Moroccan Carrot Salad with Sesame Lamb Meatballs and Couscous

Things have been pretty low-key around here lately. After my short escape to 80-degree weather and sunshine, the return to this seemingly non-ending winter has re-dampened my spirits a little bit. What little tan I obtained lasted all of about 3 days and already I’ve slipped back into the normal daily routine following that post-vacation high.

I’ve been finding ways to keep my mind and my hands busy though, other than using them to repeatedly place dark chocolate Cadbury mini-eggs in my mouth.  I’m finally starting to make use of that gym membership I signed up for over a month ago and last weekend my roommates and I hosted a small brunch gathering complete with sourdough waffles, sweet potato frittata, plenty of bacon, mimosas, and a day long marathon of Survivor reruns. I also saw The Grand Budapest Hotel and was more than satisfied with Wes Anderson’s newest bizarre yet brilliant creation. And throughout it all I’ve been eating lots of Moroccan food.

When it comes to comforting food, I rank those with loads of warm spices among the likes of all things cheesy, brothy, and carby.  For me, the flavors of Morocco, Greece, and India are some of the most inviting and throughout the last few years I have been striving to expand my repertoire of spice knowledge and ethnic cooking, mainly because I just love it so much. This past week I combined a few Moroccan inspired recipes and came up with these awesome carrot salad and lamb meatball bowls. Carrots are cooked until soft, mashed, and doused with a lemony cumin dressing. They’re piled over a mound of buttered couscous and topped with olives, scallions, feta, and preserved lemon. Finally, little sesame lamb meatballs are placed alongside. It was as excellent as leftovers as it was the night I made it and was the perfect companion to a glass of wine on a snowy evening.

Moroccan Carrot Salad with Lamb Meatballs and Couscous
Salad adapted from David Tanis’ One Good Dish
Meatballs adapted from Deb Perelman’s The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
Serves 4

Please note that, although optional, the preserved lemon really makes this dish. It’s a little hard to find and a bit unkind to the wallet but I definitely think it’s worth the effort to find some.

For The Salad
2 lbs. Carrots, peeled
½ tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. ground coriander
3 Tbs. lemon juice
½ tsp. finely chopped garlic
1 tsp. grated ginger
pinch of cayenne
salt and pepper
¼ cup olive oil
4 oz. feta cheese
1 small preserved lemon – rinse, remove the pulp, and finely dice the rind
2 scallions, chopped
a large handful of kalamata olives chopped

For The Meatballs
1 lb. ground lamb
2/3 cup fresh breadcrumbs
¼ cup water
1 tsp. salt
1 large egg
2 cloves of garlic, minced
½ tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. ground coriander
½ tsp. smoked paprika
a large pinch of red pepper flakes
2 Tbs. sesame seeds, toasted

To Serve
1 cup couscous, cooked according to package instructions
1 Tbs. butter

Place the carrots in a large pot of salted water. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer and cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain, and let cool for about 10 minutes. To make the dressing, combine the cumin, coriander, lemon juice, garlic, ginger, cayenne, and salt & pepper in a small dish. Whisk in the olive oil. Use a potato masher or a fork to roughly mash the carrots. Pour over the dressing and stir to combine. Taste and add salt if needed. Sprinkle over the feta, preserved lemon, scallions, and olives.

While the carrots cook, start making the meatballs. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a large sheet pan with parchment paper. Combine all of the meatball ingredients in a large bowl and use a fork/your hands to mix everything together until evenly combined. Do not overmix. Divide the mixture into quarters and make four meatballs out of each quarter for a total of 16 meatballs. Place them on the baking sheet and bake in the oven for about 13-15 minutes until the internal temp. is 160-165 degrees.

Make your couscous and once cooked, add in the butter and toss until melted and mixed. Divide the couscous amongst 4 bowls, followed by the carrot salad. Finish each bowl with 4 meatballs per person.

Roasted Carrot Salad

Well, I’m going to be straight with you right now. When the ball dropped and the New Year arrived, I was one of those people. Yes, one of the many who woke up on New Year’s Day, opened the refrigerator, and gazed upon the entirety on my next two days’ meals lined up in neat, multicolored rows of bottled, organic, detox juice. I abandoned my beloved jammy toast for a bottle of liquid celery and romaine lettuce. Mmmmm…breakfast.

So, was it worth it?

I’m not quite sure actually. I didn’t really wake up at the end up it all feeling like I had a glowing sparkly aura around my body. Perhaps I had a little more energy but I also had a nasty cold at the time so that marred the results a bit. I think that the greatest benefit was gaining awareness of so much mindless snacking. While detoxing, I would walk through the kitchen and make the motion to grab a handful of cereal or stick my finger into the peanut butter jar a spoonful of peanut butter before stopping myself in the act of sheer bad habit.

Also, post-detox, I eased myself back onto solid foods and stuck to mostly vegetables, fruits, ancient grains, and nuts before adding gluten, meat, and cow dairy. And it was with this stage of the process that I gained the most realization…I really missed vegetables. A lot. Working at a restaurant for 8 months, I was on a steady diet of bread and more bread with minimal green foods. At college, I used to have so much fun making up these funky, unique salads of sorts with fresh market product and it all kind of stopped in that “newly graduated” stage of life. So maybe it was something in the juice, but all the sudden I found myself pulling a new salad-y recipe from a long-neglected portion of my brain and came up with a dish that really did make me feel all sparkly and cleansed like I had hoped.

This one takes a slight nod from a roasted beet and crunchy radish salad I had at Arbutus Restaurant in London. Instead, I brought in the earthy sweetness from roasted rainbow carrots and offset it with the slight pepperiness and crispness of red cabbage. The strage part is that I roasted the cabbage. I’ve never done this before – it was kind of a spur of the moment decision – but it resulted in something that was completely unexpected and delightful. Who new that roasting ribbons of cabbage makes for a mixture that is simultaneously tender and sweet but also savory and chip-like? Trust me, you’ll be fighting others off to get the crunchy burnt pieces. The sprinkle of pistachios and goat cheese adds yet another contrasting dimension of sweet, salty, and tangy and the vinaigrette just ties it all together.

So, if the juice detox was the cause of the creation of this salad, I suppose I can say it was worth it. Otherwise, eh, I’m not totally convinced; my general consensus is that I just had two days where I peed a whole lot more than normal and had a flatter stomach for about 24 hours. I mean, sure it was nice to rid myself of accumulated crap at the beginning of the year but I think for the rest of the year, I’ll stick to plain and simple veg and tasty salads, thank you very much.

Roasted Carrot Salad for One
5-6 rainbow carrots, washed and halved lengthwise
¼ head of red cabbage, core removed and cut into ¼ inch ribbons
1 Tbs. olive oil
red pepper flakes (optional)
1 Tbs. roasted salted pistachios
goat cheese
salt and pepper
champagne vinaigrette

(I don’t have an exact recipe but find that the best vinaigrette is 3 parts olive oil, 1 part vinegar, and a small amount of Dijon mustard, honey or any other sweetener that you like, salt, and pepper, to taste. Whisk to combine.)

Preheat the oven on 450 degrees. Toss the carrots with ½ Tbs of the olive oil, salt, pepper, and a pinch of red pepper flakes and lay them evenly on a baking sheet. In a bowl, toss the cabbage with the remaining olive oil, salt and pepper, and use your hands to coat all of the cabbage evenly with the oil. Set aside. Place in the baking sheet with the carrots in the oven for ten minutes. Remove and add the cabbage to the same pan along with the carrots. Place back in the oven for 15 minutes, occasionally flipping the carrots and stirring the cabbage until both are crisp tender.

Arrange the cabbage and carrots on a plate. Sprinkle the pistachios and as much goat cheese as you desire overtop. Finish with a drizzle of your vinaigrette. 

Harry Potter and an English Supper

I know that this is a food blog, and yes there is a recipe at the end of all of this, but I simply cannot neglect to mention the fact that just on Friday a legacy and phenomenon finally came to an end. Of course many of you know that I am talking about the release of the last Harry Potter movie which I saw at for the midnight showing. In terms of the Harry Potter craze, I was of the lucky group of people who were 10 years old when the books came out and 17 when they finished, so I literally grew up along with the main characters. This has made them special to me in a way that younger generations, who did not endure the 2 year long waits for the next books, will never understand. So now, with the release of the last movie, the end of it all is a bit sad.

The movie itself was enjoyable, but I cannot pretend it was my favorite. Unlike Hallows Part 1, full of suspense, tension, and darkness, Part 2 was filled with much more slapstick humor than I really thought necessary, turning moments where I wanted to be one the edge of my seat, biting my nails, into those where I don’t know if I should laugh or not. That along with Ralph Fiennes’ awkward performance, the slightly non-impressing special effects, and the fact I was in a theatre full of immature pre-teens in costume that whispered incessantly, the big bang I wanted to end with was a bit stunted. It was a good movie regardless and I highly applaud the hard work that went into it, but while the world seems to be ranking it as their favorite, I’m placing it about 3rd or 4thon my list.

On a more food related note, however, I was very pleased to see fellow food bloggers taking advantage of the Harry Potter excitement by recreating some of J.K Rowling’s better known HP food inventions. I saw some delicious recipes for pumpkin pasties, chocolate frogs (apparently you can buy frog shaped moulds somewhere), some adorable chocolate cauldrons that look like they took forever to make, and of course Butterbeer. I only saw this child-friendly version, but I’ve tried one with cream soda and butterscotch schnapps that definitely fulfills that warming-of-the-stomach factor.

Though I did not partake in this Harry Potter treats fiesta, I did, however, recently make a British-style Sunday supper complete with roast beef, gravy made from the drippings, roasted potatoes and carrots, and Yorkshire puddings. Don’t ask me what prompted this move…it was about 90 degrees outside and by the end of things my hair was a frizzled mess and my face greased from the excess number of steam blasts. But in hindsight, its deliciousness makes that issue unimportant.

However I warn you that a full Sunday supper, regardless of the time of year that you make it, is a time-consuming, arduous, sweat-inducing, and messy ordeal. It dirties nearly every dish in the house, as well as every countertop, and leaves no time for cleaning while cooking. Those British mothers really have quite a task for themselves every Sunday. My respect sincerely goes out to Mrs. Weasley…imagine doing this for a family of nine plus the many guests usually present at the Burrow. Though I guess a little magic probably eases the task.

This dinner’s preparation is almost a game of strategy and necessary of extraordinary time-management skills. The roast goes in the oven first, followed 30 minutes later by the vegetables. By the time the roast is cooked the veg should be halfway done, ensuring enough time to make the Yorkshire puddings while the potatoes finish. And while all of this is going on gravy bubbles away on the stove top, waiting to be messily strained through a sieve. Phew! But, I imagine when made in late fall and in the winter, the result would be welcome and comforting, and the experience, probably not much different from the beginning of term feast in the Great Hall of Hogwarts. And the thought of the leftovers the next day makes cleaning much more bearable.

Sunday Roast Supper
I have Jamie Oliver, king of British food, to thank for the recipes and his guidance as he led me to make a meal that I believe Mrs. Weasely would be proud of, Due the complexity, however, I’ll link you to the recipes for the roast, the gravy, and the Yorkshire pudding, and leave you to figure out the time management. I will however give you the roasted potato and carrot recipe, as it has become a new favorite way of preparing vegetables in our house and seasonally more appropriate. We’ve used the technique many times since and have found it a perfect way to prepare the summer’s delicious potatoes and other vegetables. Eat them on their own or as a side dish and the leftovers are great used in something like a frittata the next day.

Roasted Potatoes and Carrots
2 lb potatoes
6 carrots
3 sprigs fresh rosemary, plucked from the stalk
olive oil
salt and pepper

First, wash and peel your vegetables and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut any large potatoes in half and cut the carrot in half lengthways. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Once boiling, add the potatoes and carrots and let them rapidly boil for 8-10 minutes. Drain in a colander and let the vegetables steam dry for a minute.

Pluck out the carrots and set them aside. For the potatoes, however, shake them around in the colander until the sides are really scuffed up on every potato. The uneven edges will crisp up amazingly. Set these aside as well.

Put a large roasting pan on the stovetop over medium heat. Add about 3 or 4 lugs of olive oil into the pan and let it heat up. Add the sprigs of rosemary and mix them around for a second. (You can even add a few unpeeled garlic cloves at this point too if you want some garlic flavor). Finally, toss in the carrots and potatoes and stir them around so they are well coated in the oil. Add a little more oil if they look too dry. Add the salt and pepper, give everything a stir, and position the vegetables so that they are in an even layer in the roasting pan. This will allow then to roast and become crispy rather than steam. Place in the oven for one hour or until golden, giving the vegetables a turn or flip about every 20 minutes so all the edges crisp evenly.