First a little recap on the practicalities of the Food We Love Box. The monthly theme is announced on the first of each month, so if you want to play it safe, you can wait until it has been made public before ordering your box. But in the end, we are talking food here, so whatever the theme, it can’t possibly be bad. :o)
This month’s theme is “Nadia Loves Couscous“. My initial reaction was “Well, I love couscous too. But who the heck is Nadia?”. Turns out that Nadia Zerouali is not only a culinary writer and television personality, but she is also part of the duo with Merijn Tol who are running the website Arabia, with plenty of oriental recipes. She seems to be wellknown in the Netherlands but her fame hasn’t gone all the way to Belgium … yet. I noticed she and Merijn published a book, unsurprisingly called Arabia, but at 29,95 EUR I find it a bit too pricey. Nevertheless, I can put it on my Christmas list and see if Santa wants to bring this book to me. :o)
Because of the theme, I knew chances were that the box would contain mostly, if not all, familiar items and opening the box proved me right. Not that it bothers me in the least, as I love Moroccan cuisine and you will never see me refuse an invitation to enjoy a delicious tajine or scrumptious couscous.
I usually stock up on “oriental” foodstuff during the Ramadan and the week of Aid El Kebir, as this is the time where even the regular supermarkets carry a lot of otherwise less available Moroccan products on their shelves. And usually Dari is the couscous brand they sell, which should come as no surprise given that it is the number 1 brand in Morocco. Up to now, I always prepared the semolina the “Western way” i.e. dumping the semolina in boiling water and letting it swell. And although it yielded an OK result, it was in no way comparable to the fluffy couscous I ate at restaurants. And for a reason ! To properly cook the semolina, you have to steam it. I was doubtful when I first read about it, but I tried the steaming method and it made a world of difference. Try it.
Preserved lemons are a typical ingredient in Moroccan dishes. Unlike candied fruits, were the fruit is preserved using sugar, these lemons are preserved in salt. The salt changes the structure of the lemon and although it makes the flesh of the lemon rather too salty for consumption, it does soften the rind, maturing its taste, lessening its sourness while preserving the citrus flavours. I love them !
Vanilla Venture is a regular supplier in the Food We Love boxes and their spices never fail to deliver. This raz el hanout mix smells heavenly and tastes just as good. Raz el hanout literally means “the best of the spice shop” and there are as many versions of this mix as there are cooks using it, each adding or removing flavours according to their liking. I usually buy mine at the Moroccan shop but getting there isn’t always the easiest to do. It’s good to know that this online supplier is a nice alternative. Traditionally raz el hanout combines sweet (cinnamon, cloves), spicy (chile, pepper) and bitter flavours. It is an indispensable spice for making couscous or tajines.
Although I know that unsulfured dry apricots are naturally brown in colour and that they largely make up their lack of colour in flavour and healthiness, my initial reaction to seeing them is always one of slight distaste. It is hard to kick deeply engrained beliefs like “dried apricots are supposed to look bright funky orange”, even though you know better. Nevertheless these are a delicious and healthy treat.
I don’t think these need any additional comments. Almonds are not only a great snack and also a main ingredient of most oriental pastries, so these will come in handy.
Saffron has always been one of the most expensive spices around, but luckily you don’t need a lot to jazz up any dish. The saffron from Crocussavaticus comes from Morocco and India where the pistils are handpicked and sundried.
* Crocus bulbs from Crocussavaticus (Estimated price : 3.75 EUR)
This was an unexpected item in the box: crocus bulbs to grow your own saffron. After all why not? A lot of people have fresh herbs growing in pots on their window sill and even if you don’t want to actually “use” the pistils, crocus are always lovely to look at. 🙂
* Moroccan biscuits from Maroc Koekjes (Estimated price : 5.00 EUR)
Ah … Moroccan sweets … one of the very few happy memories I have from an otherwise disastrous holiday in Marrakech. I remember going into the bazar and trying to indicate to the seller which biscuits I wanted. Apparently he must have thought I was too fussy, because at a certain point he stopped listening and just started shoving handfuls of random sticky sweets and biscuits into a box before handing me a huge box and stating a price. That’s how we ended up with a box of over 1 kg of biscuits, that took care of our sugar fix for the entire week we were there. 🙂 Anyway, I have always been a sucker for these sweets from the other side of the Mediterranean and I regularly make them myself too (my favourite being briouats). Needless to say, I was really pleased when I found these in the box. I have been able to restrain myself and haven’t eaten them all yet, but that says more about my self discipline than about the deliciousness of these almond cookies.
* Extra gift : a 5 EUR discount code for Household Hardware (a webshop with lots of different items, among which Moroccan crockery and other kitchenware. I am still considering getting myself a proper couscous pot but have first to find a place in my already overflowing kitchen to store it).