People often ask me what we eat at home. They imagine, I think, each of our meals must be an imaginative affair involving hours spent in the kitchen and crowned with an elaborate dessert.
This is not even close to the truth.
I used to feel guilty about this. I have food-industry friends who have the magic ability to turn a pile of disparate ingredients into a restaurant-worthy meal. These particular friends (a ridiculously stylish and affable couple to boot) seem impervious to the siren song of a bowl of breakfast cereal for dinner.
I used to think settling for anything less than a beautiful home-cooked repast was a small failure. My inner perfectionist looked on scornfully as I scarfed cold pizza for breakfast or cobbled a pile of wacky leftovers into a “meal”.
Then one day last year, I stepped back and looked at this pile of crazy thinking. “Seriously?”, I asked myself. “We both know that may be possible for some people, but it certainly isn’t for you, my dear.” There simply aren’t enough hours in the day to craft an elaborate meal each evening. So I let it go.
It helped that I’d recently returned from a trip to Brussels and Paris where I’d seen friends throw together delicious, seasonal meals on the fly. Steamed artichokes dipped in garlic yogurt with a bottle of white wine. Scrambled eggs and mushrooms on toast. A few slices of ham and a wedge of cheese with a handful of radishes from the garden. I decided these sur le pouce meals were just what I wanted my weeknight suppers to be. Simple. Straightforward. Delicious.
After a little experimenting, I've found my groove. Scrambled eggs are my new best friend. A plate of charcuterie and cheese comes together in 5 minutes. A jar of mustardy vinaigrette shaken together on a Sunday night makes salads a cinch all week long. And--another trick I learned from the French--a glass of good wine elevates even the humblest fare.
For those of you who feel pressure to produce a culinary masterpiece seven nights a week, I suggest you give the on-the-fly method of weeknight dining a go. If you need a little nudge, I have two in-a-flash recipes for you from my friend Mehdi.
In addition to being a charming human being, Mehdi is also an amazing cook. Oh, and he knows a ton about Moroccan food, too. His company, Villa Jerada, started off as a venture to import his neighbor’s olive oil from Morocco to the U.S. It has grown to include high quality Moroccan oils, spices and artisan-made goods. When Mehdi stopped by a couple weeks ago to drop off some olive oil and a tin of his wildly fragrant saffron, he offered to show me some new ways to work Moroccan ingredients and techniques into quick weeknight meals. (Score!)
His vegetable tagine takes about 15 minutes to prep and turns out fragrant and silky with olive oil. His three-ingredient Moroccan-spiced yogurt is the essence of simplicity. (And super addictive. You’ve been warned). Accompanied by a plate of crunchy vegetables and a soft-boiled egg or two, these recipes make a perfect on-the-fly summer meal.
Don’t forget the wine.
Moroccan Vegetable Tagine
- 1 small onion, thinly sliced
- 4 medium yukon gold potatoes, peeled and sliced ¼ inch thick
- 1 large tomato, cored and sliced ¼ inch thick
- 1-2 Anaheim peppers, seeded and sliced lengthwise ¼ inch thick
- 1 clove garlic, very thinly sliced
- About 1 ½ cups water
- 3-4 tablespoons best quality olive oil
- 1-2 tablespoons harissa
- 1 teaspoon kefta rub
- 15 saffron threads
- Sea salt + freshly ground black pepper
- About 8 small sprigs cilantro, plus additional to garnish
*Notes: I can’t recommend the whole line of Villa Jerada spices, rubs and olive oils highly enough! I’ve been cooking Moroccan food for over a decade and these are the best ingredients I’ve ever worked with. In this dish, I used Mehdi’s Dessert Miracle olive oil along with Villa Jerada harissa, kefta rub and saffron. See below for Seattle stockists and online resources.
- If you can’t find Anaheim peppers or if you want a milder or spicier option, feel free to substitute another pepper. I think this would be nice with either very thin slices of jalapeño or serrano (to mitigate the heat) or ¼-inch slices of red bell pepper.
Scatter the onions over the bottom of a large sauté pan or tagine and salt lightly. Tile the sliced potatoes over the onions. Arrange the sliced tomatoes, peppers and garlic over the potatoes. Pour the water into the bottom of the pan. The precise amount will vary slightly based on the size of your pan, but you want enough to form a thin layer over the bottom of the pan, just covering the onions. Pour the olive oil over the vegetables. (Don’t skimp on the olive oil, it’s part of what makes the potatoes silky and soft when they’re done cooking.) Dot the harissa over the vegetables. Season generously with salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Sprinkle with the kefta rub and saffron then arrange the cilantro sprigs over the top.
Bring the water to a gentle simmer over medium heat then cover and cook until most of the water has evaporated, the potatoes are cooked through and the tomatoes are starting to fall apart, about 20 minutes. You may need to reduce the heat a little. If there’s still a little water in the bottom of the pan when the vegetables are done, remove the lid and cook off the excess.
Sprinkle with additional cilantro to garnish, if desired, and serve in the pan.
Makes 3-4 servings.
Recipe by Mehdi Boujrada
Ras El Hanout Yogurt
- 1 ½ cups full-fat greek yogurt or labneh
- 2 teaspoons Villa Jerada ras el hanout spice blend
- 2 teaspoons honey
- Best quality extra virgin olive oil, to serve
- Raw sliced vegetables, to serve
*Note: I love all the Villa Jerada products but the ras el hanout spice blend is especially fantastic. It's much more delicate and floral than any other version of the spice blend I've tried. It works perfectly with the honey in this dip.
Whisk the yogurt, ras el hanout and honey together in a medium bowl. Set aside for 10 minutes to allow the flavors to come together. Serve with vegetables and topped with best quality olive oil. (I used Les Terroirs de Marrakech extra-virgin olive oil.)
Recipe by Mehdi Boujrada
Where to by Villa Jerada products in Seattle:
Where to buy Villa Jerada products elsewhere and online: