North African food and xmas presents in action – parts 2 & 3

Part 2 – So this was the first recipe made from a cookbook I got for xmas, Moroccan Merguez Ragout with Poached Eggs. The book is called the The Food52 Cookbook with recipes that came from the web site food52.com. It sounds silly I suppose but I like my real paper cookbooks that I can hold on to and write in and drip grease and chili paste on.

Anyway, for this recipe there are 12 ingredients. 7 of them you will always find in my kitchen, 2 I might have or I may have to pick up, but the last 3: merguez sausage, ras el hanout and harissa, those cannot be found in the city of Chicago. Okay. They probably can but not in the 3 or 4 places that I looked and so I was forced to make them….okay not really ‘forced’, more like ‘happy to’.

  1. Ras El Hanout – Supposedly translates to “top of the shop.” Spice vendors would all make their own super secret blends. I got a very simplified recipe from the North Africa section of my Essential Mediterranean cookbook. I picked it because I basically had all the ingredients and because I like to use my scale to measure things.

    7 g tumeric
    15 g allspice berries ground allspice
    30 g black peppercorns
    1.5 2 smallish whole nutmegs
    1 whole clove
    10 cardamom pods
    1 cinnamon stick
    1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
    3 rosebuds 2ish teaspoons of lavender flowers

    So I used what I had:  ground allspice, and although I looked for some edible rosebuds I did not find them so I substituted in a couple of teaspoons of lavender flowers. All went into my spice grinder. I was a little worried about the two nutmegs but I picked small ones and ground in short bursts to take layers off slowly. It is possible the blade on my spice grinder (old coffee grinder, that I believe was a hand-me-down from a college roommate) is ruined. I haven’t really tried to use it since then though.

  2. garlic paprika based spice mix in morter and pestleMerguez Sausage – The web site and cookbook offered possible substitutions and a suggestion for turning some ground lamb into this sausage. I then found this recipe online and I liked it because it uses sumac and I have some sumac. I just used ground lamb. I figured I would be perfectly happy without adding fat, buying a meat grinder or putting it in casing and then taking it back out again. The recipe also called for…
  3. Harissa –  A hot chili paste/sauce which I could not find. I used the recipe from my Suvir Saran cookbook that I have been wanting to try for awhile now. Traditionally it is made with dried piri piri peppers which I did not have. I had guajillos and pasillas. I rejected the pasillas and then went and got another a small bag of guajillos and also used some generically labeled ‘red peppers’ the kind you get in bottle in the spice aisle at the grocery store but don’t really know what type of pepper they are. I stemmed and seeded all the guajillos before weighing and soaking them, the little generic red ones I left all the stems and seeds. This is partially because I like hot but not ‘really hot’ in my food, also partially because I did not strain the chilies.  I can’t seem to find the right kind of strainer for this type of job. I would greatly appreciate suggestions.

This leads to xmas presents in action part 3 (see photo above); One of my new mortar and pestles smashing up the harissa, spices, and seeds with the garlic for the sausage.

Lamb sausage ragout with poached eggFinal product: It was a lot more meaty then the picture in the cookbook which may be that there is less grease because of the leaner meat… I guess. I also I struggled with poaching of the egg, most of the yolk was cooked. It was quite spicy and delicious and I now have extra merguez sausage in my freezer, a couple small jars of harissa in my fridge (I put some in John Ash’s Grandmother’s Bean Soup leftovers the other day… brilliant!) and a jar of ras el hanout in my spice cabinet. It is going to be an everything-North-African-flavored winter!

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