Monday 19 September 2011
Souk-scented chicken tagine and fruity couscous
Marrakech is the holiday equivalent of Marmite. For some people, the cacophony of sensations that hit you as soon as you arrive in the Djemaa El Fna square are just too overwhelming – the traders’ attention-grabbing hollering is too loud, the labyrinth of overflowing stalls is too claustrophobic, the bustle of busy shoppers and speeding mopeds is too chaotic.
But just as I was hooked on Marmite the first time I tasted it sandwiched between crunchy toast and nutty cheddar cheese, so I fell in love with Marrakech the moment I stepped into the souk.
As someone with a keen interest in both food and fashion, Marrakech is pure paradise. Sand-dunes of vibrant spices nestle amongst buckets of shiny beads and a sea of pashminas every colour of the rainbow. The scents of the souk are just as intense as the sights – an intoxicating perfume of fresh herbs and rich spices, with subtle undertones of sugary pastries and charred meat grilling in the distance. I was stunned by the vivid colours that surrounded me, and fascinated by the way the sweet and savoury flavours blended together so seamlessly in delectable delicacies like the crisp chicken pastillas.
Back in my little London flat, it’s this Moorish culinary influence I return to when I need to brighten my day without the cost of a flight. I’ve created a zesty, fluffy couscous inspired by the piles of dried fruits in the souk’s packed stands, which acts as the perfect accompaniment to Good Food magazine’s succulent slow-cooked chicken tagine. The one-pot nature of Moroccan cooking makes this the ideal effortless dinner party dish, and the unique flavour combination is guaranteed to leave a lasting impression on your guests. Any leftovers can be mixed together into a vibrant salad that embodies the sensational spirit of the souk in the peace and quiet of your own home.
Fruity couscous (serves 2, but quantities can easily be multiplied):
100g dried couscous
25g seedless raisins
25g dried apricots
50ml orange juice
Zest of 1 orange
15g flaked almonds
Salt and pepper
Chop the dried apricots into quarters and place in a bowl with the raisins. Pour over the orange juice and leave to soak for as long as possible - ideally overnight.
Place the couscous in a bowl and pour over just enough boiling water to cover the grains. Leave to soak for at least 10 minutes, then fluff up the grains with a fork once all the water has disappeared. Grate the zest of an orange into the couscous and stir in a dash of olive oil to keep the couscous moist.
Once you are ready to serve your dish, strain any extra orange juice from the raisin and apricot mixture and add these fruits into the couscous bowl. The raisins should now have swollen in size and be bursting with citrus juice.
Lightly toast the almonds in a warm frying pan and add these to the bowl. Mix everything together and season to taste with salt and pepper. Present your light and fruity couscous to your hungry diners alongside a soft aromatic tagine or spicy kebabs.