Moroccan giant fennel salad recipe: Shlada del boubal

Do you know this vegetable/herb? have you seen it before? In Morocco, we call it boubal (Fr: Grande férule, férule commune, faux fenouil). In English, it’s called “giant fennel” or “African ammoniacum“. It’s giant since it’s plant grows for about 3 m long.

Having tried it, I just can’t get my head around the “fennel family” thing. It tastes nothing like it. It’s like a a giant hippie asparagus and it tastes more like it.

Then I’ve read online that despite the name, it’s really not from the fennel family. Pheww..Well that should comfort me.

I took theses pictures about 3 years ago when I was in Fez where this salad is still prepared during a very short season.

The method of preparation is very much to the merfouss of fresh young broad/fava beans: steaming the vegetable, preparing a chermoula with generous addition of olive oil and sauteing the mix.

If you get hold of this weird herb/vegetable and make this boubal salad, make sure you serve it well chilled. Eat it warm or hot and you’re in for a serious stomach discomfort.

Ingredients
Serves 4
Prep: 10 min – Cooking: 30 min

  • 1 bunch of giant fennel (boubal, see picture above)
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tsp of ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp of sweet paprika
  • 1/4 tsp of cayenne
  • 30 ml of extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt to taste
  • 3 tbsps of lemon juice

Optional additions

  • 2 tbsps of coriander, chopped
  • 1 tbsp of parsley, chopped

For garnishing

  • 1/2 preserved lemon, cut into small wedges
  • 1 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil

 

Preparation

Separate the florets from the stem, Wash them in cold water.

Cut each into big bits. Place them on the top of a couscoussier or a steamer but make sure the stems go in first followed by the florets. Cover and steam for about 20 minutes or until they’re tender.

In a frying pan, mix all the other ingredients except the lemon juice and sauté for a few seconds, Add the boubal and break it with a spatula into the spice/herb mix. Stir for a few minutes until all liquid has evaporated. Correct the seasoning.

Set aside to cool. Mix in the lemon juice and drizzle some good olive oil.

Serve chilled, never warm or hot!

The boubal salad keeps well in the fridge for 3 days.

 

 


Moroccan Qadra with courgette and thyme

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In the traditional cooking of Fez, courgette and thyme is a seasonal combination cooked Qadra or Kadra style. This recipe has a light sauce/broth called marqa in the Moroccan dialect.

We love this dish when courgette is in season and freshly picked.

We usually cook this recipe in a cooking pot but you can cook it in a tagine. However, I’d stress out that courgettes in this dish pair really well with lamb meat.

Courgettes and lamb tagine can be cooked Mqalli style by adding a hint of garlic in the sauce and a small bouquet of coriander when cooking the meat (use the same recipe below plus these two ingredients).

Lamb and courgettes with fresh and dried thyme

The use of thyme here goes very well will courgette which don’t need to be peeled. Globe courgettes are the best thing to go for here but if they’re not in season, any green courgette will do the job. We use wild dried thyme for this recipe.

Chicken and courgette with dried thyme

You can perfectly make a vegetarian kadra of courgette and thyme by omitting any form of meat.

Ingredients
Serves 4 persons
Prep: 10 min – Cooking : 90- 120 min

 

  • 600g meat on the bone (lamb/veal cut into chuncks and trimmed of fat or chicken or rabbit)
  • 0.8 – 1 kg of courgettes
  • 1 medium-size yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 to 1 1/2 tsp of ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp of ground white pepper
  • 1/2 tsp of turmeric
  • A pinch of saffron threads
  • 3 tbps of oil
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 tbsp of dried thyme

Preparation

In a hot pan or a tagine, add oil, meat, salt, turmeric and ginger. Stir.

Fry or slightly sear the meat for a few minutes (do no brown it), then add grated onion and saffron. Add enough water to cover the meat and cover the pot or the tagine.

Wash courgettes and cut into quarters (for globe courgettes) or halve them (for tall courgettes). Once the meat is tender and well cooked, add the courgettes along with thyme. Cover the pot and cook for another 20 min until the courgettes are cooked through.

Reduce the sauce (marka) and serve hot with a good bread.

 


Kadra of wild artichokes and green peas

Wild artichokes are usually available in the beginning of spring or late April. They’re the hardest thing to peel and clean but rather quick to cook. I have the feeling that they’re also disappearing from our Moroccan tables.

Fez is known to keep traditions alive and this is where I see families still cooking the traditional dish using wild artichokes. However, people tend to buy them already peeled (same day) by vegetable sellers in the market. So they became a sort of delicacy.

Today’s dish is meant to be cooked using only wild artichokes as a main vegetable but in order to feed a large family, my mother coupled it with green peas, which is a very common combination in Moroccan cooking.

The particularity of this dish of wild artichokes is that you can serve it with rice which cooks in a particular way. You may do without but I think you have to try this version.

Wild artichokes can be cooked in  a tagine Mqalli style using garlic, coriander and parsley, turmeric, ginger, salt and pepper and finish off with a drizzle of lemon juice, preserved lemons and purple olives.

Today I’m posting the wild artichoke stew but Kadra style, omitting the garlic and olives and adding a hint of smen in the beginning of the cooking process.

Adding smen in the very beginning of cooking prevents it from hitting you in the face with its rather strong flavour which is not to everyone’s liking (a bit like blue cheese). It becomes a pleasant addition.

Kadra is generous in sauce or marka which is quite needed here to cook the rice. It is then reduced and served. What is needed in this case is a pressure cooker or a deep cooking pot.

Meat and vegetable quantities here are as an indication. You could add more or less.

If you don’t have fresh artichokes, there is no point using tinned ones but you could use frozen packs. Just bare in mind some of them have been treated with citric acid instead of lemons and that tends to ruin the artichoke’s taste. Pick a trusted brand. You could use frozen green peas or petits pois.

Ingredients
Serves 6 to 8 persons
Prep: 10 min- Cooking: 90 min

  • 1 kg of meat with bones cut into big pieces, shoulder or leg
  • 2 -3 kgs of wild artichokes (replace with globe artichokes)
  • 1 -2 kgs of green peas, peeled and washed, optional
  • 1/2 kg of small heads of onions (pick large spring onions and use the head or replace with shallots)
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 tbsp of ground ginger
  • 1 tsp of black and white pepper
  • 1 tbsp of turmeric
  • A good pinch of saffron threads
  • Salt to taste.
  • 1 tbsp of smen
  • 3 tbsps of vegetable oil
  • 250 g of long rice, washed and drained.
  • About 3 litres of water
  • 3 tbsps of parsley, chopped
  • 1-2 tbsps of lemon juice

 

The wild artichokes can be replaced with globe artichokes. Preserved lemons can also be added

Preparation

Peel and clean the artichokes and only keep the hearts (and peeled stalks in case of globe artichokes).

Cut the meat into pieces and place in a deep cooking pot. Add oil, smen, chopped onion. Add about a cup or mug of water and stir. Cover and place on medium heat. Give it about 10 minutes until the meats infuses with spices and cover all these ingredients with more water. Close the pot and cook until the meat is just about tender and cooked through. Stir occasionally by adding water if necessary especially if you are not using a pressure cooker (which might require less water and less time).

Passed 1 hour of cooking, add the whole shallots.

Once the meat has cooked, remove and keep it covered in a different pot. If you see you have less than 1 1/2 litre of sauce add a bit more water. Deep narrow pots are quite useful in this case.

Place the rice in a cheesecloth and seal it making sure nothing will escape. Make sure to loosen it a bit as rice will triple in size.

Add the chopped parsley, peas and the purse of rice into the sauce (frozen peas need less time to cook). Cover and carry on with cooking for about 15 min.

When the peas are almost cooked, add the artichoke hearts (they take 10-15 minutes to cook through).

When all the vegetables are cooked, remove the rice and place the meat back in the sauce and heat it a bit. Reduce the sauce over medium-high heat leaving the pot uncovered. Add the lemon juice to the sauce just after you knock off the heat.

Open the purse of rice and aerate it with a fork. Set aside.

In a serving dish, place the meat first and cover it with peas and onions. Finish off with the artichokes. Rice is usually served on the side and guests spoon as much as they want.

Note: This method of cooking rice in a sort of purse is widely used for some types of kadra in Fez. So basically you can serve a kadra of chickpeas with a side dish of rice in the stew itself. The same goes for a kadra with courgette and thyme.

 


Moroccan quince tagine with semi-caramelized onions

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Today’s recipe uses a wonderful seasonal fruit : quince . It’s a seasonal fruit which usually ends in a tagine or a stew when it’s not preserved. Moroccan quince is particularly fruity and intense in flavour.

 

A simple quince tagine with a lightly caramelized onion topping

 

Quince or Sfarjal has been used for centuries in the Arab cooking and weirdly enough, the dish I’m proposing today has roots in old Royal Baghdadi kitchens when Baghdad was the platform for knowledge (10th century). However, Moroccans (and Algerians to an extend) have tweaked it and kept it dearly while the rest of the Arab kitchens have dropped it.
Moroccan quince stew topped with onion jam
It’s been historically proven that the Arabs led the way in medical researches and studies back in the medieval times. Food was very much related to the person’s health and the first cooking books seemed to have come from the Arab world. Some of the recipes were rather prescriptions.
Some dishes were called by the main fruit or vegetable used in them: Tuffahiya for a dish using tuffah (apples), liftiya for a dish using lift (turnip) and Safarjaliyya for a dish using Safarjal (quince)
The Islamic world has influenced the Mongols as well (Ref: Daily life in the Mongol Empire). Safarjaliyya seems to have landed in their manuals and it looks so close to the recipe we are using nowadays.
A furry quince in a Moroccan market
According to Ibn Razin Al Tujibi – Kitab Al Tabikh -13th century-, Dishes with apples and quince were highly recommended for “strengthening” the stomach.
 

 

A nice wedge of quince in a Moroccan quince tagine

 

Back to the 21st century and our Moroccan quince tagine which comes under 3 main variations:
  • Quince cooked in their stew and topped with stewed or boiled okra. You may omit the okra.
  • Quince cooked in their stew then semi-caramelized in a different pan and then served on top of the stew,
  • Quince cooked in their stew, semi-caramelized in a different pan and then topped with semi-confit onions or a Moroccan onion jam.
Moroccan okra is small. Here, it’s parboiled and ready to be frozen
The last version happens to be my favourite since the sweetness of the jam balances the tartness of the quince.
If you get hold of quince while they’re in season, make sure you keep some for the rest of the year by parboiling quince which you would have cut into 8 wedges and then freezing them. Add them to the stew without thawing.
Moroccan quince stew or tagine is done in the manner of M’qalli and exactly following the same recipe for pears tagine, only quinces take longer to cook through.
You can replace chicken with lamb or beef meat.
Ingredients
Serves 2 to 4 persons
Prep: 15 min – Cooking : 90 min
The M’qalli/stew
  • 1 chicken or 600g of nice cuts of lamb or beef (shoulder, shanks)
  • 1 ½ medium-size yellow onions, chopped
  • 1 tbsp of ginger powder
  • 1 tsp of turmeric powder
  • ½ tsp of white pepper powder (you may use black pepper)
  • A tiny bouquet of coriander/parsley (optional)
  • 1 stick of cinnamon
  • ½ tsp of saffron threads
  • 1 tsp of smen (aged and cured butter, optional)
  • 2 tbsp of vegetable oil
  • Salt to taste

The onion jam/semi-confit

  • 4 medium-size yellow onions, finely sliced
  • Broth from the m’qalli
  • 1 tbsp of caster sugar or honey
  • 1 tbps of olive oil
The quince
  • 1 kg of medium-size quinces (about 3), fresh or frozen
  •  40g of butter
  • 40 g of caster sugar or/and honey
  • 1 cup  to 2 cups of the m’qalli
  • 1 tsp of cinnamon powder

To serve

  • Almonds, fried and crushed roughly or roasted sesame seeds
This quince stew is topped with a good onion jam as you can see by the colour

Preparation

The meat stew

Marinate the chicken/meat with most of the spices except saffron and 1/2 of the ground ginger. Massage with olive oil or smen. Keep in the fridge for a couple of hours or overnight.

Place the cooking pot or tagine over medium heat. Add a bit of water at the bottom, place the meat (ideally not overlapping), the chopped onions, the bouquet of coriander (optional). Season with saffron, ginger and and salt.

If you are dealing with a chicken, you may cut it into 4. Let simmer for about 10 minutes. Add the oil and top with water (a tagine does not need as much water as a pot where you have to cover at least 3/4 of the bird or double for a red meat). Cover and carry on cooking until the bird is cooked through.

While usually we try to reduce the sauce or marka at the same time when the meat has cooked, make sure you leave the broth for later.
Fish out the meat and set aside. Cover with foil or something so the meat does not dry out.  Keep about 1 cup of the liquid on the side as well. Make sure you sift it. Discard the bouquet of herbs ( I never do that but some do).

The onion jam / semi-confit of onions

  • On a low-medium heat, add the finely sliced onions into the pot or tagine and cover. Let them simmer for 20 minutes until they’re transparent and absolutely tender.
  • Add the sugar or honey at this stage, maybe 2 tbsp of olive oil as well. Keep stirring until you get a sort of thick paste which also looks caramelized.  It might take about 30 min.
The colour of the semi-confit of onion depends on 1/ the type of onion used, 2/
the amount of sugar or honey added, 3/the time allocated to caramelization

 

The quince quarters (or wedges)

  • Wash and rub the quince to remove any fur (some varieties have a furry skin).
  • Cut the quince into 4 quarters or 8 wedges, discard the pits and place them in a big bowl of water with juice of 1 lemon. You may need to make a cross on the outer skin so it does not burst during cooking.
  • You can cook the quince two ways:
1/- Sift about 1/2 of the broth where the meat has cooked and cook the quince in it to tenderness. Add water to cover the quince.
On a medium heat, melt butter with sugar, sauté the quince wedges or quarters in it. Sprinkle some cinnamon and flip from all sides from a few minutes. The quinces are good when you see the edges slightly discoloured and looking just about caramelized. The liquid would have literally evaporated by now. DO NOT BURN OR OVER-CARAMELIZE THE FRUIT as it should remain tender but firm enough not to break.
2/ Directly cook the quince quarters or wedges in the stew. Once cooked through, scoop them out. Follow the same directions as in method (1).

Serving

  • Heat the stew. Serve the meat first, then the onion sauce on the top and all around. Place the quince and top with semi-caramelized onions and then finish off with toasted sesame seeds or with crushed blanched and fried almonds.
  • Serve warm.

Note: no quince? use cooking apples.

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