Djemaa el Fna, Marrakech

Sheep’s head, anise flavoured snails and cinnamon are three things that immediately flood my memory when I think about Djemaa el Fna and Marrakech.

Djemaa el Fna is the main square in Marrakech’s medina quarter. Bustling and filled with merchants and performers all day and night, this area inspired the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity UNESCO project, where they identify cultural history such as music and performances, rather than physical buildings and places.

Djemaa el Fna in the daytime

Djemaa el Fna in the daytime

During the day, stalls sell orange juice, dates and nuts. Performers wander around with poor Barbary apes on chains and snake charmers try to lure in tourists.

another shot of Djemaa el Fna in the daytime

another shot of Djemaa el Fna in the daytime

There are a number of cafés facing the square.

doughnut seller and cafe

doughnut seller and cafe

merchants

merchants

snake charmers

snake charmers

And then, before sunset, the snakes move out and the food carts start moving in.

food carts

food carts

To me, this is when Djemaa el Fna really comes alive. At night the square is filled with food stalls, hungry people, singers, drummers, dancers, storytellers, women doing tattoos with some dubious henna and people selling traditional medicines.

nuts and dried fruits

nuts and dried fruits

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New York Pretzel and Auntie Anne’s, Las Vegas

Happy 4th of July to you Americans out there. I figure it’s appropriate that I start my Las Vegas trip posts today. But I bet you didn’t think my first post about Vegas was going to be about pretzels, did you?

We landed in Vegas and by the time we had our rental car and checked into the MGM Grand hotel it was past 9 p.m. Now, Vegas is a 24-hour kind of town, but we were exhausted and only wanted a snack. So instead of having a full meal we decided to take advantage of some coupons I had found online and pick up a couple of pretzels.

New York Pretzels is scattered in a few of the different Strip hotels, and seems to be connected to Nathan’s Famous. These initial pretzels were from the location inside the New York New York hotel. The staff were efficient and friendly. I decided to go for one salted pretzel and – to change things up a bit – one jalapeño and parmesan pretzel. The salted pretzel was gorgeous: fresh out of the oven, buttery and soft, and with the perfect ratio of salt. It had a golden crust and super soft bread inside. It reminded me of pretzels that I ate years ago during a visit to New York.

The jalapeño one had been sitting under the warming lights for a little while and wasn’t hot anymore. The pretzel itself was a little dry, but the flavour was quite good and they had enough jalapeños to satisfy but not too many that you’d burn your mouth off. I would have loved to have tasted this one freshly baked.

salted and jalapeño parmesan pretzels from New York Preztels in New York New York

salted and jalapeño parmesan pretzels from New York Preztels in New York New York

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Gallo pinto and Lizano salsa

Lizano salsa

Lizano salsa

A friend went to Peru and Costa Rica, and asked me what I wanted as a souvenir. I’m sure she was expecting me to ask for a sweater or something like that, but I think I surprised her. Food, I replied. Something unique. Maybe a sample of the tea you’re supposed to take when you’re climbing Machu Picchu?

What she ended up bringing back was some Lizano salsa, (Lizano sauce). The taste of Lizano is a little hard to explain. A sauce made out of vegetables and salt, it tastes a little like a slightly sweet and spiced V8-flavoured sauce, minus the tomatoes.

Stick it on tacos, she said, when I asked what it was normally used it for. That seemed kind of a waste though. and then I found a recipe for a Costa Rican gallo pinto – beans and rice.

Now you can apparently substitute Lizano sauce with Worcestershire sauce, but they just do not taste the same. I tried called a couple of places to see if i could find it here in Edmonton, but with no luck so far. Paraiso Tropical said they have carry the same kind of sauce but from a different brand. The person who answered the phone at El Rancho Latin Market told me they didn’t speak English and hung up on me. Anyone know if I can find this stuff here in town? If the other brand doesn’t taste right I’m going to have to resort to ordering the sauce online.

gallo pinto

gallo pinto

Gallo pinto
Adapted from Serious Eats
Serves 4

Ingredients
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 yellow, white or red onion, diced
1 red pepper, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup cooked rice (you get better results with day old or defrosted frozen rice than freshly cooked rice)
1 cup of canned black beans, with some liquid
5 tablespoons Lizano salsa or Worcestershire sauce
Salt and black pepper to taste
cilantro, roughly chopped

Directions
Pour the oil into a large skillet or wok set on medium heat. Add the onion and cook until the onion starts to turn translucent. Add the red pepper and cook until the red pepper is soft. Add the garlic and cook for about a minute.

Add the can of beans to the pan, but only add a little of the liquid in the can (reserve the rest of the liquid just in case). Add the Lizano or Worcestershire sauce, stir and let everything cook for about 3 minutes. If the pan starts to dry out, add more of the reserved bean liquid. Season with salt and pepper.

Add the rice, and stir until well coated, and cook until the rice is heated through. Top with chopped cilantro, and add additional salt, pepper, or Lizano sauce if necessary.

Update: I found some Lizano, but it was in Vancouver. So I had someone bring me lots of bottles. 🙂

2nd Update: I keep getting internet stores advertising in my comments, so I am closing comments on this post. Google it if you want to order Lizano online.

Dill pickle chicken salad

I made a chicken salad with leftover roasted chicken, but it felt too ordinary so I jazzed it up with dill pickles. Lots of dill pickles.

dill pickle chicken salad

dill pickle chicken salad

Dill pickle chicken salad
All measurements are approximate; adjust to your personal preference.

1 ½ cups shredded roasted chicken
1 rib of celery, diced
1 shallot, diced
4-5 tbsp mayonnaise or low-fat whipped dressing
4-5 tbsp diced dill pickles
salt and pepper to taste

Mix and eat by itself or on a sandwich with toasted bread and some sort of green leaf/butter/whatever lettuce leaves.

Fiddlelicious

Fiddleheads, the unfurled baby fronds of the ostrich fern, are named as such because they look like the curled head of a violin. They have a very short season in the spring so if you see them, grab them while you can. They taste a little like asparagus, but look so unique that they make a nice change on the plate. They’re also low in calories and are chock full of vitamins.

fiddleheads

fiddleheads

I first tried fiddleheads on a trip to Saint John, New Brunswick around this time 10 years ago. I had never heard or seen of them before and was quite surprised to have them served at dinner. They were delicious and different and I was intrigued. They were boiled, then tossed with vinegar.

Now that I’ve cooked them on my own, I tend to prefer them with a bit of lemon juice instead.

*Warning: fiddleheads must be cooked thoroughly before eating as raw or undercooked fiddleheads will taste bitter and may cause stomach problems.*

Preparing fiddleheads
Choose green fiddleheads that are tightly curled. Keep them refrigerated until you are ready to cook them.

Carefully brush or cut off the papery brown scales on the outside and trim the tail end to remove any brown ends (which are caused by oxidation).

Wash the fiddleheads in a bowl of clean water several times to remove any dirt or lingering scales until the water is clear.

Cooking fiddleheads
Boil the fiddleheads in a pot of salted water for 10-15 minutes, or steam them for 20 minutes. Drain, and serve with melted butter/margarine and lemon juice and zest, or vinegar.

You can also sauté fiddleheads by blanching them in boiling salted water for one or two minutes prior to sautéing.

To freeze fiddleheads for future use, blanch them in boiling salted water for two minutes, then drain and shock them in an ice water bath and freeze. To cook them again, thaw them and boil for 10 minutes.

You can basically replace fiddleheads for most recipes that use asparagus. Cook them simply, or experiment with this unique green.

Fried fennel

I bought some fennel with the intent of making a fennel and blood orange salad, but decided to try something new instead. This dish is a bit like eating fried onions, but with a mild anise flavour.

fried fennel

fried fennel

Fried fennel
Adapted from a recipe by French Food at Home with Laura Calder

Ingredients
A fennel bulb
salt and pepper
At least 2 tbsp of olive oil

Directions
Clean and trim the fennel bulb. Cut into slices approximately 1/2 centimetre thick. If you slice the fennel horizontally starting at the tip or the end, the pieces will separate a bit like onion rings. If you cut it length-wise they will hold together more like oval slices.

Season the sliced fennel with salt and pepper. Heat your olive oil in a pan and fry both sides of each fennel piece until the fennel is tender and starts to caramelize. They take longer to cook than onions, so be patient.

Moroccan spiced chickpea soup

Everyone I’ve ever told about this recipe have raved about its taste. It’s hearty, it’s healthy, it’s easy to make, only uses one pot and it tastes damn good. I discovered it one day when watching Good Deal with Dave Lieberman on TV.

“Wow, that looks simple and delicious,” I thought. And so I immediately went looking for the recipe on the US Food Network website. I’ve made it enough times now that I’ve adjusted some ingredients to fit my own personal taste.

Moroccan spiced chickpea soup

Moroccan spiced chickpea soup

Moroccan spiced chickpea soup
Adapted from Good Deal with Dave Lieberman
Makes approximately 4-6 large servings.

Ingredients
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for garnish
1 large onion, roughly diced
6 to 8 cloves of garlic, pressed
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon (original recipe asks for just 1 tsp but I like the additional cinnamon taste)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (add more if you want heat)
1 heaping teaspoon sweet paprika
1 can chopped tomatoes (796 mL/28 oz, original recipe used half of this amount though)
2 cans chickpeas (540 mL/19 oz per can), rinsed and drained
1 carton (900 mL) reduced-sodium chicken broth (or vegetable broth… or use your own stock of course)
1 teaspoon sugar
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Pre-washed baby spinach

Directions
Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic, and sauté until the onions begin to turn translucent (lower the heat if browning starts to occur). Add all your spices spices and sauté for a minute. Add the tomatoes, chickpeas, broth and sugar. Add a pinch of salt and approximately 10 grinds of fresh pepper.

Don’t forget to stir as you add each ingredient. The chickpeas should be just covered with liquid; if you don’t have enough liquid add some water.

Bring the soup to a simmer, then lower heat to low and gently simmer for approximately 45 minutes. Basically, you want the chickpeas to soften enough so that there is no bite.

Remove the soup from the heat and use a potato masher to mash up some of the chickpeas (but not all of them) right there in the pot. Spoon out your soup and add plenty of spinach to each bowl, stirring until the heat just starts to wilt the leaves. If you’re serving the entire pot, go ahead and add your spinach to the pot instead of into individual bowls. Add additional salt and pepper if necessary, and serve the soup lightly drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil, if desired.