In Morocco, most meals begin with a selection of “kemia,” or small bites, and salads. A simple meal will begin with, say, three salads, while an elaborate meal may start with an impressive platter of more than a dozen. We ate lots of wonderful food during our recent trip to Marrakech, but I think these small bites and salads were the most memorable dishes.
During the summer we have lots of weekend guests in Southampton, which, of course, is great fun. Since the local restaurants are mostly mediocre, though, this also involves a lot of cooking. To avoid feeling like a galley slave, one needs to be efficient as well as creative. In particular, I try to keep lunch streamlined, serving something very simple, or, better yet, something I’ve made ahead of time. Yesterday, as I started planning meals for this weekend, it occurred to me that I could adapt a few of our favorite Moroccan kemia and salads for weekend entertaining, making them in advance and pulling them out for lunches or cocktail snacks at a moment’s notice.
Here’s my first effort, a simple but flavorful (and nutritious) chickpea salad with onions and paprika. We’re having it for lunch on Friday with a green salad, bread and, I think, a nice rosé.
(adapted from Ghillie Basan, Flavors of Morocco)
1 1/2 cups dried chickpeas, soaked in cold water overnight
1 red onion
4 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon ground cumin (I prefer to toasted cumin –toast cumin seeds in a skillet until they’re just browned and then grind them in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle)
2-3 teaspoons sweet Hungarian paprika
3 tablespoons olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
1 small bunch of flat-leafed parsley, coarsely chopped
1 small bunch of cilantro, coarsely chopped
4 oz goat’s cheese or feta, crumbled (optional)
salt and pepper
1. Soak the chickpeas overnight in plenty of cold water.
2. Drain the chickpeas, put them in a deep saucepan and cover them with water. Bring to the boil; then, simmer until they’re tender but not mushy, about 45 minutes.
3. While the chickpeas are cooking, slice the onion in half first lengthwise, then in half again crosswise. Slice each quarter in thin slices with the grain. Chop the garlic finely.
4. When the chickpeas are cooked, drain them and then tip the hot chickpeas into a bowl. Quickly, add the garlic, onion, paprika, cumin, olive oil and lemon juice and toss to coat well. (The heat of the chickpeas will partially cook and mellow the flavors of the onion and garlic.)
5. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and then add most of the herbs, reserving a little for garnish.
Serve warm or at room temperature with crumbled goat cheese or feta. The salad will keep for several days in the refrigerator.