Moroccan Vegetables

The area around the Sorbonne in Paris has many inexpensive Middle Eastern eateries filled with students looking for good food on a small budget. On a vacation to Paris, being a vegetarian family, we found ourselves visiting them for the different kinds of couscous and vegetables. We love to bring home flavors of our vacation. So I tried to recreate what we ate at one tiny place all those years ago. However this recipe is not what we ate then! It has taken on the contours of our life, an expanding flavor palette, and our home.

Moroccan Vegetables is easy to put together. The vegetables swim in a light, golden broth with heady scents of cumin, parsley, and fresh cilantro. Served with hot couscous, brown or the dramatic black rice, or quinoa, it makes for a very satisfying and flavorful meal. It is even more flavorful the next day, making it excellent to cook ahead or have as leftovers. And it is less than $10 for a complete meal for four! Great food does not have to be expensive.

The list may look long but the chances are that these are standard ingredients in your kitchen. Preserved lemon has been the latest addition to the recipe. I always have a jar of preserved lemons in the fridge. They are so easy! See the note below.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons oil (canola, grapeseed, olive, avocado)
  • 2 thinly sliced scallions
  • 1 cup orange sweet potato, peeled and diced small
  • 1 cinnamon stick or a pinch of ground cinnamon (optional)
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped flat leaf parsley (remove tough stems)
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro including stems
  • 1 medium green zucchini (courgette), diced small the same size as potato (between 1 and 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1 medium yellow zucchini/squash, diced small (between 1 and 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • a pinch of ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon coriander-cumin powder (or ½ teaspoon of each)
  • ¼ teaspoon turmeric powder
  • ¼ teaspoon chili powder (or to taste)
  • 1 1/2 cups water (add more after you have added the chick peas and liquid if you want it more brothy)
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas (15 oz can with cooking liquid)
  • 2 tablespoon raisins or dried cranberries (optional–I like the orange flavored ones)
  • 2 tablespoons broken bits of cashew (optional)
  • Hot sauce, harissa, or Sambal Oelek on the side for extra heat (optional)
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons preserved lemon/to taste (remove excess salt), minced OR two teaspoons of Indian lemon pickle (optional)

Steps

  1. Heat a 4 quart, or larger, pot with a heavy bottom. Add the oil. Then add the scallions and cook for 1 minute on medium heat.
  2. Toss in the sweet potatoes, parsley, cilantro, cinnamon stick, and a little salt, and cook for another minute or two on medium high heat, uncovered. The liquid from the herbs should be mostly gone.
  3. Add the rest of the vegetables, the rest of the salt, and spices. Stir and cook for 2 minutes on medium high heat, uncovered.
  4. Slide in the chickpeas and the water. Stir and bring to a boil. Let simmer till the vegetables are of the desired texture. If you like the vegetables more brothy, add more water and bring it to a simmer again. Let stand for a minute and serve hot over couscous, rice, or quinoa.
  5. Switch off the heat, add the cranberries or raisins, and cashew pieces. Wait a minute. Go ahead and serve hot over little heaps of couscous, rice, or quinoa.

We like the vegetables with plenty of broth that is made by the water infused with the flavors of the vegetables and spices. I cook the grain with orange zest and then toss it with olive oil, orange flavored cranberries, and cashew pieces before serving. We love a teaspoon of Sambal Oelek on top of the steaming heap.

Note: To preserve lemons you need a jar, as many lemons as you can squash into the jar, and kosher or coarse sea salt. I keep empty glass pasta jars that have a wide mouth. Depending on the size of the lemon, 3 to 4 can be pushed in. I cut each lemon into quarters. Put a single layer in the jar and cover it generously with kosher salt. Push down. Add another layer of lemon quarters and salt. Keep going till the jar is three-quarters full. Seal it tightly and let it sit on the kitchen counter fo a week to 10 days. Give it a shake or stir every 3-4 days. The lemon skin will soften and turn color. Store the jar in the fridge. It keeps forever. The lemons can be used in dressings, with pasta and garlic, beans, and much more.

Serves 4 as a main meal. Preparation time: 10 minutes. Cooking time: 15-20 minutes.

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