When I was a kid (probably 6 or 7 years old) my parents took me on a road trip to the south of Spain. Eventually, after hours and hours of driving under a massive sunlight, we arrived at Gibraltar (which technically is a British territory). Since we were so close to the north of Africa, I proposed we could go to Morocco, something that unfortunately didn’t happen as the plan was to stay for about a week in Málaga.
Flash-forward to date and I have yet to go to Morocco. Until then, I will try to continue to bring Morocco to me by exploring its cuisine and making my own versions of dishes such as tagine and harira. The latter – a chickpea and lentil soup – is traditionally made with meat (which I obviously don’t consume) and, sometimes, rice and vermiccilli noodles. The soup is cooked for a long period of time – sometimes over an hour – and thickened up with a couple tablespoons of flour, almost verging on a hearty stew. It is a one pot meal, and what a delicious and filling one… I’ve been having Harira for dinner for the last couple of days and I can tell for sure it is the best lentil-based soup I have ever made. Its heart-warming nature makes it just the perfect meal for the few cold winter nights we still have ahead.
(serves 6 to 8)
½ cup / 95 g dried chickpeas, sorted, soaked overnight, rinsed and drained
1 cup / 215 g puy lentils
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion / 1 cup / 130 g finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely sliced
2 medium carrots / 1 cup / 130 g cut into small cubes
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons cumin seeds, coarsely pounded in a mortar
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
a pinch of red pepper flakes
1 can / 2 cups / 450 ml canned tomatoes, liquidized in a food processor
5 ½ cups water
1 ½ teaspoons sea salt
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 lemons, quartered
1. In a large pot over medium heat add the oil, onion, garlic, carrots, cinnamon, ginger, crushed cumin seeds, pepper and pepper flakes. Sauté for 5 minutes or until the onion has softened. If the mixture seems dry and the spices start to stick to the pot, add up to ¼ cup of water to loosen things up a bit.
2. Add the liquidized canned tomatoes, chickpeas and 5 cups of water to the pot. Turn the heat up to medium-high and let the liquid come to a boil. Once the liquid is boiling, lower the heat to low, cover the pot with a lid and cook for 30 minutes.
3. After that time, add the puy lentils and cook, covered, for another 30 minutes.
4. In the meantime, in a small bowl, combine the cornstarch with ¼ cup of water. Stir well so that the cornstarch dissolves completely.
5. At the very last minute of cooking, add the salt as well as the cornstarch mixture to the soup. Give it a good stir with a wooden spoon (it will thicken up a bit thanks to the cornstarch), have a taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve in large bowls, adding a splash of lemon juice to each individual serving.
Last weekend I went to the farmer’s market and brought home some lovely squashes (butternut and hokkaido). Throughout the week I’ve been making soups and purées with them and today, after roasting the last and bigger one, I’ve decided to make some patties out of it. What I love about hokkaido squashes is their subtle sweetness and starchy texture that, in my opinion, are enhanced by roasting. After roasting the squash I pureed it in a food processor and added some cooked red quinoa and a couple other ingredients in order to form the base of my patties.
The addition of tahini is critical to this recipe, permeating the burgers with a subtle nuttiness that makes them extra yummy. If you can’t find red quinoa feel free to swap for the white variety; on the other hand, the hokkaido could also be subbed with butternut squash. However, if you do use butternut squash you need to peel it as its skin is tougher than the one of hokkaido (which, for the last two times I made this recipe, I didn’t bother peeling). I know it’s the second time I suggest adding pan fried capers as garnish (lately, I’ve been rediscovering capers and adding them to literally everything I cook) but I do think their saltiness and tanginess pairs beautifully with these babies’ flavours.
Roasted Hokkaido Squash and Quinoa Patties
(makes 4 patties)
1 medium sized hokkaido squash, seeds removed and cut into big chunks
1 cup / 140 g cooked red quinoa
1 heaping tablespoon tahini
1 garlic clove, minced
¼ cup/ 40 g hazelnuts
1 big handful chopped coriander
salt and black pepper to taste
1 handful capers, drained
1. Pre-heat the oven to 180-200ºC. Arrange the squash chunks in a large baking tray, add a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt and roast for 30 to 40 minutes, or until golden brown.
2. In the meantime, toast the hazelnuts: heat a large skillet over high heat, add the hazelnuts and let them brown a bit – 3 to 4 minutes. While they’re still hot, very carefully transfer them to a clean paper towel and rub them in it. The skins will then come off easily. Roughly chop the hazelnuts.
3. When the roasted squash is cool enough to handle, measure up 1 cup or 250 g of it. Add the squash to the bowl of a food processor as well as ½ cup of the cooked quinoa, the tahini and minced garlic clove. Process until a thick puree comes together.
4. Transfer the squash and quinoa mixture to a bowl. Add the chopped hazelnuts, coriander and a pinch of freshly grated black pepper. Have a taste and adjust the flavours, adding a bit more salt if necessary. With your hands, form the mixture into 4 large patties.
5. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat add the patties and cook for 4 to 5 minutes on each side, only turning them once. As soon as the burgers are done cooking, transfer them to a large platter but don’t turn off the heat yet – you can now pan fry the capers. Add the capers and one additional tablespoon of oil to the skillet and cook them until they’re golden brown. Scatter the capers on top of the patties and serve immediately.