Dinner with friends, orange blossom water, saffron, mouhammara

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We had twelve people around our dinner table on Saturday night, with a menu – below – built around Paula Wolfert recipes. It was all about orange blossom water, cinnamon, saffron, mysterious peppers, and sugar. For one evening, we were in Northern Africa. Morocco.

There were dips scented with orange blossom water and cinnamon/thyme, hovering between dessert, salad and dips. Then, soup with gruyere and rye, home made stock, baked in a whole pumpkin, lightened with a touch of cinnamon.

The tagine was laden with cinnamon, saffron and turmeric. Slow-cooked lamb, onions slowly braised in the same liquid (Wolfert described the onion sauce as ‘unctuous’, so it was), finished under the grill with more cinnamon and sugar. It was aromatic, inviting, looked laden with history, and was magical.

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The mouhammara and a Berber bread stole the show.

Mouhammara, with the assertive flavours of pomegranate molasses, roasted capsicum (peppers), roasted chilli, thickened with walnuts, rounded out by the warmth of cumin. Everyone tasted, wondered, and asked for more. (Recipe at the end of the post)

And the Berber bread – made over 3 days, starting with a pungent garlic starter and ending with rounds of crusty, chewy-dense, savoury bread from the skillet – no oven! We kept tearing off chunks, burning our fingers and marvel that so much flavour could come from so few ingredients.

As for dessert? I made profiteroles, but all attention was on that cake – made by a friend’s mum who is a professional chef. It was the ultimate centrepiece – bigger than anything from a domestic cake pan, dense with liqueur and hazelnuts, covered with swirls of buttercream and chocolate.

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~~~

Almost Morocco dinner

Nibbles

Berber skillet bread, Wolfert

Home made digestives, Fearnley-Whittingstall

Mouhammara, Wolfert, recipe below

Labneh dip

Orange blossom and grated carrot ‘salad’

Sweet orange blossom, thyme and grated cucumber ‘salad’

Entree

Soup baked in a whole pumpkin, with rye bread and toasted gruyere

Main

Tagine: lamb with layered onions, Wolfert

Mejadra (spice-laden rice and lentils), from Jerusalem

Couscous, with ghee, cinnamon and sugar

Blood orange and olive salad with baharat dressing

Kale walnut salad with balsamic and pomegranate dressing

Dessert

Profiteroles, filled with cassata-style ricotta or muhallabia

That Cake (which is just as good for breakfast)

~~~

ottolenghi-mejadra-03

Mouhamara (muhammara), red pepper, pomegranate and walnut dip

(from Paula Wolfert)

Note: I’ve made this dip a few times, once using about 450 grams of store-bought grilled capsicums/peppers to save time. The store-bought capsicums was marinaded in oil, and I think some kind of vinegar/lemon juice, so even after rinsing the capsicums quickly, I only used 1 tbsp of olive oil, and did not think the dip needed additional lemon juice.

Wolfert says for best results, make this dip a day ahead. I agree, the flavours continue to meld together and improve over a couple of days, and the colours remain as vibrant as on day one.

Ingredients

Dip

2 1/2 lb (1.13 kg) red capsicum or red bell peppers
1 small hot chili, such as Fresno or hot Hungarian, or substitute Turkish red pepper paste to taste (I used a generic small red chili)
1 1/2 cups (about 6 oz or 170 grams) walnuts, coarsely ground
1/2 cup wheat crackers, crumbled (note I coarsely crumbled the wheat crackers, and then measured roughly half a cup)
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp pomegranate molasses or more to taste (I find I like to add another 1-2 tbsp of molasses, to get the sweet and tart flavours to shine through)
1/2 tsp ground cumin (I use about 1 tsp)
3/4 tsp salt (I used sea salt, rather than table salt)
1/2 tsp sugar
2 tbsp olive oil

Garnish

2 tsp toasted pine nuts (I did not use it this time)
A drizzle of olive oil
A good pinch of ground cumin

Method

1. Roast the red capsicums/bell peppers and the chili either over coals or a gas burner or under an electric broiler, turning frequently until blackened and blistered all over, about 12 minutes. Place in a covered bowl to steam 10 minutes (this loosens the skin).

2. Rub off the skins, membranes, and seeds. Spread the capsicum/bell peppers, smooth side up, on a paper towel and let drain 10 minutes.

3. In a food processor, grind the walnuts, crackers, lemon juice, molasses, cumin, salt, and sugar until smooth. (Note, I like a chunkier texture, so I ground the walnuts in a mortar and pestle, and mixed it into the mixture after step four.)

4. Add the capsicum/bell peppers; process until pureed and creamy. (Note, I find it’s easier to get a creamy texture without small bits of capsicum if I processed the capsicums first, and then added the other ingredients.)

5. With the machine on, add the oil in a thin stream. Add the chili to taste. (If the paste is too thick, thin with 1-2 tbsp water.) Refrigerate overnight to allow the flavours to mellow.

Serve: Sprinkle the pine nuts and cumin on top and drizzle with oil.

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29 thoughts on “Dinner with friends, orange blossom water, saffron, mouhammara

  1. Cynthia Bertelsen 23 November 2013 at 7:54 am Reply

    Love it! Thanks for reviving my memories of Morocco.

    • saucygander 23 November 2013 at 11:21 pm Reply

      Thanks for visiting!
      I’d love to go and eat my way around Morocco, see couscous made from scratch and have a real pigeon basteeya..

  2. Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella 23 November 2013 at 8:03 am Reply

    What a wonderful meal! Your menu sounds mouth watering and I bet you had some very happy guests :D

    • saucygander 23 November 2013 at 11:23 pm Reply

      Thanks! We had good company to share the food with, which made it all worthwhile.

  3. Johnny Hepburn 23 November 2013 at 2:00 pm Reply

    That bread sounds amazing. Shame I don’t have anywhere warm to try that sort of thing. Anyway, your dinner sounds even better than the bread!

    • saucygander 24 November 2013 at 2:38 am Reply

      I did the garlic fermenting in the oven, heating it up a little and relying on the residual heat to get the smelly starter going. Would that work for you? Or still too cold?

      • Johnny Hepburn 24 November 2013 at 2:49 am

        Yes, that could work. I’ve read about using a low heated oven to proof yeast breads, which I would definitely have to do as my flat is that damp. One of the drawbacks of living literally minutes from the shoreline. Thanks!

  4. Coffee and Crumpets 23 November 2013 at 2:44 pm Reply

    Your menu sounds amazing! Wish I could’ve been a guest, all the dishes sound so wonderful. And that bread, oh my goodness.

    • saucygander 24 November 2013 at 8:29 am Reply

      Thank you! It was a lot of fun to share all the food with friends, it gave me an excuse to cook up a storm! If we make that bread on a weekend again, I’d like to blog about it (weeknights are just too much of a rush to get food on the take).

  5. Liz 23 November 2013 at 3:09 pm Reply

    I can hardly breathe right now–all that goodness. I think I must be swooning! Have been looking forward to this post and am so happy to finally see the amazing foods you served. It all looks over-the-top spectacular. Well done!

    On a side note: Hoping you got my response to your last email. I know you’ve been busy, so no rush on responding. Just want to make sure we connected.

    p.s. I don’t suppose the recipe for That Cake would ever come available? Or is it out of the realm of possibility for non-cheffy types?

    • saucygander 24 November 2013 at 8:36 am Reply

      Hi Liz! I’m so glad you liked the menu. Having people around gives me an excuse to make too much food and try strange recipes.

      I’ve asked for the recipe for That Cake. Though last time I asked for a recipe for stuffed vine leave, I got a list of ingredients, no amounts or measurements – with a bag of fresh leaves!! Lol. Needless to say my attempts weren’t as spectacular.

      I did get your email, I’ve been testing a couple of things so I know they are doable, look out for a reply in the next 2-3 days!

  6. Gather and Graze 24 November 2013 at 9:35 am Reply

    What an amazing dinner! More of an exotic feast – with so many interesting, aromatic dishes! A work-out for the senses, which is exactly what a great dinner should be.

    • saucygander 29 November 2013 at 10:03 pm Reply

      Thank you! It was a great evening with friends, and we are thinking of making some of the dishes for Christmas!

  7. Ada ~ More Food, Please 24 November 2013 at 8:08 pm Reply

    Wow–what an amazing dinner! All the dishes sound delicious, and that chocolate cake looks divine :D Thank you for sharing!

    • saucygander 29 November 2013 at 10:04 pm Reply

      Thank you for visiting! The dinner was so much fun, we had great company too :-D

  8. Jenny B 25 November 2013 at 11:14 am Reply

    Now I have a perfect recipe to finally use my orange blossom water! Looks amazing! Thank you for sharing!

    • saucygander 29 November 2013 at 10:16 pm Reply

      Moroccan food is great for using up orange blossom water and rose water too!

  9. Alla 25 November 2013 at 10:08 pm Reply

    Sounds like so much fun! I love ‘themed’ dinners, it’s so much more fun to pretend you’re somewhere else for the evening! and “THAT CAKE” looks incredible… hope you can persuade your friend’s mom to share!?? :)

    • saucygander 29 November 2013 at 10:18 pm Reply

      I’m really hoping she will share the recipe for That Cake! I’m making a box of thank-you cookiesand pastries, hopefully that convinces her!!

  10. laurasmess 26 November 2013 at 5:32 pm Reply

    What an incredible feast! I’m actually aiming to make a Moroccan dinner on Saturday night for friends who are coming over (Aaron and I are building a mini feasting tent in the living room, haha). I hadn’t decided on the menu yet but this mouhamara sounds delicious…. I think I’ll have to add it to whatever else I make! xx

    • saucygander 29 November 2013 at 10:22 pm Reply

      A feasting tent!! And a Moroccan feast!! How did it go? Will you be posting photos?
      We’ve toyed with the idea of putting cushions and rugs on our floor, and having a feast that way. Not quite a feasting tent but close!

  11. Mireia 27 November 2013 at 9:25 am Reply

    Looks amazing!!

  12. […] menu description that will make you drool at Saucy Gander (be sure to scroll down to the […]

  13. foodicity 29 November 2013 at 11:26 am Reply

    This menu looks incredible. I will definitely be making it soon! yum!

    • saucygander 30 November 2013 at 8:44 am Reply

      Thanks! I’m glad I found these recipes, as they tasted good and mostly could be done before people arrived, so I could join them for pre-dinner drinks! :-D

  14. Anne ~ Uni Homemaker 2 December 2013 at 5:36 pm Reply

    Sounds like an amazing meal! And the dip sounds deeeelish!

  15. Mary Frances 19 December 2013 at 10:01 am Reply

    The mouhammara sounds fantastic and full of exotic flavors! Yum!

    • saucygander 22 December 2013 at 8:02 pm Reply

      Mouhammara has become one of our go-to dips, for colour and flavour. It is a little different but we’ve always had rave reviews from dinner guests about it! Thanks for visiting!

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