Sunday, 3 March 2013

Go to the Head of the Shop!

Piatto Unico Marocchino con Carne Macinata, Verdure Miste & Couscous
Moroccan One-Pan Ground Meat & Vegetable Couscous

One of my favorite spice mixes, Ras el Hanout, can be considered the quintessential flavor of the Orient- as curry spice mixes are the most typical of flavors in India. This is a blend of herbs and spices, perfumed with rose petals, that is in itself and its complexity a true work of culinary art. Indeed the name itself, which translates approximately to "Head of the Shop", tells you that it is seen as a masterful creation back in its land of origin, Morocco, where the merchants take pride in making their own blends. The traditional spices are ginger, turmeric, cardamom, mace, cinnamon, allspice, coriander seed, nutmeg, black and white pepper, cayenne and anise seeds... and maybe even more! But the result is a rich, mild, delicate and heady mix which is sure to enchant you and have you dreaming of its flavor for 1001 nights or more!

The thing is, that to me, this wonderful flavor and aroma IS almost magical... and it transformed some very simple and humble ingredients into a fantastic meal this evening... in just 20 minutes of time and the space of one little frying pan! One pot meals are wonderful and convenient- and if they can be as exotic and delicious as this, then why not indulge and enjoy? This dish was so easy to make- let me share with you how, so you can see for yourselves...

I began by toasting a handful of sliced almonds in my dry frying pan and setting them to one side for later- thinking ahead and avoiding getting another pan dirty! This is all part of cooking as you know my friends! The, whilst the pan was still hot, I added the ground meat- a mix of beef and pork in this case, and let it start sizzling, again with no added fat. After 2 or 3 minutes of frying, there was plenty of fat in the pan anyway :-) Once the meat had turned from raw red to a paler, half-cooked stage, I added finely chopped garlic, onion and parsley and stirred in about a tablespoonful of Ras el Hanout, some salt and pepper. This of course was for a generous single serving... the spices are rich but not fiery- so fear not! Once the meat was coated in spice, I added the coarsely chopped vegetables- in this case red pepper, zucchini and green beans. 

After frying along with the meat and spices for 2-3 minutes, as soon as the vegetables were also nicely coated, I added the couscous- in this case just a couple of tablespoons. I stirred the couscous in, added just enough water to cover the base of the frying pan and then let it simmer away for 5-6 minutes... this brought up all of the good flavors from the base of the pan and infused the couscous which became lovely and fluffy in next to no time. All that needed to be added now was the raisins and almonds- a handful of each and just 2-3 minutes more... and dinner was ready to be served! A generous sprinkle of cilantro and a squeeze of lemon were the finishing touches and the hint of freshness that made this so wonderful. Try it... you'll like it!

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