Roasted Moroccan Vegetables with Couscous

If you live in the Bay Area and enjoy eating produce but don’t want to commit to a CSA, you should check out Mariquita Farms. Years ago, I read an article about them, probably on The Kitchn, (actually, it was, I just found it: https://www.thekitchn.com/weekend-meditation-the-mystery-46087), and living in Northern Virginia I was jealous I didn’t have access to what sounded like a cool concept: periodic deliveries of “mystery boxes” of produce on a pay-as-you-want-to-receive-it basis, instead of locking yourself into an entire season of weekly CSA boxes you might not be able to consume all of. I never forgot about that article but I may have forgotten where the farm even was. But then I moved to the Bay Area years later and someone told me about Mariquita Farms, and I realized it was the place from that article, so I immediately signed up for their mailing list. I don’t order from them every time they do an East Bay drop-off (though I sometimes do a peninsula order as well), but when it does fit into my schedule, I’m never disappointed. In addition to the “mystery box” (which isn’t entirely a mystery as they’ll give you a pretty good idea of what to expect based on which crops are ready), they usually have additional items you can order in bulk. Last year instead of doing the pick-your-own tomatoes I had done the prior two years when it was tomato canning time, I just ordered 60 pounds of Romas through Mariquita and picked them up in Palo Alto.

This week’s mystery box was probably my favorite so far. It included:

  • Several red onions
  • Some new potatoes
  • A huge bunch of chard
  • Two different types of basil
  • Lots of jalapenos
  • Another kind of chili pepper
  • 4 eggplants
  • A bunch of beets
  • Four different kinds of tomatoes!

I think that’s it? I might be forgetting something. In addition to all that, I ordered a bunch of extras:

  • Two 5-pound bags of tomatillos so I can make and can salsa verde this weekend
  • One 5-pound bag of lemons
  • One 5-pound bag of cured red onions
  • One 5-pound bag of avocados

I should have taken photos of everything before I put it all away, but here are some of the tomatoes:

The lemons I bought so I could make some preserved lemons, which I am out of. To make preserved lemons, you cut a few lemons into quarters (traditionally, you don’t cut them all the way so the lemon opens like a flower, but I never use more than a quarter at a time and they fit in the jar better separated so I cut them into actual quarters), toss them very generously with salt, optionally add some spices (I used peppercorns and bay leaves this time), then juice enough additional lemons that the juice covers all the lemons, put a lid on the jar, and shake it every day for a month or so until the rind has softened enough that it’s edible. Then to use, you pull out what you need, rinse the extra salt off, and chop it up.

I frequently use preserved lemons in Moroccan tagines, so I got the idea to make a Moroccan-inspired meal last night, even though my lemons are a month from being preserved. But I also had picked up some Hodo Soy Moroccan Tofu Cubes the other day I wanted to try. I don’t tend to buy a lot of pre-flavored items like this because I prefer making my own sauces, and they tend to be expensive, but I love Hodo Soy (especially since they are based in Oakland, so they are local!). Here’s what I did:

Roasted Moroccan Vegetables with Couscous
1 eggplant, chopped
1 zucchini, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 large, mild chili pepper, chopped
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 1/2 cup vegan “chicken” or vegetable broth, divided
1 Tbsp Instant Gel
1 Tbsp Trader Joe’s harissa sauce
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 cup whole wheat couscous
1 package Hodo Soy Hodo Soy Moroccan Tofu Cubes
lemon wedges, for serving

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Place chopped veggies on a baking tray and toss with olive oil. Roast about half an hour.

Meanwhile, bring 1 cup of the broth to a boil. Put the couscous in a bowl, pour in the boiling broth and stir, then cover and set aside for 15 minutes. When the time is up, fluff with a fork.

Whisk together the remaining broth and the harissa sauce and cumin. Slowly whisk in the Instant Gel to thicken it a little.

Separately, heat the tofu cubes – I just used the microwave.

To serve, spoon some of the sauce over the roasted veggies, and serve over the couscous with the tofu cubes. Drizzle with fresh-squeezed lemon.

In other news, yeah, I was kinda on a roll with posting there for a short while then stopped when I went from my typical insanely busy to EXTRA insanely busy with dollops of both very expensive cat AND car problems. Cats and cars are all back home and in working order for the moment, so maybe my life will return to what passes for normal. I also have an owl in the house at the moment! Something that I’ve been doing for the last few months that has made a big difference in my life – and something that I NEVER thought I’d be into doing – is going to the gym for classes at 5:30 a.m. several days a week. I feel SO much better, physically and emotionally, on gym days, and I actually enjoy being there and enjoy the company of the others in my class, and our trainer is completely awesome. I work better on gym days, too. This morning as I was driving back home after class, the sun was just barely trying to rise and peek out from the morning fog that is typical to this area (but which hasn’t been around much the last few weeks), and I noticed the light off in the distance looked really, really cool. When I got home I found the light off my balcony (still my favorite spot in my place!!) was extra beautiful. The photos I took don’t really capture it at all, but this is an approximation (you can click for a bigger version). My life has been somewhat troubled this month, but in the grand scheme of things, I am a very, very fortunate person.

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Moroccan Meal: Carrot and Chickpea Tagine; Green Bean and New Potato Saute

I’ve realized I’m sad about my infrequent postings, if for no other reason than often I’d like a record of what I’ve made. Sometimes I want to repeat it and can’t remember what I did. I’ve been so busy that I haven’t spent as much time as usual cooking, but I am still cooking, and I’ve made some pretty good stuff, too. Instead of dismissing the idea I should do a post on it because I’m busy, or it doesn’t seem that exciting, or I’m tired, I’m going to just do it anyway. So with fresh resolve, I bring you a Moroccan meal of Carrot and Chickpea Tagine with Green Bean and New Potato Saute. Neither of these are original recipes. I decided to base the meal around the green beans I got at the farmers market so I hit the internet looking for ideas and came across a Moroccan recipe, so I went with that theme for the whole meal.

Smucky recently spent three weeks in Morocco, so I asked him to share a couple of his favorite pictures to give this post a more authentic Moroccan flair than my food probably will, so first let’s start off with the very handsome Smucky in front of a gorgeous backdrop:

He asked if I wanted food pictures and I said not necessarily, but when he sent me this one, it was so happy I had to include it.

Smucks apparently had an amazing time in the desert. He says I’d really like Morocco, so I guess I’d better put it on my list of places to go…

Possibly the greatest thing about Morocco are the GOATS IN TREES. That’s enough of a reason to go right there!

And now the recipes. We don’t do Moroccan too often, so this meal was a nice change of pace. If you make both of these dishes for the same meal, start the tagine first since it takes longer.

Carrot and Chickpea Tagine
very slightly adapted from http://moroccanfood.about.com/od/vegetarianmaindishes/r/moroccan_carrot_chickpea_tagine.htm

I’m not sure if it’s really a tagine if it’s not cooked in a tagine, but this was pretty tasty.

2 cups roughly chopped carrot
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp turmeric
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 cup vegetable broth
1 can chickpeas, drained
1/4 cup raisins (golden preferred)
chopped parsley

Heat some oil over medium high heat in the base of a tagine or in a large skillet or Dutch oven. Add all of the ingredients except the broth, chickpeas, raisins, and parsley and saute for a minute or two. Add the broth, bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer until the carrots are somewhat tender. Add the chickpeas, raisins, and parsley and cook until the carrots are completely tender and the chickpeas are heated through. Serve over couscous.

Green Bean and New Potato Saute
very slightly adapted from http://moroccanfood.about.com/od/saladsandsidedishes/r/green_bean_new_potato_saute.htm

1 lb green beans, trimmed
1 lb new potatoes, chopped in half
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1/2 tsp gound cumin
1/2 tsp hot paprika or 1/4 tsp cayenne
salt to taste
chopped parsley

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Put the green beans in and cook until just tender, about 8 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and plunge into an ice bath (or if you are lazy, run cold water over them in a strainer). Bring the water to a boil again if necessary, then add the potatoes and cook until tender. Drain and plunge into an ice bath (or run cold water over them in a strainer). Put some oil in a large skillet and add the garlic, cumin, paprika or cayenne, and salt, and saute for a minute or two. Add the green beans and potatoes and saute until heated through. Stir in the parsley.

Personally, I felt both of these dishes required a finish of lemon juice, so I served with lemon wedges. However, I pretty much think everything requires a lemon juice finish. I LOVE LEMONS.

My plate:

And this is Mark’s artfully arranged plate:

I’m going to talk about books – and music – for a little bit if you don’t mind. I know many of you are big readers like I am. So, Fortinbras was here the other day and after dinner I announced to him and Mark that I wanted to play my current favorite song for them and went over to my iPod and cued up Miriam Makeba’s Pata Pata, which I’ve been playing over and over again. Well, within 10 seconds of my starting the song, both Fortinbras and Mark said, practically in unison, “Yeah, that’s DEFINITELY a Renae song!” Which I thought was interesting because for one thing they’d only heard a few notes and for another, it’s not like I listen to a ton of African music. But either there is some very predictable quality about the music I like or it’s just that there’s no one in the world who knows me better than those two.

Shortly thereafter I started reading Bird Sense by Tim Birkhead and for some reason I was reminded of Mark and Fortinbras immediately pegging Pata Pata as a Renae song, because I kind of immediately pegged Bird Sense as a Renae book. While 92.1% of the books I read are fiction (and yes, that’s a real statistic; I keep track), the non-fiction books I read are, I suppose, somewhat predictable. They are all science-related for one thing, if not physics, then neuroscience or biology, and I require good writing skills on the part of the author. (I can’t abide a poorly written book, no matter how fascinating the subject matter.) And if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know I’m obsessed with raptors. So a book using science to explain how it feels to be a bird? I’m all over it! I’m about halfway through it and it’s great, other than a few disturbing parts about various experiments, particularly those from a century or more ago. (Sorry, I just don’t think it’s cool to rip a bird’s eyes out to find out if it needs to see to fly.)

Here is a picture of a raptor, who is definitely using his eyes to stare me down. It’s an osprey. They always get pissed at me when I walk under their nest. They fly out of it and circle around me squawking.

I learned about Bird Sense by talking to one of the people handling the birds at the raptor safari I went to, when I rather uncharacteristically struck up a conversation with her and in the course of our conversation she recommended the book. Usually I’m super shy, but I’m learning to be less shy around rehabbers and other people I might learn from, and it always pays off.

Another interesting thing is Bird Sense referred to Thomas Nagel’s philosophical essay What is it like to be a bat?. That’s not too interesting in and of itself because it makes sense that a book about what it’s like to be a bird would make a reference to an essay about what it’s like to be a bat. But what’s weird is the book I read right before starting Bird Sense was Bright Lights, Big City, a TOTALLY different kind of book, which also referred to What is it like to be a bat?. I thought that a strange coincidence!

To bring it back around to music, my other favorite song right now is Pink Martini’s Sympathique, which I discovered when a few commenters recognized the qunioa salad I posted a few weeks ago as originally coming from China Forbes, the singer of Pink Martini. A strange way to find new music, but I LOVE the song (it’s also very much a “Renae song”) and I actually understand 95% of it (I refuse to look up the lyrics, but Mark likes it when I translate it as it plays), plus the “je ne veux pas travailler” sentiment is really fitting for me right now. I pretty much always want to dejeuner though!

How abouts I wrap up this possibly too-chatty post with some pictures from Occoquan Bay NWR, where I went to celebrate the solstice Friday?

Tree swallows:

This is not a great picture, but I find it amusing for some reason, plus I’ve never photographed a pileated woodpecker before so I kept it. (And it reminds me of Still Life with Woodpecker.)

Doe, a deer:

Bunny:

One of the creeks:

Well, je ne veux pas travailler, mais j’ai besoin d’argent, soooo je vais me couche…

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