In the weeks leading up to my trip to Morocco it was the tagines and fragrant spices that I anticipated. Thoughts of fatty, braised chunks of lamb studded with apricots and warming harissa made the days before I left move at a pace that would make a snail appear as a sprinter.
As one can expect, the food did not disappoint. There was couscous so perfectly prepared that my satisfaction in the store bought version has been crushed. A sweet and savory b’stilla laced with chicken and showered with cinnamon and powdered sugar and a chicken tagine with french fries – that’s right, FRENCH FRIES!! – sealed my love for this vibrant country. But it was the Moroccan breakfasts that I most long to recreate now that I’m home.
Fresh squeezed orange juice greeted me nearly every morning and woke me up more effectively than three children jumping on my bed ever can. Beyond the juice there was an assortment of breads. Some resembling airy pancakes, others seemed to enjoy a leisurely bath in hot oil before settling into their position of my breakfast. With the breads there was always Amlou, honey, and assorted fruit preserves. Speaking of fruit; the hot Moroccan sun does wonders to intensify the sweetness. Bananas are nearly half the size and twice as sweet, grapes taste of candy, and the citrus requires no additional sugar to tame its pucker.
Proving that point was this salad. A simple salad made up of no more than four ingredients in stunning jewel tones and sweet, slivered dates. Its beauty drew me in but the taste left me pining for its presence during the days that followed.
Segmented grapefruit sat next to bright bites of lemon. The tartness took me by surprise as I had never simply eaten a bite of lemon, except maybe as a child to somehow impress other with my sustainability against the harsh sourness. With the addition of the dates, the entire bowl was perfectly sweet.
And then there’s mint. The herb that I had once relegated to tea and little else. Even refusing to allow it to be a final course garnish as it never made sense to me to add something for the color when the flavor was not wanted. Now there is rarely a day that goes buy when I don’t reach for the emerald leaves.
I’m home now and citrus season is in full swing along with the desire to enjoy a bit more fruits and vegetables ridding myself of nearly an entire month where sugar and butter made up the bulk of my diet. No regrets here, but it did leave me longing for the freshness of a salad such as this one.
The sweet milk granita is purely optional but turns this salad into a stunning, and healthful dessert. I love the ease of turning this sweet cream into a granita. After stirring the ingredients together I add it to a metal cake pan and pop the whole thing in the freezer. Every thirty minutes, or whenever I remember, I simply give the mix a quick stir with a fork to break up any large ice chunks, until the mixture is well-frozen. The resulting granita is flecked with vanilla beans, light ice crystals and a soft texture that melts into the crevices of the segmented citrus that it’s scooped over. You can also churn this mix in an ice cream maker if you want a smoother texture. The choice is yours.
When the presence of fry bread and fresh squeezed orange juice are missing from my mornings, this salad fills the void and reminds me of what Morocco tasted of.
Inspired by a salad enjoyed at Heure Bleue Hotel in Essaouira, Morocco
Makes 4 smallish servings.
While I loved the puckering tang of the lemon in this salad I do prefer the much gentler sourness that comes from a Meyer lemon, so I’ve used that here instead.
2 large grapefruits, segmented
1 meyer lemon, segmented
2 tablespoons chopped, fresh mint
1/4 cup thinly sliced dates
Combine the citrus segments and the mint. Add the dates just before serving.
Finish with a small scoop of Sweet Milk Granita if you desire.
Sweet Milk Granita
adapted from pastrychefonline.com
I love the simplicity of this granita and the fact that it doesn’t need an ice cream maker. The resulting texture is light, with flaky ice crystals that melt freely into the citrus. Usually I would oppose this texture when cream is involved but for this it works. If you prefer a perfectly creamy texture feel free to churn in an ice cream maker.
1 cup (9 oz) sweetened condensed milk
1 1/4 cups (9 oz) hot water
1/2 vanilla bean, split
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
In a medium bowl combine all the ingredients and stir well. If you are using an ice cream maker, chill this mixture completely before churning.
If turning into a granita add mixture to a metal pan (I used a 9″ square cake pan – the bigger the pan the faster it will freeze). Let sit in the freezer for about an hour initially then break up mixture and any formed ice crystals with a fork every 30 minutes until completely frozen. This process will give the desired light texture with uniform ice crystals – the mark of a well-made granita.
Best served the day it’s made.
*If you happen to forget about the granita and it freezes solid you can either remelt and start again or you can process in the mix in a food processor to break up ice crystals.