Sunday, May 25, 2014

Elusive Babouches + Preserved Lemons = Moroccan Musings

Can you spot the preserved lemon?
Anyone who knows me at all knows that I’m completely crazy about shoes.  Maybe obsessed is a better word for it.  Mind you, Michel likes interesting shoes, too, but his Taurean birth sign affords him unflinching willpower when it comes to shopping.  He has an unfailing eye for unusually beautiful things—bows, violins, paintings, jewelry design (he’s done that too), clothing, shoes, and his trademark collection of round eyeglasses.  A fellow airline passenger once offered to buy the bright blue Nike retro sneakers right off his feet mid-flight.  No deal.  Michel still wears those sneakers and people still comment on them.  Even the tattooed trainer at the gym recognized the shoes and started a whole conversation about the history of that particular design.  On a more recent trip, a flight attendant recognized the Camper shoes Michel was wearing.   (Camper is an international company that makes shoes from recycled materials.  The designs are quite playful and they look distinctly different from typical American casual footwear.)   

A brief aside:  By now I’m pretty sure you’re thinking I should be writing about food, not shoes, and rightly so.  Just stay with me, please, for another paragraph or two.  We first have to make a quick trip to The Metropolitan Museum and then I will tie all these seemingly unrelated threads into something delicious. 

Michel starts every day with The New York Times arts section.  He reads the latest music/art reviews and drinks green tea at the computer while I get ready for the school day.  One morning three years ago he spotted some unusual shoes in an article about Moroccan artisans who had been brought to New York to work on a construction project at The Met.  The images accompanying the article were filled with breathtaking shots of incredible craftsmanship and stunning beauty—but—in addition to all that good stuff, Michel was taken by the “groovy” Moroccan slippers those guys were wearing while they worked. Here's the article with slide show and video:


The article appeared about a month before Michel’s birthday, so I set upon a quest for what I thought would make the perfect birthday gift.  Finding information online was easy.  I first had to figure out the name of what I was looking for: babouches.  Done.  Getting a pair of Moroccan babouches to Louisville?  Not so much.  Ordering custom men’s leather slippers from a cobbler half way around the world was a little complicated.  The first pair he sent just didn’t work.  The second pair wasn’t quite what I wanted either, but that’s the pair we kept (even though the toes look a little too much like cowboy boots to me).  They are light and comfortable but not as beautiful as the ones Michel first spotted in the NY Times slide show.   

Those of you who have traveled to Morocco have probably seen babouches for sale by the thousands in the souks of Marrakech.  Those labyrinthine markets are filled with countless spices, food, clothing, and cookware—all in the most vivid colors and inviting displays.  However, I’ll be perfectly happy to read about Morocco and leave the travels to those who are more intrepid.

And now, to the subject of FOOD.  Moroccan cooking incorporates a potentially intimidating number of spices.  Michel had a hard time finding nigella seeds, for example.  He finally discovered them at Patel Brothers labeled “black cumin.”  Lesson learned.   Preserved lemon is another essential component of Moroccan food.  Here’s a short video from Mark Bittman demonstrating a quick and easy way to make this ingredient.  

Michel’s recipe for Moroccan chickpeas can also be made with lentils (shorter cooking time).  It’s a dish that can be made in a tagine—if you have one.  We don’t.  No matter.  It’s still delicious and aromatic.  You may need to make a trip to your favorite market to round up the spices beforehand.  That can be a labyrythine adventure, too.

Moroccan Chickpeas with Preserved Lemon and Squash

You will need:
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ preserved lemon, cut into ¼ inch cubes
  • 4 thin slices of fresh ginger, chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, chopped
  • ½ an onion, chopped
  • ¼ cup olives, chopped—a mixture of black and green
  • ¼ cup cilantro, chopped
  • 2 cups squash, cubed (any kind will work)
  • 1½ cups chickpeas, soaked overnight
  • 1 carton vegetable broth
  • 1½ teaspoons red pepper flakes
  • 1½ teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nigella seeds, ground
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon sumac
  • 1 tablespoon cumin, toasted and ground
  • 1 tablespoon coriander, toasted and ground
  • 1 teaspoon salt

In a 3-quart saucepan:
  • Place soaked chickpeas in saucepan and cover with broth.
  • Add sumac, pepper flakes, salt, coriander, paprika, cumin, nigella seeds, and cinnamon.
  • Bring to a boil, reduce heat and let simmer for 1½ hours until chickpeas are really soft.
 In a large soup pot:
  • Heat olive oil, add ginger and garlic.
  • Cook over medium heat until they give off their flavor.
  • Add onion, reduce heat, and let the onion sweat for 5-8 minutes.
  • Add chopped olives and preserved lemon.
  • Carefully pour in cooked chickpea mixture, add squash, and stir.
  • Cook over low heat for 15-20 minutes until squash is done. 
Top with fresh cilantro and serve with salad of your choice.  Michel prepared quinoa-kale salad for this dinner.  Enjoy! 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Immaturity is a good thing, or, “How Green Was My Garlic”

Green Garlic
It’s a pretty safe bet that anyone over the age of, say, 8-10 years old can look back on a regrettable moment when he or she behaved in an immature way.  You’re already thinking of one, aren’t you?  Most of those behaviors can be attributed to newness or inexperience, hence the application of the term “green.”  Some people never seem to develop the self-awareness to realize that, as adults, they are still behaving immaturely.  Maybe you’ve encountered someone like that at a class reunion or a similar gathering—could be the middle-aged mother of three who still wears little heart-shaped barrettes in her hair, for example, or the guy whose conversational skills are limited to recitations of his high school antics.  Awkward, right?    I am chagrined to report that my childish vigilance as self-appointed Keeper of the Board Game Box Top Rules has morphed into some rather annoying traits despite my chronological advancements.  My crazy insistence on pointing out the fine print inside the box tops of various games has simply found other outlets—primarily harping on grammar mistakes and mispronunciations, because those are rules violations, too.  

These uneasy musings about immaturity were prompted by one of Michel’s recent food finds: California Green Garlic.  Maybe you know all about it, but I didn’t.    I began to look online for information and found plentiful sources.  Green garlic, also called “spring garlic” or “immature garlic,” is a seasonal item with a more polite presence than the garlic bulbs available year round.  The bulbs do not require peeling and the stalks are edible, too. The phrase “immature garlic” amused me as well.  It would make a perfect name for an indie rock band.
Green Garlic vs. "Mature" Garlic (

Here’s some additional information from

Michel has used green garlic in a couple of dishes already this week.  I’m sure he’ll keep cooking with it until it’s no longer in season.  Here is today’s recipe:

Green Garlic with Lentils and Squash

 You will need:
  • 3 stalks green garlic, chopped—tops and all
  • 5 thin slices of fresh ginger, chopped
  • 4 carrots, chopped
  • ½ an onion, chopped
  • 1 each red and green bell peppers, chopped
  • ½ an acorn squash, cubed (any squash will do)
  • 1 cup French lentils
  • 2 cups coconut milk
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • ½ teaspoon Szechuan pepper
  • 1 heaping teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon coriander
  • 1 ½   teaspoons dried ground lemon grass
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
In a large soup or stock pot:

  • Heat coconut oil over medium heat.  Stir in ginger and garlic. Cook for 3-4 minutes.
  • Move ingredients to edge of the pot and add whole cumin seeds to toast them. Stir to prevent burning.
  • Add lemon grass, coriander, pepper flakes, fish sauce, and stir.
  • Add onion, chopped peppers, and Szechuan pepper. 
  • Stir and cook over low heat until onion is transparent. 
  • Turn heat to high then add lentils, coconut milk, and broth.
  • Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook for about half an hour.
  • Add more coconut milk or broth as needed.
  • After 30 minutes, add squash then reduce heat to low. 
  • Cook for another half hour then serve with quinoa, polenta, or any grain you like. 
 Enjoy! And have fun reminiscing over dinner about your favorite immature "moments."