The Sultans Feast
Our first introduction to Moroccan food was in the early 90’s in Sacramento at a restaurant called Casablanca. It was like eating in a genie bottle on the floor atop big fluffy pillows and eating with your hands. The meal would start with chef and owner Mourhit Drissi coming by with rose water to sprinkle on your hands, and a playful splash on the face. Through the years we became friends and I even through a few special music events at the restaurant. He basically had two menu options, the Royal dinner and the Sultans feast.
This blog will show you one basic spice blend, one fresh herb blend, two salads, two meat dishes and cous cous.
It is now 30 years later and we have moved around quite a bit since then and we currently find ourselves living in Spain. About once a year I will dedicate the better portion of a day to duplicating this fabulous meal. Prepare to spend some time in the kitchen, relax, open a bottle of wine and enjoy the experience.
I always prep all ingredients before any meal but especially before taking on this large of a project. My total kitchen time for this was 5 1/2 hours.
For the most part Moroccan cuisine has 2 recurring spice and herb blends. It makes sense to start here, prepare the two mixtures first and the rest of your day will go smoothly. The first is the dry spice mixture Ras-El-Hanout.
Ras-El-Hanout is a blend of Cumin, Ginger, Salt, Pepper, Coriander,Cinnamon, Allspice, Cayenne and cloves. You can start out with a teaspoon of the first four ingredients, 1/2 teaspoon of the next four and a quarter teaspoon of the final ingredient and adjust to your personal taste. I always increase the hot pepper by at least 4-5 times the recipe as we like our food very hot.
The other blend is the fresh herb mixture, Charmoula.
We have lived in Spain for almost two years now and I still do not own a blender. I have been putting it off mostly because we live in a very small flat. So for this you will need a mortar and pestle if you also do not have a blender or chopper. The mixture consists of Cilantro, Parsley, Olive Oil, Lemon juice, Smoked Paprika, Fresh Garlic, Thai red chili or another hot variety and salt and pepper. Just chop everything up and start pounding. You will notice that I really never measure anything. I look at recipes as inspiration, not a science project so just taste as you go and adjust accordingly.
And there you have it. This will be the base for the dishes that follow. Lets start at the beginning of the Sultans feast with the Salad Taht El Hammam. This ‘salad’ is made up of three different ‘dips’ that are eaten with Moroccan bread. One is a tomato base, one a carrot and the other a cooked eggplant. For today I decided to only make two of the three, the carrot and the eggplant.
The Ingredients for this dish are Carrots diced into small portions as seen above. Salt, garlic, Olive Oil, Lemon Juice, Mint, Aleppo pepper, Cumin and sugar.
Chop the carrots and cook in salted water for about 10 minutes just until they begin to soften. Remove the carrots to cool and reserve the cooking liquid. Add the garlic and reduce until syrupy. Add the olive oil, lemon juice, chopped mint, aleppo, cumin and sugar. Pour the dressing into a bowl and add the carrots, toss well. Let the carrots sit for at least two hours.
Zaalouk is a “cooked” dish allowed to cool. The ingredients consist of Eggplant, Garlic, Sweet Paprika, Cumin, Red Pepper flakes, chopped Tomatoes, Water, Sea Salt, Black Pepper, Bay Leaf, Lemon Juice, Cilantro and Olive Oil.
The nice thing about Salad Taht El Hammam is these two dishes can be made in advance, or the day before as they are served cold and allowing them to sit just makes it all the more better. Start by roasting your eggplant drizzled with olive oil and salt for about thirty minutes until cooked and slightly browned. Let cool.
In a saute pan add olive oil and garlic and cook for about 30 seconds. Add paprika, cumin, hot pepper flakes, I use a good amount for heat and bloom the spices for about 10 seconds before adding the chopped tomatoes, water, salt, black pepper and bay leaf. Let simmer for about 5 minutes. Scoop out the eggplant meat and add to the pan. Reduce heat and simmer for another 5 minutes.
The eggplant should now be fully cooked and tender but not disintegrated. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice and chopped cilantro.
Serve the two salads with Moroccan bread. I did not make the bread, I am not much of a baker and luckily I have a Moroccan Halal market located below me in the same building.
At this point you may want to take a breather if preparing this all in one afternoon. Time for another glass of wine.
Now on to the two main courses. One is a chicken dish and the other is a lamb dish. We start with the lamb as this will require the longest amount of roasting to make it super tender and fall off the bone.
Mrouzia is an old and traditional Moroccan tagine of meat, raisins, almonds and honey. Heavily spiced with Ras-El-Hanout and sticky sweet, it’s a favorite dish to prepare during Eid al Adha when extra meat is on hand from a home slaughter. It is thought the dish made it’s way to Morocco from Egypt via Andalusia around the 13th century.
The ingredients for this dish are Lamb shanks, Olive oil, Ras El Hanout, Onion, Raisins, Saffron, Cinnamon, Blanched Almonds, Rose Water, Honey and Sesame Seeds.
Variations on the preparation of this dish are almost endless but they all follow the basic concept of braising. Season the shanks and place in a hot pan that you will use for the braising. I have a smaller oven and since I knew I would be doing the chicken in the oven I opted to braise this dish on the stove top. Brown well on all sides and remove the meat. Add the onion, Ras El Hanout, saffron, rose water and cinnamon and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Return the meat to the pan and add enough water to cover, reduce heat and simmer until super tender, about 3-4 hours. Meanwhile blanch the almonds in salt water, about 1 minute or until the skins easily slide off when pinched and set aside. Some people add the almonds to the braise along with the meat. I prefer to treat the almonds as a garnish at the end as it adds texture and complexity to the dish. During the last hour add the honey and continue cooking. When finished plate the dish and sprinkle the blanched almonds and the toasted sesame seeds on top. It is delicious!
About two hours before the lamb is finished begin the chicken dish. As you can see the work flow for this meal is timed out very well. You will be constantly busy but it all falls perfectly into place with no stress.
This is another classic dish which is typically made with preserved lemons. I just used regular lemons and it turned out great. This is also where you will use your Charmoula sauce.
The ingredients for this dish are, Chicken Quarters, Charmoula, Saffron, Red Onion some diced and some slivered as in the picture and Green Olives.
I place a huge importance on the skin. So I start out similar to how I would cook a duck breast. Cold pan. Place the chicken quarters in a cold pan over medium high heat and allow to brown, don’t rush this part if you want the perfect crispy skin. Add the diced onions, charmoula, saffron and enough water to almost cover the chicken but not all the way. Top with the sliced lemons, green olives and sliced red onions as shown. Place in the oven at around 350 F and bake for 90 minutes.
Finally I did a quick cous cous with grilled vegetables during the last 15 minutes or so before serving.
There is not much to say about this one. Just use your favorite vegetables for grilling or whatever you happen to have on hand, which is what I did. I had some local Padron peppers, mushrooms,shallots and whole garlic cloves. I grilled them in olive oil, made the cous cous and that was it.
So this is your Sultans feast. I hope you will take the time to try this out. It is a great way to spend a rainy day and obviously makes a wonderful Holiday meal to share with friends and family. If you do make any of these dishes please leave a comment below and tell us how it all turned out!