Around the World in 80 Plates: Marrakech, Morocco

Synonymous with both tea and a blend of herbs and spices born from within its bustling marketplace, Marrakech, Morocco is a city that truly has its own distinct flavor. The entire continent of Africa remains largely a mystery to me, having never visited any corner of this huge section of the world, and yet I feel strangely connected to Morocco in particular, all thanks to its strong food culture. Two of the most amazing ladies I worked with, side by side for many years at Health in a Hurry, both hailed from this northern nation. So many of the recipes were infused with their unique palate of flavors, that they became a common, comforting taste, even in our sleepy little New England town.

Upon hearing that this was the next destination on our frenzied food tour, immediately my mind went to tagines. Perhaps the best known of all Moroccan dishes, most modern renditions aren’t even made in the vessels they’re named for- At least, on US soil, that is. Still, I fought the urge to take the easy way out. It may be a culture with a sweet tooth, but desserts are often that final course that American restaurants inevitably ruin. Delicate pastries somehow turn into soggy, leaden mush, and fruit salads leave me uninspired. Thus, with only the idea of Moroccan ingredients and sensibilities to guide me, I found my answer… With a more modern twist.

Plate provided by Steelite

Mourad, a cookbook that bills itself as “new Moroccan” cuisine and is derived from the fine dining establishment of Aziza in San Francisco, held the answer to my prayers. A startlingly Italian-sounding panna cotta got my wheels turning, and from there, everything simply fell into place. Delicate rose water perfumes the firm pudding itself, which is placed atop a shallow pool of pale pink hibiscus sauce. Lightly spiced almond brittle is the crown to this humble tower, with orange supremes, pomegranate arils, and fresh mint leaves accenting with their fresh, bright, fruity flavors. Incredibly, it all came together in the eleventh hour, bringing this exotic yet curiously familiar palate of sweet seasonings back into my kitchen again at last.

Be sure to tune in to Bravo this coming Wednesday at 10/9c to see what Moroccan delights the chefs come up with, too!

Rose Water Panna Cotta

Panna Cotta:

2 Teaspoons Agar Agar Powder
2/3 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
6 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar
2/3 Cup Vegan “Sour Creme”
2 6-Ounce Containers Greek Coconut Yogurt
2 Teaspoons Rose Water
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Hibiscus Sauce:

2 Cups Cold Water
3 Bags Hibiscus Tea
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Teaspoon Orange Zest
2 Tablespoon Cornstarch

Almond Brittle:

1 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 Tablespoons Water
2 Tablespoons Light Corn Syrup
1/8 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
Pinch Salt
1 Cup Sliced, Toasted Almonds

To Serve:

Pomegranate Arils
Orange Supremes
Fresh Mint Leaves

Lightly grease six 3 1/2-Inch fluted mini tart or brioche molds and place them on a sheet pan for easier maneuvering. Set aside.

In a small saucepan, vigorously whisk together the agar, “milk,” and sugar until there are no lumps remaining. Set the pan over medium-low heat, and gently whisk until the mixture begins to bubble and thicken. Take the pan off the stove to stir in both the “sour creme” and coconut yogurt, mixing until smooth, and then return it to the heat very briefly. Cook the mixture just until bubbles begin to slowly break on the surface, whisking the whole time. Add in the rose water and vanilla, whisk to incorporate, and quickly transfer the contents of the saucepan to your prepared molds. Gently tap each one on the counter to knock out any air bubbles before smoothing out the tops with a spatula. Let cool completely at room temperature before thoroughly chilling.

For the hibiscus sauce, plunk the tea bags into the water in a small saucepan. Place it on the stove over medium heat, and bring to a boil. Immediately turn off the heat and cover, allowing the tea to steep for 20 – 30 minutes. Once deeply rose red in hue, remove the tea bags and allow the excess liquid to drip out, but do not squeeze them- This will cloud the mixture. Separately, stir together the sugar, orange zest, and cornstarch until thoroughly combined, and add these dry goods into the saucepan. Return it to the heat, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is dissolved and the liquid bubbling and fully thickened. Let cool before chilling in the fridge.

To make the almond brittle, begin by combining the sugar, water, corn syrup, cinnamon, and salt in a medium saucepan over moderate heat. Resist the urge to stir, and gently swirl the pan to mix the contents instead. Bring the mixture up to a boil, and continue to cool until the sugar caramelizes and turns a pale amber color. Meanwhile, set out a silpat or piece of parchment paper nearby where the brittle can come to rest. Once the sugar syrup has reached the right shade of golden brown, quickly stir in the sliced almonds to coat them evenly in the mixture, and waste no time in pouring everything onto your prepared silpat or parchment. Smooth out the brittle into as thin a layer as possible. Let cool completely before breaking it into pieces.

To serve, spoon about 1/4 – 1/3 cup of the hibiscus sauce onto the plate, and turn out one panna cotta on top. Wedge a piece of the almond brittle into the crest of the panna cotta, fan out three citrus surpremes alongside, and sprinkle pomegranate arils on top. Finish it all off with a few mint leaves to garnish. Repeat for the remaining plates.

Makes 6 Servings

Printable Recipe

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