I’ve fallen in love with a new way to cook. Well, let me clarify, it’s new to me.
On our recent trip to the San Juan Islands I prepared a feast laced with Moroccan flavors almost entirely over an open flame. Madrona trees with vibrant red-orange trunks framed the view of the Pacific just beyond the roughly formed fire pit. Ragged rocks held a grill in place that cradled packages of carrots braising with oil and cumin. Flames crept through the grill grates and charred the exterior of dozens of peppers in shades of orange, red and green.
The smoke danced with me around the fire and infused it’s scent deep into my clothes. This simple way of cooking felt so perfect in the setting of the islands where the pace of life varies greatly from the often frantic routine of the city just on the other side of coast. I was bursting with a gleeful self-sufficient pride and felt somehow more connected to my food than ever.
The marinated leg of lamb was placed on the grill and it seemed as if the flames were as hungry for it as I was. They lapped at the exterior, charring it in places while leaving the interior a tender medium rare.
Inside the fire-cooked food landed on platters and a few finishing touches were added masking a bit of the roughness and revealing a stunning feast. A pleasant smokiness had permeated the meal reminding us all of the way in which it was cooked. I’ve said on many occasions that I could very easily be a vegetarian as so often it is the vegetables on the plate that have me going back for seconds and my meat portion is often left with many bites to spare. But when meat is mixed with smoke I go weak. One might even have to remind me to eat with a knife and fork as I instinctively feel the need to eat with my bare hands.
Such a simple thing – to cook over a fire. And I find it so funny that I think of it as being novel when in reality it’s the basis of all cooking. I’ve grown accustomed to my oven and my range that consists of four gas burners. So comfortable with it that a simple fire pit seems revolutionary. Remove the routine and get back to the basics and it’s a wonder what’s revealed. In the case of the fire it’s joy in simply cooking and finding flavors that satisfy a deep longing, one in which I hardly knew was there.
Feast by the Fire
This is a lamb recipe for non-lamb eaters. Tender and full of flavor. The overnight bath in spiced yogurt helps rid any gaminess and leaves a flavorful cut of meat throughout. The recipe comes from Bon Appetit and seeing as this was my first go at a leg of lamb I pretty much stuck to the recipe aside from the occasional extra clove of garlic here or there.
These next two recipes are adapted from Mourad: New Moroccan by Mourad Lahlou. It’s a stunning book filled with Moroccan flavors that are presented in modern and inventive ways.
This is what I consider a kid-friendly Harissa. Lots of deep flavor but light on spice. If you want more heat add more dried chilis, keep the seeds in or add a hefty pinch of cayenne.
Makes about 2 3/4 cups
1 roasted red pepper, seeds removed and roughly chopped
1 (14 ounce) can tomato puree,
3 cups cold water
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 dried red chilies (soaked in boiling water until soft, seeds removed – or kept in for more spice)
½ tablespoon sweet paprika
½ tablespoon smoked paprika
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup champagne vinegar
15 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
6 tablespoons coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
6 tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Put all the ingredients except the olive oil in a large saucepan, and stir together. Place the pan over medium-high heat, and bring to a gentle simmer for 1-1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally and adjusting the heat as necessary, until the puree has thickened and reduced to 2 1/4 cups. Don’t let the heat go above a low simmer, and keep an eye on the mixture so it doesn’t burn.
Working in batches if necessary, transfer the harissa to a blender, turn it on, and slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Process until smooth.
Store in the refrigerator in an airtight glass jar, with a film of the olive oil on top, for up to three months.
Brown Butter Farro
3 Tbsp kosher salt
2¼ cups faro, picked over and rinsed
1 cup finely diced red onion
2 Tablespoons olive oil
3/4 cup brown butter* melted and still warm
*Brown butter is simply butter that is melted until the milk solids have caramelized. Remove butter from heat once butter smells nutty and you see golden bits on the bottom. It will continue to brown off heat.
In a large saucepan add the farro and enough water to cover by at least 2 inches. Add the salt, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook the farro until tender but not mushy, about 30 minutes. Drain the farro in a large strainer, shaking the strainer to remove the excess water.
Meanwhile, put the onions and oil in a large saucepan and set over medium-high heat. When the onions begin to sizzle, decrease the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally for 15 minutes, or until the onions have softened and are slightly caramelized. Set aside.
When ready to serve combine the farro with the onions and brown butter. Taste the farro and season with salt if needed.
You’ll have to forgive the casualness of the next set of recipes. I can’t not share them with you but I failed to accurately record the measurements while in the throes of preparing this feast. Please use these as guidelines and inspiration.
Grilled Feta with Onion, Tomato and Herbs
Place a desired amount of feta on two layers of aluminum foil. Cover with a drizzle of olive oil, sliced red onion, halved cherry tomatoes, fresh thyme and rosemary, salt, and preserved lemon (optional). Wrap tightly then place on a grill or over a fire for about 15 minutes or until heated through. Serve with oiled and grilled pita.
Grilled Pepper and Preserved Lemon Salad
Roast enough peppers (I used red and orange bell peppers as well as a couple poblanos) to yield roughly 3 cups that have be deseeded and sliced into rough ½” ribbons. Add to the peppers 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1-2 tablespoons chopped preserved lemon, kosher salt, chopped cilantro and a healthy splash of olive oil. Taste and adjust seasonings to your desire.
Cumin Fire Roasted Carrots
each pouch serves 2-3 as a side
In each aluminum pouch add 5-7 peeled, whole carrots, a pinch of kosher salt, a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of cumin seed. Wrap tightly in 2-3 layers of aluminum foil. Roast in a fire until carrots are tender. I roasted just off to the side of the fire and they took under and hour to roast.
Once roasted add carrots to a platter a drizzle with fresh lemon juice, more olive oil, a pinch of cinnamon and chopped flat-leaf parsley.
Fire Roasted Stone fruit with Cardamom and Dates
each pack of fruitserves 2-3
assorted stone fruits (peaches, nectarines, apricots, plums)
vanilla ice cream
orange blossom water (optional)
Halve and remove the pits from the fruit. Place roughly 2 cups of fruit on a sheet of aluminum. Add a handful of halved dates and sprinkle this mix with a pinch of ground cardamom. Wrap in two layers of aluminum and roast over a fire for about 30 minutes. I stopped roasted with I noticed some vibrant bubbling juices emerging from the pack.
Serve warm fruit over a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Sprinkle a bit more cardamom over the ice cream and add a drop or two of orange blossom water to the ice cream, if using.