rockin moroccan night

My big brother came to town to absorb some Cali culture and I had to have a flawless welcome plan. My brother lives in Singapore and has all of the amazing flavors of SE Asia at his doorstep, so I decided to draw from a cuisine that he probably doesn’t get too much of at home but is as bold, flavorful and complex as the cuisine of SE Asia to appeal to his palate: Moroccan. This grilled fish and veggie kebabs recipe allowed me to finally break into one of my favorite cookbooks, the gorgeous Modern Moroccan, and also to practice some more on the grill. The only specialty non-substitutable ingredients you need are preserved lemons and harissa, a spice mixture. You can easily make your own preserved lemons, but you’d have to do it months in advance.  Like me, you can buy the stuff at a specialty grocer (Whole Foods had some) or a Middle Eastern store.

The original recipe is for an appetizer serving of whole red mullet, but this recipe makes plenty (like, a lot!) for a dinner serving. I had originally wanted to use a firm white fish like halibut but salmon seemed like an easy way to grill fish without too much worry and the flavors worked amazingly well with this richer fish.

The chermoula is bright and fresh, and the stew of veggies with preserved lemons is a complex layering of acidic, umami-savory, briny, and tart. The salmon grilled in its skin turned out really moist and perfectly done to a flaky medium rare. I know there are skin-down and skin-up controversies, but I found leaving the salmon skin down and shutting the lid of the grill made a really moist fish that was not overcooked even despite varying thicknesses of fillets. It was simple to slide the salmon off the skins and then ladle the stew with veggies over the fish to serve family-style. You can serve this over fluffed up garlic infused couscous for a complete Moroccan meal. For my stew i added purple potatoes, rainbow carrots, and vibrant heirloom tomatoes off the vine for even more color.

The veggies have the Moroccan inflected flavor of tart lemon and aromatic cinnamon which is simply fresh and slightly subtle. The yogurt dip is perfect for dipping the grilled veggies in, or as we did, mixed into the couscous and salmon stew. Its a simple dip with a nice peppery kick from the harissa that would be great for other uses – pita chip dip, topping a baked potato – that makes it certainly worth hunting down a jar or tube of harissa.

summer vegetable kebabs with harissa and yogurt dip

instructions slightly adapted from a recipe in Modern Moroccan, 2008, Ghillie Basan

equal sized pieces of any or all of the following vegetables:



bell peppers

red onion

cherry tomatoes

vegetable marinade:

4 Tbsp olive oil

juice of 1/2 lemon

1 garlic clove, crushed

1 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp ground cinnamon

2 tsp clear honey

1 tsp salt

harissa and yogurt dip:

2 cups Greek yogurt

2-4 Tbsp harissa

small bunch of fresh cilantro, finely chopped

small bunch of mint, finely chopped

salt and ground pepper

Preheat the grill on the hottest setting. Put all the vegetables in a bowl. Mix the ingredients for the vegetable marinade together and pour the mixture over the vegetables. Using your hands, turn the vegetables gently in the marinade, then thread them onto metal or water-soaked wooden skewers. Cook the kebabs on the grill, turning them occasionally until the vegetables are nicely browned over.

To make the dip, put the yogurt in a bowl and beat in a tablespoon of harissa, making it as fiery as you like by adding more harissa. Add most of the cilantro and mint, reserving a little to garnish, and season well with salt and pepper.

serves 4

salmon with chermoula and preserved lemons

slightly adapted from a recipe in Modern Moroccan, 2008, Ghillie Basan

2-3 Tbsp olive oil, plus extra for brushing

1 onion, chopped

1 carrot, chopped

1/2 preserved lemon, finely chopped

4 plum tomatoes, peeled and chopped

2 1/2 cups fish stock or water

3-4 new potatoes, peeled and cubed

4 six-oz salmon filets

handful of black olives, pitted and halved or sliced

small bunch of fresh cilantro, chopped

small bunch of mint, chopped

salt and ground black pepper


small bunch of fresh cilantro, finely chopped

2-3 garlic cloves, chopped

1-2 tsp ground cumin

pinch of saffron threads

4 Tbsp olive oil

juice of 1 lemon

1 Tbsp crushed red pepper

1 tsp salt

To make the chermoula, process the ingredients together in a food processor then set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a pan. Add the onion and carrot and cook until softened but not browned. Stir in half the preserved lemon, along with 2 Tbsp of the chermoula, the tomatoes and the fish stock or water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes. Add the potatoes and simmer for a further 10 minutes, until they are tender.

Preheat the grill on the hottest setting and brush a grill pan with oil. Brush the fish fillets with olive oil and a little of the chermoula. Season with salt and pepper, then place the fillets, skin side down, on the pan and cook with lid closed for 10 minutes per 1 inch thickness.

Meanwhile, stir the olives, the remaining chermoula and preserved lemon into the sauce and check the seasoning. Slide a spatula to separate the fish from the skin and serve the fish fillets in wide bowls, spoon the sauce over and sprinkle liberally with chopped cilantro and mint.

serves 4


what i had for dinner: girl and the grill

Ever since I bought a grill I have had grill fever. I’ve never grilled stuff before so this technique of cooking is a complete mystery to me, thus I try to keep finding excuses to slap something onto the grill and practicing, practicing, practicing. Recently it was a good stretch of stunning weather so I found this awesome recipe for Korean barbecue-style grilled halibut, eggplant, and baby bok choy that looked easy and delightful. Of course, the evening of said grilling experiment was the foggiest, coldest, most miserable night in all of San Francisco summers and I was outside cursing the grill and the price of halibut and the sideways rain – but in the end, I’d have to say it turned out pretty great.

First off, I really don’t recommend grilling bok choy or baby bok choy as it became bitter and dry. However, I love eggplant and nothing is better than a the smokiness and smooth texture of grilled japanese eggplant. I also added some zucchini and they turned out quite moist and nicely charred. Halibut is kind of pricey so I’m pretty sure that any kind of firm white fish would work great, and I suspect even salmon would as well. The fish and veggies were perfectly complemented by the wicked delicious sauce/marinade. The marinade is ridiculously easy and just so umami-ful.  Because I had it on hand, I substituted gochujang for the fresh chili which probably made it more Korean but added that great sour layer to the flavor profile.  I served everything with sesame rice (rice, sesame oil, sesame seed, green onion and soy sauce) and we were quite stuffed – this recipe makes a ton of food!

For dessert, (I sent B out in the rain to the grill for this…..yeah, I punked out) we grilled stone fruit topped with a dollop of mascarpone and drizzled with butter rum sauce. Simply grease the grill grates and the peaches/plums with butter or canola oil or Pam. If the fruit isn’t ripe enough you can sprinkle the cut sides with brown sugar but be sure to monitor them even more carefully on the grill as they can burn. Then, grill the fruit cut side down for a few minutes and turn over for 2 minutes.

To make the butter rum sauce, melt equal parts butter and brown sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Add a bit of dark rum and a splash of vanilla. The sauce will bubble up and smell freaking amazing – let it simmer for a few minutes, stirring, until its slightly thickened. Let it cool (unless you enjoy a burned tongue) and it will form a luxurious caramel.

Place the grilled stone fruit to a bowl, add a spoonful of mascarpone and drizzle with warm butter-rum sauce. Each spoonful is sweet, creamy, tart, warm and guaranteed to make you want to give your grill another go – even in the dampest, chilliest of nights.

burgers & sandwiches

a fire in the belly

Summer is ending, but here in the sunshine state grilling season is in full bloom.  Every saturday and every Gator game, you can smell the earthy smoke in the air and hear the sizzle of the heat.  My uncle in Bangladesh took great pride in his grilling skills (as many XYs do); he would prepare for a week – choosing cuts of various meats, mixing spicy  yogurt marinades, and skewering kebabs all for the grand finale in a flaming hot fire coaxed over a clay pit.  Me – I’d much rather enjoy the rewards than stand watch over the flames.  I guess that teenage pyromaniac that burned a hole in my parents’ dining room table didn’t quite survive with me to adulthood.

Here, a grill-worthy recipe for vegetarians and their tolerant loved ones.  Wes’ mom passed this one down to me and it makes for a delicious and hearty meal.   I didn’t mess with the recipe the first time except substituting my beloved black beans for the red/kidney beans.  But I think next time I may toss in some mushrooms for a different texture and increase the chili wattage even more.  The burgers freeze extremely well, and in northern climates can be fried up over a stove to spicy results.

Chili Burgers

Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites, The Moosewood Collective

1 cup chopped onion

4 garlic cloves, minced

2 teaspoons olive oil

1/2 cup peeled, grated carrot

1 and 1/2 teaspoon chili powder

1 teaspoon cumin

Two 15oz cans of pinto, kidney (or black) beans

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons ketchup or 1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 and 1/2 cups rolled oats

salt and pepper to taste

Saute onion and garlic in oil about 5 minutes, until softened.

Add carrots, chili powder, and cumin.  Cook on low about 5 minutes.  Set aside.

Mash drained beans in large bowl with potato masher.  Add mustard, soy sauce, ketchup and sauteed vegetables.  Mix in oats.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Moisten hands and form burger mixture into six 3-4 inch patties.  Lightly spray or oil skillet (or grill) and cook burgers on medium to low heat about 5-8 minutes per side.