My apron from Morocco!
My apron from Morocco!
I never thought I would actually ever prepare jam, but I did and I still do regularly. believe me, once you make your own jam, you will never buy the market variety ever again. This has been my experience.
So let me start from the beginning and continue with a few tips and recipes.
Why I had to learn
Everything started on a cold November day in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. We had arrived in late October and the first snowflakes were appearing followed by those amazing deep bleu skies and very cold winds. I was new to the place and I was exploring the various food markets.
As the weather got colder, the fruits and vegetables available got fewer. The tomatoes and apples I saw in October had virtually disappeared by early December. There was almost nothing green… I was at a loss of what to feed my then almost two-year old son. And I was dreaming of juicy mangos and fresh tomatoes. I could almost feel the tanginess of lemon when I concentrated enough.
By January, all that was available were onions and potatoes. Piles and piles of them. My only consolations were canned tomatoes and honey.
By early March, colours finally started coming back in the market.
I had gotten the first whiff of them when I saw the apricot tree bloom in the garden. We will have apricots I thought! And indeed we did. By April we had gathered more than 20 kilos of apricots and if you walked under the tree, you would get tipsy just from the smell of the ones that had fallen on the ground.
As the garden filled with flowers, so did the market with fresh ingredients. After the apricots, came the strawberries, the plums, the cherries and mountains and mountains of raspberries. By June, there were gigantic melons and watermelons sold on the side of the road near our house.
And the vegetables were plentiful as well, from tomatoes to cucumbers to herbs of all sorts. And in the garden, the mint that had been a small dried branch that I had, I admit, dismissed during the winter days, had bloomed into a large bush generously providing shade and a most wonderful scent.
And that is when I started doing research on jams and conserves and pickling, and all sorts of tips related to the preservation of fresh fruits and vegetables. And as I did so, I realized that everyone around me was doing the same. Sugar became a sought after commodity and would fly off the shelves fast. Limits were even placed on how much sugar each customer could buy. But that year, I managed.
I made jam with almost all the fruits I could find: apricots, strawberries, raspberries and cherries. I set some fruit syrup on the side to be used in winter for baking cakes and muffins, and waffles. I even tried tomato jam! I also pickled lemons and more.
I even made raspberry vinegar! I should try doing it again. (Mix fresh raspberries with white apple vinegar in a glass bottle. Place in a dark place for four weeks and it is ready!)
I have since become more comfortable in making jams and preserves, and even tried my hand at making Chutney. I wished I had done that before.
Here a few recipes you may enjoy from Fig & Lemon.
Making jam I realized is easy, really easy. All you need are fresh ingredients, glass jars and a little bit of time.
Before you embark on making jam, here are a few tips you may find useful:
– Do not mix excessively during cooking or the jam may become too liquid and the pieces of fruit could disintegrate.
– To know if it is done, place a few drops of the jam on a cold plate and tilt it. If the liquid runs, it is not done.
– To prepare a glass jam container: simply pour boiling water in the container and rinse with that water. Then place it open side up until it dries. The cover should preferably be made of glass.
– Use a disposable cloth to clean the rim of the container after filling it with jam. Do not use a wet reusable cloth as it could encourage the formation of bacteria.
– Jam made this way can stay up to a year in the fridge.
Jam is easy to make and once you have mastered the technic and gotten a feel for how each fruit gently lets out its natural sweetness, you can be inventive.
For example, apricot jam is one of the easiest to make as the fruit stays together. There is no need to let it sit in sugar and it cooks in just about 25 minutes. No need to stir it too often. Strawberries and raspberries are more delicate so you may want to stir very gently. Figs require they be left in sugar for at least an hour before cooking and you must stir continuously during the 20 minutes of cooking. The best part is the syrup they produce, and you can place them in separate jars to be used as natural sweetners when baking. See here the recipe for strawberry jam and syrup, that can be applied to many other fruits.
And do not hesitate to be inventive. Think about mixing ingredients as though you were walking into a scented garden. Think of verbena with apricots or lavender with figs or even rose with fig. Avoid using essences, and only use fresh ingredients. Use thyme or rosemary, and spices too like cardamon as in this Persian carrot jam made with rosewater and cardamon, which I replicated with peach.
You can also replace white sugar with brown sugar either fully or in proportions (3/4rds brown for 1/4rd white). If you use only brown sugar, use less than 75% of what the original recipe calls for (eg: use 750 gr of brown sugar instead of one kilo of white sugar for one kilo of fruits). See this apricot jam with brown sugar for more explanations.
Unlike jam, marmelade is more difficult to make. The term marmelade only applies to citrus fruits. I made lemon marmelade without using any chemicals or artificial hardeners, and it came out fine. The process is however more assiduous than simple jam. But try it, it is really worth it!
Preserves and chutney
This for me was the next step after making jam. The process is a tad more complicated, but it is still doable with the right ingredients.
The first time I made chutney I was extremely careful in measuring the ingredients and cooking just as the instructions said. Then I relaxed and realised that a lot had to do with the aroma as the chutney gets made. The latter is the way I always cook, but since it was a first for me, I wanted to be careful. Here is the recipe for mango chutney, and it can be replicated for other fruits such as figs or even plums.
Preserves are not hard either but you need time. For example, to make Moroccan Leemon M’raqqad, you just need lemons and a lot salt. After that, time does the rest.
Further than jam and preserves
Once you have homemade jam or preserves in the fridge, the world is yours! or almost…
You can make wonderful sweet dishes such as Sachertorte with homemade apricot jam, or pain perdu in the oven or apple tart using strawberry syrup instead of sugar. And if you have some time in the morning, try these wonderful upside down popovers with apricot jam.
And of course you can be creative with yoghurt. Just add some fruit syrup to plain yoghurt and you can make a delightful homemade strawberry yoghurt, and it comes out naturally pink!
On the salty side, many dishes can also be prepared and really fast since the chutney or the preserved lemon will add so much flavour! Try these delicate asparagus (or should it be asparagi?) cooked in saffron topped with mango chutney, or this Mediterranean red snapper with cherry tomatoes and Moroccan preserved lemons.
There is so much more you can do. I have only listed a few recipes and you can find more on the website. Be creative and try your hand! Let me know as I would love to hear from you.
A refreshing salad, lovely in colour and in taste. The touch of cumin gives it a nice twist, as well as helps with digestion. This salad is recommended as an accompaniment to spicy food, such as curry, since all its ingredients are soothing to the stomach.
To prepare, simply sprinkle cucumbers with lime juice, olive oil, fresh mint, a dash of salt and another one of cumin.
Moroccan tea is made with mint and/or peppermint leaves, both known as na’na’ (نعناع) in Arabic. It should be served in glasses, traditionally only half of the glass is filled so that it can be held from its upper part. Here, you will find the traditional way of making it, and a few of its variations.
The traditional way:
1- Rince the silver teapot with hot water.
2- For about six glasses, place one generous tablespoon of high quality dried green tea in the teapot. I like to use the Chinese “gunpowder” tea. Put a little bit of hot water and let the dry tea twirl at the bottom of the teapot.
3- Add a generous amount of fresh and washed mint and/or peppermint leaves, leaving them on their stem. Add hot water to the rim of the teapot.
4- Mix well with a spoon in the teapot. Let it stand for five minutes and serve.
Note on the water: The water should be boiled then allowed to rest until the ebullition process is finished. If you pour boiling water it could burn the leaves and the tea will not be as refined.
Note on the use of sugar: In Morocco, tea is traditionally served sweet, sugar being added directly in the teapot. The further South you go, the sweeter it gets, getting almost syrupy in the Sahara region. It has to do with the dry and hot weather, and the effect of sugar on the body. So if you go to Morocco and dislike sugar, remember to ask for tea without sugar before it is prepared.
Some variations I like:
– I sometimes add dried rose petals to the mix, or a few drops of Safran liquid, or replace the green tea with verneine, or not put any green tea at all.
– Try any combination you like, but please never add milk, it would be offensive to the delicacy of the leaves. And please, try using a glass or at the very least, a nice teacup, and definitely not a mug! Enjoy!
Using tiny organic tomatoes and the usual spices to make Moroccan Kefta.
For 500 gr of high quality ground beef
1- Wash and cut in half 500 gr of very small organic tomatoes.
2- Place in a pan with some olive oil and add a teaspoon of crushed black pepper, a teaspoon of turmeric, a teaspoon of cumin, two or three garlic cloves crushed, and some fresh ginger root also crushed.
3- Mix, cook on low fire and cover.
4- In the meantime, make the very little balls of meat between the palm of your hands. The smaller the better (about one to one and half cm in diameter).
5- When the tomatoes have released some of their liquid, add the Kefta and a generous bunch of fresh cilantro chopped. Mix and cover again.
6- Cook for about 15 minutes.
Serve with white rice and a salade.
Note: Here a variation on the same Kefta recipe. This one has more sauce.
Dates with eggs is a Moroccan dish eaten for breakfast or as a light meal. It is filled with nutrients so it is also eaten during Ramadan (the Muslim fasting period) just before sunrise. The same dish can also be found in other parts of the Middle East such as in Iran. The mix of salty and sweet is simply delicious. I served it for lunch with cardamon and turmeric scented Basmati rice with raisins, topped with fresh cilantro.
1- Place a little bit of butter in a pan.
2- Add a handful of dates cut in small pieces. Cook on very low fire and wait about three minutes for the dates to soften.
3- Add one or two eggs and mix them just a little bit so that the yolk breaks. Do not scramble them, just let them cook gently.
4- Sprinkle with cumin and salt and serve immediately.
Fusion some may call it. I’ll just call it delicious.
For one steak of fresh Tuna
1- Cut the Tuna in cubes while it is slightly frozen, that will prevent it from shredding under the knife.
2- In a bowl mix: red and yellow organic tomatoes cut in cubes, one cucumber cut in cubes, half a red onion cut in small pieces, some fresh ginger root shredded, freshly ground pepper, cumin, either lime juice or better yet some Lemoon Mraqad, some high quality virgin olive oil, and fresh mint leaves.
3- Cover the Tuna cubes with sesame seeds and fry in a little bit of olive oil for about 10 minutes.
4- Mix the cooked Tuna with the tomato mix and serve immediately on tostadas (oven baked corn tortillas).
Enjoy with a nice Tequila!
A nice way to make Tuna, or any fish for that matter, in a matter of minutes. Here the link to the recipe for Leemoon M’raqad –or Moroccan lemon conserve.
For one Tuna steak:
1- Sprinkle the Tuna with shredded fresh root ginger, some sesame seeds and a bit of cumin.
2- Fry in olive oil. When one side is done and slightly golden, take the Tuna steak out of the pan and cut in cubes.
3- Return to the pan and fry gently adding a little more sesame seeds and some pieces of Leemoon M’raqad. Stir constantly so all sides of the cubes are cooked.
Serve immediately. I served it with Basmati rice cooked with raisins, some lovely yellow organic tomatoes and sea salt on the side.
A little recipe of mine based on a traditional recipe for “yellow” fish my grand mother use to make.
For two filets of white fish (I used red snapper, you can use a whole fish as well):
1 – In a large oven dish, place some olive oil, three garlic cloves crushed, an inch of fresh ginger root grated, two teaspoons of ground cumin, two teaspoons of turmeric, the seeds of three cardamom pods, a small cinnamon stick, salt and pepper to taste, and fresh mint leaves. Mix well.
2- Coat the filets with the mixture. If you are cooking a whole fish, make sure to coat the inside of the fish as well.
3- Slice half of a large red onion. Place the slices under the fish and a few on top of it. Make sure all is well coated with the spice mixture. You can add a little bit of olive oil at this point.
4- Sprinkle a generous handful of raisins on top.
5- Cover with aluminum foil and bake for about 30 minutes in a medium oven (about 180 degrees C.), and a little longer if it is a whole fish.
Serve with white rice and a salad of choice or green vegetables.
Thinking about a new way to serve fish? Try this delicious fish couscous with dried apricots!
1- Cook 250 gr of chickpeas (left in water overnight) in water, olive oil, crushed garlic, a teaspoon of cumin and salt. Reserve the broth.
2- In a large pot, place some olive oil and cook the basic spice mix (a teaspoon of each of the following) crushed garlic, fresh grated ginger, salt, fresh crushed pepper, cumin, turmeric (curcuma), cinnamon, cilantro seeds, brown sugar (half a teaspoon) and dried thyme. Once the aroma starts to give, add one onion cut in thin slices. Cook until the onion starts to wilt.
4- Add four carrots cut in sticks, four zucchinis cut in sticks, fresh cilantro, fresh mint and cover with water. Bring to a boil. After about 10 minutes add a handful of dried apricots and raisins. Simmer until the carrots are “al dente”. Add the chickpeas and simmer until all is warm.
5- In a deep frying pan, place the broth of the chickpeas and cook the fish (white, boneless cut in cubes) for about 15 minutes (until flaky).
6- In the meantime, cook the couscous as indicated in the box (for four to six servings).
To serve: place the couscous in a large dish making a dip in the middle, put some of the vegetable mix, add the fish nicely and top with more of the vegetable mix with as much apricots and raisins as possible (so it looks nice). In a side dish, place the rest of the vegetable mix with some broth so as to replenish individual servings and moisten the couscous.