In search of pomegranate molasses the other day, I found myself online and just about to pull the trigger on a purchase, when the question, ‘what do you have locally’ popped into my mind. I transferred my attention accordingly and found the Mediterranean Specialties Cafe on the south side of Bellingham. Monica noted that she’d also seen the European Specialties Cafe in Ferndale, so we mounted a road trip.
The small Ferndale store had a busy deli side, fueled by a very nice selection of meats and cheeses. A small but diverse grocery side displayed a fascinating array of staples from Russia and Eastern Europe.
Down in Bellingham, we recognized the Mediterranean market as a real catch as soon as we walked through the the door. A steady stream of customers were enjoying the deli side of the business as we prowled shelves packed with a wide range of goodies.
Pasta, grains, spices, oils, and much more. We found our pomegranate molasses and a few more treats as well; Tunisian Harissa, the fiery red chile paste that fuels many North African dishes, radiatori pasta, legendary for holding sauce like few other shapes, but hard to find locally.
Finally, we found a bag of Moghrabieh, the North African big brother of couscous. After one more stop for chicken, we headed home to cook.
The moral of this story is that, even in relatively small towns, there are often such small shops around that could use your business, so next time you’re looking for something a bit off the beaten path, do a search for local instead of buying online; chances are it’ll be a rewarding journey.
Moghrabieh, at first glance, looks like a giant couscous, and is sometimes mistakenly called such, but it is a different critter altogether. While couscous is made by rolling flour around a core of coarse semolina, moghrabieh is simply semolina dough rolled into roughly 1/4″ balls, then sun dried.
Moghrabieh, meaning ‘from the Maghreb’ in Arabic, refers to the region of North Africa west of Egypt – Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Western Sahara, and Mauritania, the source of some truly amazing food. When I researched moghrabieh, I found pages and pages of recipes for the dish, but absolutely none for making your own pasta at home – As such, rest assured we’ll be figuring out how to do just that and posting it at a future date. That said, it’s not too hard to find frozen or dried Moghrabieh in a specialty store like the one we visited.
The traditional dish Moghrabieh is much beloved, reserved for special occasions due to the laborious process of hand rolling the namesake pasta. Made with lamb or goat, chick peas, and freshly made stock, it’s a hearty and fragrant delight. Researching recipes quickly revealed one important fact – Virtually every cook from the region has a recipe, and theirs is the only right and true version – Like barbecue or spaghetti sauce, there are a myriad of variants with a few key staples. As such, I felt absolutely comfortable creating my own. As I read it, the keys to the dish, the things that simply must be there are these: meat slow braised in house made stock with onion and/or shallot, some form of legume, and cinnamon, cumin, and caraway for seasoning. There are many prescribed methods for cooking and incorporating the dish; I assembled the method I’ve shared below based on two criterion; building big layers of flavor in a relatively short time, and ease of production.
This dish really deserves house made stock, as mentioned; if you’re doing this like we do, you’ve got fresh stock in the freezer. If you don’t, then use store bought and don’t feel bad about doing so. Whatever it takes to make it happen, do it – Try it, I guarantee you’ll love it.
Moghrabieh al UrbanMonique
4 fresh Chicken Thighs
4 Cups Chicken Stock
1 1/4 Cup rough chopped Scallion
1/2 Cup rough chopped Yellow Onion
1 14-15 ounce can Great Northern Beans
1 1/2 cups dry Moghrabieh
3 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Butter
1 teaspoon fresh ground Cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground Cumin
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground Caraway
1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt, plus more for boiling the moghrabieh
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground Pepper
For garnish – 2-3 Spring Onions and fresh Cilantro
In a heavy sauté pan over medium heat, add a tablespoon each of oil and butter, and allow to heat through. Add chicken thighs in the middle of the pan, the surround with onions and scallions. Season with salt, pepper, and half the cinnamon, cumin,and caraway.
Brown the chicken for 5 minutes, then flip. Brown for 5 minutes more, then add 1 cup of stock. Reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for another hour.
Remove pan from heat, and remove chicken from pan. Set chicken aside to cool. Leave stock, onion and scallion in sauté pan.
In a stock pot of well salted water, (as in, sea water saltiness), Add the dry moghrabieh and boil for 10 minutes. Remove from heat, drain in a colander and set aside.
In a sauté pan over medium high heat, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 of butter and allow to heat through. Add the drained moghrabieh and sauté for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring frequently to avoid sticking, until the pasta is a light golden brown.
Begin adding stock, a half cup at a time, continuing to stir the pasta as it absorbs the stock. When each half cup is absorbed, add another until you’ve added 2 cups. Continue sautéing until the pasta is al dente, about 5 minutes.
Turn the heat under the the pan containing the stock, scallion, and onion to medium and heat until the mix begins to bubble lightly. Add 1 tablespoon of flour and whisk to incorporate. Add the beans, the chicken, and then the remaining cinnamon, cumin, and caraway; stir to incorporate, and continue to simmer, whisking occasionally until the sauce starts to thicken. Turn off the heat and prepare to assemble.
Thinly slice the spring onion and chiffenade the cilantro.
Bring separate bowls of moghrabieh and sauce to the table, along with small dishes of the spring onion and cilantro.
Each diner can ladle some of the pasta, then sauces then garnish as they see fit.