes are tender and kale is softened. Season with salt and pepper and serve with couscous and toasted almonds.

Recipe adapted from “Fine Cooking”

Serves 4

1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 cinnamon stick
1.5 tsp ground cumin
1 lb sweet potatoes, peeled and diced (1/2-inch)
1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes
½ cup pitted green olives
6 tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice
1.5 tsp honey
1 bunch kale, coarsely chopped


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