CULINARY OBSESSIONS

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Like most cooks I tend to become incredibly obsessive about certain ingredients and at times, I must admit that I have a tendency to overuse them and throw into almost every recipe that I’m creating. Over the last couple of years I’ve fallen totally in love with Ras el Hanout, a prized Moroccan spice mixture that can contain up to 100 different spices and is traditionally used to flavour couscous, rice, meat and vegetable dishes; like garam masala, the mixture of spices in ras el hanout depends on the maker and the spices available, but may include cardamom, cayenne, aniseed, nutmeg, mace, ginger, galangal or even dried ground rosebuds.

Ras el Hanout takes its name from an Arabic phrase that can be loosely translated as “top of the shop”–meaning the very best a spice merchant has to offer. This complex medley of seasonings is notable for its rich aroma and well-balanced curry-like flavour. It is one of the reason’s our signature roast chicken dish at Misa Braseria tastes so good. We rub the chicken liberally with this spice blend and marinate it overnight before cooking to create a real depth of flavour. I have even managed to work into an Arabic inspired dessert at Simply Fosh in the form of a ras el hanout caramel sauce with a preserved lemon cream, cherry-rosewater sorbet and sweet Dukkah…its very unusual but utterly delicious.
Dukkah is without doubt another of my culinary obsessions. It is an Egyptian side dish consisting of a mixture of nuts, usually hazelnut, and spices that are lightly toasted and then crushed. When still warm the aroma is amazing and it is typically used as a dip with bread and olive oil, although it makes a perfect crust for lamb or chicken. I first saw a recipe for it in Claudia Roden’s 1968 classic, A Book of Middle Eastern Food, which I’m reliably informed contains the first dukkah recipe published outside of Egypt. The name 'dukkah' actually means "to crush" or "to pound" in its native Egyptian. Pronounced do'a, it's an apt description for the spice blend. The ingredients are interchangeable, but the finished product is always a dry mixture - so when flatbread is dunked in olive oil, and then dipped into the dukkah, the dry spices stick, and create a delicious piquant crust. The Egyptian people have their own personal mixes. Some use peanuts or almonds instead of hazelnuts and add dried mint etc. My favourite is made with Pistachios as they also happen to be one of my passions. According to scientists “A handful of pistachio nuts a day can help destroy bad cholesterol, ward off heart disease and prevent cancer”, so now there is even more reason to try this recipe!


PISTACHIO DUKKAH

Ingredients:           

4tbsp            sesame seeds
2tbsp            coriander seeds
100g            Green Pistachio nuts, peeled
1tbsp            cumin seeds
1tbsp            fennel seeds
            Salt and pepper to taste

Lightly roast the seeds and nuts in a hot oven until they begin to colour and release their aroma. Put them in a food processor and pulse them to form a dry, course mixture. Do not over work them.


ROAST LEG OF LAMB WITH RAS EL HANOUT

Serves: 4

RAS EL HANOUT
Don't be put off this recipe by the number of ingredients. The spice mix is simple to make…although you can buy it. It keeps well in a jar and can be used so many other dishes. It lends a wonderful aromatic flavour to the lamb.

2 teaspoons black peppercorns
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
4 teaspoons coriander seeds
16 cardamom pods
2 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds
4 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 cinnamon stick
1⁄2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons turmeric
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon sea salt

Gently toast the peppercorns, fennel, coriander, cardamom, mustard, cumin  and cinnamon until fragrant. Combine with the remaining ingredients and grind with a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder until powdered. Keep in an airtight container.

For the lamb
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1⁄2 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
2kg leg of lamb
500ml chicken stock
Crush the garlic to a paste with the salt. Mix with the olive oil and 4-5 tablespoons of the ras el hanout then smear this mixture all over the lamb. Leave to marinate in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.  

Preheat the oven to 200°C.
Place the lamb leg in a baking dish and pour the chicken stock around.
Roast for 2 hours, during the cooking time, glaze the lamb at least 2 or 3 times with the cooking liquid. Slice and serve with saffron couscous and coriander yogurt.
If you have any dukkah leftover?…..sprinkle it over the lamb just before serving!

Saffron couscous

160g     couscous
160ml   chicken stock
            A large pinch of saffron           
50g      chopped red pepper
100g    chopped tomatoes
50g      chopped shallots
1tbsn.  olive oil
1tbsn.   fresh coriander, chopped
1tbsn.   fresh mint, chopped
1tspn.   ground cumin
             Seasoning

Bring the chicken stock and saffron to the boil and remove from the heat. Add the couscous and cover. Leave to cook and swell for 2-3 minutes. Stir in the remaining ingredients and season to taste.

Comments

  1. This is also one of my favourite spice blends and I make my own too. At this time of year, when things get chilly, what could be more satisfying and comforting? Could be a good way to pep up the traditional Christmas turkey, as you do with chicken at Misa? Made me feel hungry . . .

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