My good friend Linda is over from Spain this week and I wanted to cook something a little special when she came round for supper last night. I decided to recreate a meal I’d cooked at the weekend with my daughter Nicola, after the Whisky Festival in Birmingham. It was Nicola’s idea to make a vegetable tagine to go with some fish and it worked so well I was keen to do it again and thought Linda would enjoy it. I decided to add a little extra though by making a spicy Chermoula to spoon over the fish. I used recipes in Ghillie Basan’s Tagines & Couscous.
I made the tagine in the afternoon ready to heat up when we ate as I didn’t want to be doing a lot of cooking once Linda arrived. I cut 1 red onion, with the grain, and put it in a tagine with 2 tablespoons olive oil. (If you don’t have a tagine just use a shallow pan with a lid.) Once that had softened I added 2 crushed cloves of garlic, 1 teaspoon coriander seeds ground with 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, 1 teaspoon turmeric, 1 pinch saffron and 1 teaspoon dried mint. Sir around and then add 4 waxy new potatoes cut into quarters and toss around to coat them with the spices. Pour over 200ml stock or water. Bring to a boil and then cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
The recipe used fresh artichokes but as nice fresh artichoke hearts are hard to come by here, I used some from a jar. I added 8 pieces – 4 each. Also add about half a small bunch of coriander, chopped roughly. Stir and cook for another 5 minutes.
Now add 120g peas (fresh or frozen) and 1/4 preserved lemon (remove flesh and finely chop the skin). At this point the tagine needs another 10 minutes cooking but if you’re planning to reheat it later, turn the heat off now so it doesn’t overcook. Then gently reheat and simmer for 10 minutes just before serving.
Chermoula is mostly used as a marinade, particularly for fish, in Moroccan cooking but I thought it would make a great sauce, just as I often make a pesto to serve over fish. It’s a wonderfully spicy sauce with hot fresh red chillies, but also fresh tasting with the addition of lemon and fresh coriander. See the recipe where I used it as a marinade for my A Girls Only Valentine Dinner by clicking here.
I bought a lovely Gilt Head Bream from my local fishmonger, Sandys, and got them to fillet it into two portions for me. It only takes a few minutes to cook. Score the skin and sprinkle with a little sea salt. Put a small amount of oil in a pan – just to smear it really – and when it’s hot, add the fish fillets skin side down. Allow to cook until you can see the fish turning white where it is cooked through, around the edge and gradually moving inwards. When it’s almost cooked, flip over and finish off with the skin side on top. I placed it on a plate, spooned a little of the chermoula along the top and put the rest of the sauce in a bowl on the table.
I served the tagine separately too so we could take just as much as we wanted.
It was all very delicious. The chermoula is wonderful with the fish; the vegetable tagine a perfect accompaniment.
Special meals should have a dessert but I wanted something light and easy. I found a recipe in another of Ghillie Basan’s books, Flavours of Morocco, for Fresh Figs with Walnuts and Honey. This was wonderfully simple. All you do is pan-toast some walnuts till aromatic and browning then crush coarsely in a mortar and pestle. Trim off the stalk of a few fresh figs and carefully cut down into quarters but not all the way through, so you can gently open the fig out into a flower shape. Lay the figs on a plate. Drizzle over some runny honey. I used a gorgeous Cretan honey flavoured with thyme and pine that Stavia gave me at Liquid Gold Cave after the interview I did with her (click here). Finally scatter over the walnuts.
I served it with some Total Greek Yogurt on the side. Ghillie says that the Moroccans think figs aid digestion so with our ‘healthy’ honey it was not only a delicious way to end the meal but pretty healthy too!
It was a lovely meal and so nice to cook for Linda who does a lot more (and wonderful) cooking for me when I visit her and George in Spain. But most of all it was great to have a long evening to sit over food and wine and talk with my friend.