Moroccan salads fit for a king — seasonal, fresh, tangy

I just got a cookbook in the mail, all the way from sunny England: “Grandma Elmaleh’s Moroccan Cookbook,” compiled by Lisa Elmaleh Craig, the granddaughter of the titular grandmother. To quote from the introduction:

“Mme. Sarah Levy Elmaleh… was a cook of extraordinary caliber. Craig Claiborne, the food writer of the New York Times, hailed her sumptuous table [in 1970] as being ‘Moroccan cooking that a sultan would envy’ … Her exotic repertoire was derived from several foreign cultures. She spent half of her eighty-odd years in Morocco in the seaport village of Essaouira, an ancient Portuguese fortress town on the Atlantic coast which eventually came under French rule. ‘Mogador,’ as the French named it then, was indeed a melting pot of civilizations; Englishmen and Europeans, Berbers and Arabs of many tribes lived side by side with prosperous Sephardic Jewish merchants descended from Italy, Greece Turkey, Portugal, and Spain. Mme. Elmaleh’s own ancestors were partially North African (probably Berber) dating back to biblical times, partially Sephardic Jewish from Spain, and partially Eastern European.”

The recipes look delectable, among them fish tagine with olives and lemon, cardoons with lemon and turmeric, lamb tagine with quince and onions, homemade harissa, and glacéed citrus.

I’m partial to Mediterranean mezze (small plates), especially Moroccan salads, with their mix of seasonal fruits and vegetables, copious use of olives and fresh, tangy flavors. Mezze, salads and dips are popular appetizers in Mediterranean cuisines, particularly in Israel, with its population of Jews from Mediterranean countries such as Turkey, Morocco and Algeria.

In Israel, Shabbat lunch typically features mezze after the challah and before the fish (perhaps Moroccan chraime). You might dip your challah in baba ghanoush, hummus, tahini and matboucha, a Moroccan salad called, simply, “cooked salad” in Arabic. If you prefer a Friday night dinner at a Mediterranean restaurant in Tel Aviv, you might sample tzatziki, pickled vegetables and fire-roasted eggplant topped with tahini and yogurt.

Among the salads, hummus is always king. But Moroccan salads are the crown prince, at the very least.


Blood Orange and Olive Salad

Serves 4 as part of a mezze course

Inspired by “Grandma Elmaleh’s Moroccan Cookbook”

3 medium blood oranges or other oranges, peeled and cut into small chunks
½ cup salt-cured olives, pitted and halved
¼ cup cilantro, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced

Dressing:

½ tsp. paprika
¼ tsp. cumin
Dash of chili pepper flakes (optional)
1 Tbs. olive oil
½ tsp. honey
¼ small lemon

Combine all ingredients except dressing and lemon. Add the dressing ingredients to a small jar with a lid. Cover tightly, and shake well. Pour dressing over salad and toss. Squeeze juice from lemon wedge over salad and mix.


Matbucha “Cooked Salad”

Serves 4-6 as part of a mezze course

Adapted from “Grandma Elmaleh’s Moroccan Cookbook”

14.5-oz. can diced tomatoes, drained
3 green peppers, seeded and sliced into ¼-inch strips
1 hot chili pepper, seeded and sliced into ¼-inch strips (optional)
2-3 Tbs. olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine ingredients in a pot. Cook over low flame until a little thicker than salsa. Season to taste. Serve cold.


Pomegranate and Walnut Salad

Serves 4 as part of a mezze course

Adapted from “Grandma Elmaleh’s Moroccan Cookbook”

2 medium-size pomegranates, quartered and seeded
1 cup halved walnuts
2 tsp. sugar
Dash of cinnamon
Dash of cardamom
1 Tbs. orange blossom water
Dash of salt

Combine pomegranates, walnuts, sugar, cinnamon and cardamom. Macerate for an hour in the refrigerator. Remove from refrigerator and slowly drizzle in the orange blossom water, tasting as you go. Stop when it tastes right to your palate. Sprinkle in a dash of salt, mix, and correct seasoning.

Shelly Butcher
Shelly Butcher

Shelly Butcher is a technical writer and a food writer. She enjoys exploring the fundamental interconnectedness of all things food, where kreplach meet wontons. She blogs at anopencupboard.com.