So Moorish: Mark Hix offers his own take on classic Moroccan dishes

Why not create a north African-inspired feast to share with your friends?

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Over the past 15 years, there has been a steady rise in the popularity of cooking using evocative, spicy, north African ingredients – think of restaurants such as Moro and Ottolenghi, or of one of the many pockets of London like Golborne Road in W10, which is lined with African street-food traders selling native ingredients and antique shops selling all sorts of artefacts. There is a real buzz on that street and the smells are amazing. So this week I thought I would offer you my own take on classic north African recipes.

Chicken tagine with peas and fennel

Serves 4

This is a nice seasonal sharing dish that you could serve at a dinner party. It's not always practical to cook the stew in the actual tagine itself, which is why tagines are usually used just for serving in.

12 boned and skinned chicken thighs weighing about 500g, halved if they are large
1tbsp flour
1tbsp vegetable or corn oil
1tbsp olive oil
3 medium onions, peeled, halved and finely chopped
6 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
30g root ginger, peeled and finely grated
1tsp paprika
2tsp ground cumin
tsp ground turmeric
tsp ground cardamom
A good pinch of saffron
1 ltrs chicken stock or 2 stock cubes dissolved in that amount of water
2 small fennel bulbs, quartered
200g shelled weight of peas (fresh or frozen)
2tbsp chopped coriander, to garnish

Season and lightly flour the chicken thighs then pan-fry them in the vegetable oil for a couple of minutes on each side or until they are nicely browned. Put them to one side. Meanwhile, gently cook the onions in the olive oil in a covered pan with all the spices for about 10 minutes, stirring every so often until they are soft and beginning to colour. You may need to add a little water if they are sticking to the bottom. Add the chicken stock and bring to the boil. Add the chicken pieces and fennel and cook for about 40 minutes or until the chicken is tender and the fennel is cooked. Add the peas and continue cooking until tender. The liquid should be fairly well reduced by now, if not, continue simmering until it thickens. Garnish with the coriander.

Stuffed sardines

Serves 4

This is a typical north African fried fish dish. Ask your butcher to butterfly you about 12 sardines. Or you can do this yourself by cutting off the heads, slitting the stomach to remove the guts and running your thumb down the back bone and just pulling the bone away, leaving the fillets attached to each other along the back. Once you have done a few of them you will get the hang of it.

12 very fresh sardines, butterflied
Flour for dusting
Vegetable or olive oil for frying
Lemon wedges to serve

For the filling

1tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, peeled, finely chopped
1 mild green chilli, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1tsp ground cumin
tsp ground turmeric
tsp ground coriander
The grated zest of 1 lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4tbsp chopped parsley
1tbsp chopped coriander

First make the stuffing: heat the olive oil in a pan and gently cook the onion, garlic, chilli, cumin, turmeric and coriander for 3-4 minutes in a covered pan, stirring every so often to avoid colouring.

Remove from the heat and leave to cool, then stir in the parsley and season. Open the sardines up and divide the filling between them and fold them back into shape.

Lightly flour the sardines and season them. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and cook the sardines for 2-3 minutes on each side until golden and crisp.

Transfer to a warmed serving dish and serve with lemon. Garnish with chopped coriander.

Moroccan market salad

Serves 4

You probably won't find a Moroccan salad like this in Morocco – unless it's in someone's home and the cook is a bit experimental. I cooked a similar dish for friends last year in Tangier which was inspired by a stroll around the medina, and is the way I like to cook when I'm abroad. You could use prawns or any other firm fish, or create a meaty version using chicken, rabbit or lamb.

500-600g monkfish or other firm fish fillet, cut into 2cm chunks

For the marinade

100ml olive oil
1tsp ground cumin
1tsp fennel seeds, chopped
1tsp ground turmeric
1tsp sweet pimenton
1tsp tomato purée
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
The stalks from the coriander, finely chopped

For the tabbouleh

1tbsp couscous
3tbsp chopped parsley
3tbsp chopped mint
2 spring onions, trimmed and finely chopped
1 tomato, finely chopped
The juice of half a lemon
tbsp olive oil

For the dressing

The juice of half a lemon
3tbsp olive oil
tbsp white wine vinegar

To serve

A couple of handfuls of small salad leaves and herbs like baby spinach, rocket, flat-leaved parsley, coriander, sorrel
80g podded weight of broad beans

To make the marinade, heat the olive oil in a pan and gently cook the cumin, fennel, turmeric and pimenton on a low heat for a minute, add the tomato purée and a couple of tablespoons of water, stir well, remove from the heat and leave to cool. Put the fish in a non-reactive bowl or plastic container, season and stir in the marinade and garlic and chopped coriander stalks.

Cover and leave in the fridge overnight to marinate.

To make the tabbouleh, put the couscous in a bowl with the other ingredients and a tablespoon of water, stir well, season, cover and leave for 30 minutes.

Mix all of the ingredients together for the dressing and season.

Cook the broad beans in boiling salted water for 3-4 minutes, then drain.

To serve, drain the fish in a colander, reserving the marinade, heat a large, heavy frying pan on the stove with a little olive oil and fry the pieces of fish for 3-4 minutes on a high heat, turning them as they are cooking. You may need to do this in a couple of batches.

Drain the fish in a colander over a bowl to catch the juices.

Return any cooking juices and marinade to the pan and reduce them down to a tablespoon or so, and then add to the dressing.

Arrange the leaves on individual serving plates or a large sharing one with the broad beans and fish.

Spoon over the dressing and scatter the tabbouleh on top.

Carrot and cumin salad

Serves 4-6

I love serving this salad either as a stand-alone salad for a mezze-type buffet or with meat or fish like red mullet.

6-7 medium carrots, topped and peeled
The juice of 1 orange
Enough vegetable stock to cover (a good stock cube will do)
3tsp cumin seeds
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3-4tbsp olive oil
The juice of 1 lemon
4tbsp chopped coriander

Slice the carrots on the angle as thinly as you can. Place them in a saucepan with the orange juice and enough vegetable stock to cover them. Add the cumin seeds and a teaspoon of salt. Bring to the boil and simmer on a medium heat with a lid on for about 8-10 minutes until cooked, then drain in a colander over a bowl to catch the liquid. Return the liquid to the pan and simmer until you have 3-4 tablespoons then leave to cool a little.

Put the carrots in a bowl with the olive oil, lemon juice and coriander and add enough of the reduced cooking liquid to moisten them and re-season if necessary.