Last Night’s Dinner: Moroccan vegetable stew

Tuesday 12 June

I think you could change the vegetables for this – some of them at least – as long as you stick with the potatoes and chickpeas, which do a good job of soaking up some of the flavours and making it more stew-like and slightly less soup-like. However, at the risk of contradicting that last statement, the stew should be ‘loose’, watery, broth-like and not thickened, just reduced slightly to intensify the flavours in the broth.

This is a recreated version of a dish we first ate not in Morocco but in a local Moroccan restaurant in Marseille. Maybe there’s an Algerian influence, then, but I’m not sure. There was a sweetness to the broth that told us there was more going on in the spices than just cumin or coriander. It took us a while playing around with different mixes before we got this right – oh, and a trip to Morocco where we had the chance to talk to domestic cooks about the spices they used.

And so, our Moroccan spice blend is a mix of chilli powder, cumin, slightly less coriander, a touch of paprika… and then a dash of cinnamon, allspice, a clove or two and possibly even a couple of cardamom pods, seeded and crushed. You could even add some ground, dried rose petals. Bart, the spice company, does a tin of Berbere spice mixture that covers this off pretty well if you don’t want to mix your own. Have a look, here.

For this recipe, I’d suggest around 2 level dessert spoons of spices in total, but you might want to alter that depending on how spicy you like it and how spicy your chilli is in the mix.

And so to the cooking. For two people:

Peel and finely slice a large onion and soften it in a little olive oil for 5 minutes in a large frying pan until translucent. Deseed and roughly chop one bell pepper (any colour you like) and add to the pan. Next, take a handful of smallish new potatoes per person, wash ’em, peel ’em if you like, and chop ’em in half. Add to the pan and stir. Next, tip in a tin of chickpeas and stir again. Add a couple of chopped fresh chillis (go on, be a devil), then your spice mixture, then three medium fresh tomatoes, roughly chopped. Finally, add 500ml or so of water, season with a little salt and pepper, and simmer for around 20 minutes until the potatoes are soft (you should be able to break one with the back of a spoon).

So, to recount, what you’re aiming for is a loose stew of mixed vegetables and legumes in a fiery but fragrant, tomatoey broth. Hopefully you’ll get a bit of a sweat on while you eating it, but still want to lap up more of the sensitively spiced flavours. A couple of slices of Turkish-style bread would be good to mop up the broth. Phwoar.

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