I arrived in Morocco without a plan or any real knowledge of the country. Immediately, I fell into its splendour and mystery. Compared to Canada, it’s not a large country, but it holds mountains, desert and coastal landscapes. Within its ancient cities are the maze-like souks, each corner offering a path to a new treasure – hand knotted rugs, an array of colourful spices artfully tapered to a tall point, brightly dyed cloth, delicate glass tea cups. The medieval architecture has provided the backdrop for productions like Gladiator and Game of Thrones and in the air there is music that at times is joyful, sorrowful, rising and nostalgic, and unlike any music you would on the streets in North America.
Even the food offers combinations of flavours that are unusual and surprising. Spices of cinnamon, cloves and cardamon are more likely to flavour a tagine than a dessert. Dig into a meaty stew only to pull up an apricot or prune. A pastry covered in cinnamon sugar, holds a steaming pigeon pie.
The landscapes and souks I had to leave behind in Morocco, but with a few cookbooks, the internet and the limited but growing number of Moroccan restaurants here in North America my Moroccan food journey continues.
This vegan Moroccan Sweet Potato Chickpea Bowl gets a quick start with my favourite, versatile and freezable curried chickpea filling. A small handful of dried fruit, plumped in hot water is added to the chickpea mixture. A sweet potato is tossed with a combination of cumin, cinnamon, tumeric and honey and then roasted. These are served over a bed of whole wheat couscous and then the whole bowl is topped with a crunchy pistachios. Add some greens on the side and you have a healthy, filling and satisfying meal. If you are following our monthly grocery shop, this is a great meal for weeks 3 or 4 when fresh produce may be getting low.
Moroccan Curried Chickpea Bowl (Vegan)
Spicy chickpeas studded with plumped raisins, roasted honeyed sweet potato, served on a mound of couscous and topped with crunchy pistachios.
Cover the sultanas/raisins/dried apricot in 1/2 cup of very hot (just boiled) water. Set aside for 10 minutes.
Combine the cumin, cinnamon, turmeric, cayenne and salt with the honey and olive oil. Mix with the sweet potato chunks. Spread on a baking sheet lined with parchment and bake in hot oven for 20 minutes, or until tender, flipping half way.
Boil 3/4 cup water in a small saucepan. Add the salt and olive oil, then the couscous. Stir to combine, then cover the pot with the lid, remove from heat, and let sit for 5 minutes.
If using pistachios crush with a rolling pin or pestle and mortar. If using almonds toast lightly in a dry pan over medium heat, removing from the pan as soon as you start to see a light brown colour.
Add the soaked sultanas/raisins/dried apricot to the chickpea filling. Heat to desired temperature in the microwave, on the stove or in a small ovenproof dish alongside the potatoes.
To assemble: Mound the couscous in the bottom of the bowl. Surround with the sweet potatoes on one side, and the curried chickpea mixture on the other. Sprinkle with the nuts and cilantro if using.
Spring is just around the corner here. The temperature is starting to linger above zero, birds are singing, patches of grass are visible through gaps in the snow and best of all – the light remains for a few hours after the work day ends. Soon, dinner will be followed by bike rides and walks and gardening. Or dinner itself might just happen outside.
Which brings me to the next recipe in this series using my favourite vegan, versatile and freezable curried chickpea filling. It is transportable, super quick to pull together and satisfying, and I love the juxtaposition of the warm softness of the chickpeas against the cold crunch of the cucumber.
Warm Curried Chickpea and Tahini Power Wrap
Spicy chickpeas, with crunchy cucumber and creamy tahini, all rolled up in your favourite wrap.
For the Tahini Dressing: Add all the ingredients for the tahini dressing to a small dish and mix with a whisk or small hand blender until throughly combined. If the dressing is too thick add a little more water.
Place the spinach and cucumber in a line down the centre of the wrap, leaving about an inch at one end of the wrap.
Mix the tahini dressing with the quinoa and spoon over the spinach and cucumber.
Warm the curried chickpea filling in the microwave or on the stove (or have it at room temperature) and add it alongside the quinoa.
Fold up the space you left empty end of the wrap over the filling ingredients, and then roll from one side, tucking the ingredients in tightly.
There is a little Vietnamese pho restaurant here in Ottawa that makes these greasy fried spring rolls that I dream about. The shell is paper thin, fried to crispness, encasing a mix of shrimp, veggies, and noodles. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed these bundles of naughty deliciousness more times than I can count. I always discarded the lettuce they are served upon, assuming it was garnish. But recently I learned it is intended to hold and transport the roll, dripping with oil and dipping sauce, cleanly from the plate to mouth. An added bonus – when the rolls are encased in something green, it’s easy to imagine they are much healthier than the reality.
Well, the lettuce wraps I’m going to share with you today, actually are very healthy, and offer a satisfying mix of textures and flavours: spicy chickpeas, a dente brown rice, creamy avocado and a drizzle of lemony yogurt pulled together in a crunchy lettuce leaf.
It uses my favourite versatile and freezer friendly vegetarian filling – curried chickpeas. If you have some on hand, and also keep some brown rice ready to go in your freezer, these can be on the table in under 10 minutes.
Because the chickpea filling is just as delicious at room temperature, they would also be great to bring to a picnic and assemble on the spot.
For a vegan version trying replacing the yogurt with tahini or cashew cream
Vegetarian Curried Chickpea Lettuce Wraps
Spicy chickpeas, a dente rice, creamy avocado, and lemony sumac yogurt all encased in a crunchy lettuce leaf.
10minutes (if chickpeas and rice prepared in advance)
To make the sumac and yogurt sauce: Mix the first four ingredients together. Taste and then add additional sumac, lemon juice and salt and pepper as desired.
To assemble: Lay out your leaves. Put a few spoonfuls of brown rice along the length. Spoon over 1/4 cup of the chickpeas mixture, add a slice of the avocado alongside and then top with a generous drizzle of the sumac and yogurt sauce.