Three years ago while spending a few days in Paris, the friends my boyfriend and I were staying with took us to their favorite Moroccan restaurant, a sumptuous number close to their home in Versailles. I had never been to a Moroccan restaurant before. It's funny how depending on where you grow up and live, you end up becoming an expert on certain ethnic cuisines and knowing squat about others.
Milano in the 80s was packed with Chinese restaurants and for most of the decade that was the only ethnic options available to us. At the end of the 80s the first Japanese restaurant opened in town and we all flocked to try it and walked out of it fascinated by the tasteful decor, the clean simplicity of the food and the fact that we didn't smell like frying oil. During the 90s we got our fair share of Indian and Ethiopian restaurants, followed by Thai and several fusion options. Moroccan? Not so much. There's virtually no Moroccan community in Milano, therefore there are no proper Moroccan restaurants —just a lot of little kebab joints that are absolutely fantastic after a night of drinking.
But having a full, scrumptious Moroccan dinner is much different that standing in the street chowing down kebab to soak up one too many gin and tonics. Sitting on plush cushions in that beautifully decorated room, taking in the scent of cumin, ginger, saffron and cinnamon, I instantly knew I was in for a treat. And I was right. Everything I tasted that night —from the appetizer onion salad to the tagine to the lamb stew— was vibrant with color and exploded with flavor. And because I seem to constantly be moving to place where there are no Moroccan restaurants —Bonita Springs and Lugano, for instance— I had to take the matter in my own hands and learn to make some of those dishes. The good news is, Moroccan food is easy to prepare, it just takes a long time to cook. So it's perfect if you have a crock pot (which I don't have over here, but a regular pot on very low heat works just fine) and you want to come home to the sweet scent of spices wafting through the air.
MOROCCAN CHICKPEA STEW
(Adapted from Cooking Light)
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 1 cup chopped celery
- 1 cup chopped carrot
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 2 tablespoons ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 (15 1/2-ounce) cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
- 1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion, celery, carrot, and garlic to pan and sauté 5 minutes. Stir in spices and cook 1 minute, stirring constantly.
Add 1 1/2 cups water, tomato paste, chickpeas, and tomatoes; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 30 minutes. Stir in cilantro and juice.