28 January 2013

Moroccan Dinner: Part I - North African Beet and Carrot Salad

This weekend was much more enjoyable than last weekend. We had friends over for a Moroccan inspired dinner and the next day made the short 30 minute drive to neighboring Appenzell canton (or state) for some skiing.

Moroccan cuisine is one of my favorites. Preserved lemons, dried fruit, mint, fresh citrus, nuts, and fragrant spices such as cinnamon, cumin, coriander,  paprika, and turmeric are commonly found in fresh salads, couscous dishes, and slow-cooked tagines. 

Harissa  is a spicy, Tunisian red chili sauce, but it is finding it's way into the Moroccan cuisine as well. The recipe varies from region to region but it may be flavored with sweet red peppers, cumin, coriander, garlic, or lemon juice. Prepared Harissa sauce can be found in regular supermarkets here in Switzerland and in the U.S. either in the international section at whole foods markets or African markets.

This salad was the first course of our dinner. It is a fresh and bright mix of Tunisiaand Moroccan flavors. A great way to make the most of winter's root vegetables.

Roasting beets brings out a wonderful sweet, nutty flavor, but if you are short on time prepared whole or sliced beets can often be found in the deli section of large supermarkets.  And if you think you don't like raw carrots, you might want to try this recipe. The carrots marinate in the lemon and orange juice for at least 15 minutes allowing the citrus acid to break down fibers, removing the raw bite, slightly softening, and concentrating the sweetness.

North African Beet and Carrot Salad
Inspired by the Tunisian and Moroccan salads in The Mediterranean Diet Cookbook
Serves 6-8 as a starter

Notes: Taste your Harissa before using it in a recipe. Some mixes are spicier and others are sweeter, so you may need to adjust the quantity accordingly. If you cannot find Harissa use red pepper flakes to taste along with a pinch of cumin and paprika.
This salad can and should be made 30 minutes to an hour in advance. It is one thing than can be prepared and waiting for you, cutting down on last minute dinner party prep.

large beets, roasted
5 medium carrots, grated (you can use a hand grater or the grater attachment on a food processor)
1 scallion, chopped
1/3 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
Handful fresh mint, chopped and divided

Carrot dressing:
Juice of 1 orange
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 tsp. cumin
Squeeze of honey or agave (if the orange juice is especially sweet, you may not need additional sweetness)
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Harissa dressing:
1/2 tsp. Harissa
1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
Squeeze of lemon
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 small garlic clove, minced
Salt and pepper, to taste

Carrots: In the bottom of a large mixing bowl add all ingredients for the carrot dressing plus half of the chopped mint. Add the grated carrots and mix well so the carrots are completely coated with the dressing. Leave out on the counter to marinate while preparing the rest of the salad (15-20 minutes).

Beets: Remove the skin from the beets, and slice in thin rounds. Place the beets on a large serving platter, in one or two layers depending on the size of your platter, making sure the bottom is completely covered.

Mix all ingredients for the Harissa dressing in a small bowl and pour over the beets.

After marinating, give the carrots one last toss and pile as much as you'd like on top of the beets (leaving much of the marinade in the bowl) making a mound in the center of the serving dish. Scatter scallions, toasted walnuts, and remaining mint all around and serve whenever you are ready. 

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