Jason Vorhees email@example.com
My husband, Bill, has this theory. As a New Orleans native, he believes this notion that if it’s hot outside, to feel cooler you should eat hot, spicy food and drink LOTS of hot coffee. He says that it makes you feel much cooler. Okay, so that’s what Bill says, thinks and indeed, lives by.
I, on the other hand, I have another theory. I think that to feel cooler, you should avoid the stifling, life-draining, soul-sucking heat and humidity that is our Middle Georgia summer. Not being able to abide by my own theory without becoming a hermit, I never miss an opportunity in the summer to get wet or cold, and both are indeed quite heavenly!
So, whether it’s a fun day spent at Sandy Beach Waterpark at Lake Tobesofkee (yes, I have a season pass — what a bargain!), a nice break in the splash-pad fountain at the end of Cherry Street in downtown Macon (near the Terminal Station), or a simple five minute visit to a walk-in beer cooler at a convenience store (temperature about 35 degrees), I have my own ways of beating the heat and keeping a cool head — literally!
I’ll indulge Bill’s theory today as I share with you my recipes for a not-too-spicy Moroccan menu.
We’ll start with Moroccan Mint Tea served, as any self-respecting Southerner would, in a tall glass over ice! Fresh mint grows abundantly in the South (just ask anyone who has ever planted the stuff — it will quickly take over an herb garden if not kept in a contained pot).
I simply brew green tea in very hot water, but not boiling. Steep for no longer than five minutes, as green tea gets quite bitter if allowed to steep longer. I sweeten the mint tea with sugar, although you can choose the sweetener of your choice — honey, agave nectar, stevia — and it’s even more refreshing and more thirst-quenching to serve it unsweetened.
A nice salad of coarsely grated carrots and chickpeas dressed in a sweet and sour Moroccan-spiced vinaigrette starts the meal. The salad can be made a few days in advance, allowing the vinaigrette to penetrate the dense vegetables. Baby spinach is tossed in a little bit of olive oil just before serving and the marinated vegetable salad spooned on just before serving.
My entree is to-die-for. Peachy Chicken Tagine is this Southern girl’s Moroccan food fantasy. I indulge my love of crisp-cooked apple wood-smoked bacon, combining it with plenty of onions and garlic (sauteed in some of those lovely and flavorful drippings) and chicken, fresh Georgia peaches, some carrots, and lots of warm spices.
I cook mine in the traditional Moroccan vessel — also called a tagine — with the cone-shaped, tight-fitting lid, allowing all those yummy flavors to stay inside the pot, and braise over a lower heat. Think of the tagine (the cooking vessel, that is) as a centuries-old slow cooker. The crisp bacon, freshly grated lemon zest, freshly squeezed lemon juice, and some minced fresh herbs get added just before serving over Saffron Pearl Cous Cous.
Saffron Pearl Cous Cous is a side dish, or it could easily be considered a vegetarian or vegan entree (substituting vegetable broth for the chicken broth). Slivers of dried apricots and coarsely chopped pistachios add great flavor impact. However, the star of the show is real saffron threads — the most expensive spice in the world.
But the spice is far less expensive when purchased at an Indian-Pakistani grocery market (you’re welcome for that great tip!). If you’ve never been to one of these stores — we have a couple in Macon on Eisenhower Parkway — it’s quite a delightful experience. I don’t know what to do with most of the food products I find there, but the staff at the stores, and the customers, are extremely helpful.
And for dessert, try my Moroccan Spice Cookies!
MOROCCAN MINT TEA, SOUTHERN STYLE
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
4 cups boiling water
8 green tea bags
1 cup sugar
4 cups combined ice and water
Place mint leaves in a heat-proof pitcher. Bring 4 cups of water to a boil and pour over the mint leaves. Let stand uncovered for 5 minutes. Add green tea bags. Let tea steep 5 minutes only. Strain tea. Add sugar and stir to dissolve. Add ice and water. Serve over ice.
Note: Yep, this is some SWEET tea, even by Southern standards. Minted green tea is served in homes and marketplaces alike (traditionally served hot) as a sign of sincere hospitality.
Makes one half-gallon.
CARROT & CHICKPEA SALAD
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons coarse grain Dijon mustard
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
2 tablespoons minced garlic
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups coarsely grated carrots
1 (14-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and diced
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
6-8 ounces baby spinach
2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Combine first five ingredients in a large non-reactive bowl. Whisk in the olive oil in a thin and steady stream. Whisk until emulsified. Add the grated carrots, chickpeas, bell peppers, parsley and cilantro. Stir to blend well.
Cover bowl with plastic food wrap and store in the refrigerator for at least two hours or up to two days before serving.
Just before serving, toss spinach with olive oil. Arrange spinach on a large serving platter or individual salad plates. Stir the carrot and chick pea salad well and distribute over the spinach.
Serves six to eight.
PEACHY CHICKEN TAGINE
FOR THE BRINE:
4 cups ginger ale
1/4 cup kosher salt or sea salt
2 tablespoons sugar
FOR THE CHICKEN:
3 pounds skinless chicken thighs
8 ounces sliced bacon, cut into thin strips
2 large yellow onions
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 large carrots, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon ground tumeric
2 cups sliced (peeled) peaches
2 (12-ounce) cans peach nectar
1/3 cup minced fresh parsley
1/4 cup honey
Zest and juice 1 lemon
Brine: Combine ingredients and stir to dissolve sugar and salt. Refrigerate until cold. Place chicken in brine. Cover and refrigerate for 4-8 hours.
In bottom of tagine or Dutch oven, fry bacon over medium-high heat, stirring often, until crisp. Using a slotted utensil (reserving drippings) remove bacon from pan and set aside. Remove chicken from brine and pat dry. Brown chicken on both sides in reserved drippings. Remove chicken from pan and set aside.
Sauté onion in skillet for a couple of minutes, stirring often. Add garlic and sauté briefly. Stir in the carrots. Combine together cinnamon, ginger, pepper flakes and turmeric. Add to the pan and stir into the vegetable mixture. Remove spiced vegetable mixture from the pan.
Return chicken to the pan. Scatter peach slices over the chicken. Evenly distribute the spiced vegetable mixture over the peaches. Pour peach nectar over all. Cover pan with lid. Reduce heat to medium and cook for 30 minutes.
Remove from heat and stir in parsley and grated lemon zest. Drizzle with honey and lemon juice. Scatter cooked bacon on top. Top with the previously cooked bacon. Serve over hot, cooked rice or cous cous.
Serves six to eight.
SAFFRON PEARL COUS COUS WITH TOASTED PISTACHIOS & APRICOTS
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups pearl cous cous
1 large pinch saffron threads
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup apricot halves, cut into thin slivers
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup apricot nectar
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
1/2 cup coarsely chopped (salted and roasted) pistachios
In a pot with a tight fitting lid, sauté the pearl cous cous in olive oil over medium-high heat for several minutes. Stir in saffron, pepper and apricots. Add the chicken stock and apricot nectar.
Once mixture comes to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cover the pot with the lid. Let simmer for 10 minutes until all of the liquid is absorbed.
Fluff the cous cous with a fork. Just before serving add the parsley and toasted pistachios.
MORROCAN SPICE COOKIES
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon pure almond extract
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted, cooled
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cream together the butter and confectioners’ sugar until light and fluffy. Add the water, almond and vanilla extracts and blend well. Sift together the flour and remaining ingredients, except for the almonds. Add dry ingredients to the dough and blend just to incorporate. Stir in the almonds.
Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Arrange on baking sheet allowing 1 1/2-2 inches of space between. Using the palm of your hand, flatten the dough balls. Bake in the center of the oven for 16-18 minutes, until deep golden brown on the bottom of the cookies.
Remove from the oven and place the baking pan on a cooling rack. Let cookies cool for 5 minutes only before transferring them to a container with additional confectioners’ sugar. Coat cookies in a liberal amount of confectiones’ sugar, allowing cookies to remain in the sugar a minute or so to develop a good “crust” of sugar on them.
Remove cookies from the sugar and shake off excess. Place cookies on a cooling rack and let cool completely. Store airtight for up to one week with waxed paper or parchment between layers.
Makes about 2 dozen cookies.