Friday, July 18, 2014

Moroccan-Inspired Chicken Patties with Date Confit--and More Photos from Morocco

Moroccan-Inspired Chicken Patties with Date Confit

Moroccan-Inspired Chicken Patties with Date Confit--and More Photos from Morocco
by Victoria Challancin

No one has said it better than food maven Paula Wolfert, who wrote so thoroughly and so lovingly about Morocco and its heady cuisine.  To paraphrase her, Moroccan food is spicy, but not really piquant.  If you want chile heat, you simply provide the rich condiment called harissa (see my recipe and article here) at the table, to be passed separately so that diners can add the piquancy they want.  But the actual use of spices in Moroccan cuisine is always judicious, as if each cook knows just the perfect amount of each spice required to enhance her dish, without ever overwhelming the whole, without ever allowing one note to dominate the harmonious union of the seductive blend of ingredients.

Although you might never find this particular dish in Morocco, the flavors are true to the cuisine, resulting in a rich, thoroughly modern interpretation of Moroccan flavors.  Using a spice blend called ras el hanout to enliven the chicken patty and a pomegrante molasses-rich confit of dates to round out the flavors, this recipe is a wonderful way to experience the flavors of Morocco.

Cook's Notes:  This is such a lovely recipe as written that I don't think I even tampered with it, a rare thing for me.  And if you are lucky enough to have leftovers of this dish, the taste just improves the next day.  My sister-in-law made these for a party appetizer and served them with my Chermoula Sauce (see my recipe here and lots of ideas for how to use it here), which also worked beautifully.  Lovely flavors.  Did I skip the cucumber and onion relish?  I can't imagine that I did, but then, I don't see it anywhere.  Just cilantro leaves.  Yikes!

Recipe:  Moroccan-Inspired Chicken Patties with Date Confit
Serves 4 as a light meal and up to 12 as an hors d'oeuvres

For the chicken patties:
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (I purchase pre-ground)
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1-inch piece fresh ginger root, peeled and grated
2 teaspoons Ras el Hanout (see my recipe here)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon light brown sugar

For serving:
16 small hearts of lettuce leaves
4-inch piece English cucumber, quartered lengthwise, seeded and diced
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 handful cilantro leaves

For the date confit:
20 ready-to-eat pitted dates, halved (use Medjool, if possible)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 shallots, chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 Thai (or serrano) chile, finely chopped
1 teaspoon light brown sugar
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

To make the date confit:
Put the dates in a bowl, cover with just-boiled water and leave for 1 hour.  Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a skillet and fry the shallots, covered, for 20 to 25 minutes or until very soft.

Drain the dates and add them to the pan, squashing them with the back of a fork to break them down.  Stir in 4 tablespoons water, the cinnamon, chile and sugar and cook for 5 minutes longer, or until it forms a thick jam consistency.  Add more water if it is too thick.  Stir in the pomegranate molasses and season to taste with salt and pepper. You can blend the mixture if you prefer a smoother consistency.  Spoon the confit into a serving bowl and allow to cool.

To make the chicken patties:
Heat the oven to 100 degrees.  Grind the chicken in a food processor (or use pre-ground, as I did), then stir in the garlic, ginger, and ras el hanout.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Form the chicken mixture into 16 equal balls, about the size of golf balls.  Flatten each one to make a little patty.

Heat two-thirds of the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat.  Fry the patties, in two or three batches, if necessary, for 3 minutes on each side.  Just before they finish cooking on each side, sprinkle with a little sugar and cook until slightly caramelized.  Drain on paper towels and keep warm in the low oven while you cook the remaining patties, adding more oil as necessary.

For serving:
Put a chicken patty on top of each lettuce leaf, scatter a little cucumber, red onion and cilantro over and top with a spoonful of the date confit.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

                                    Moroccan-Inspired Chicken Patties with Date Confit

           More Images from my Moroccan Trip in April 2014:

Like what you see?  Why not join me in either October of 2014 or April of 2015 on my next tours of Morocco--beautiful, seductive Morocco.

©Victoria Challancin.  All Rights Reserved.

Victoria Challancin
Flavors of the Sun Cooking School and Trips
San Miguel de Allende,

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Souk Cuisine--A Very Special Cooking Class in Marrakech--and a Recipe!

Shopping for local herbs and skins in Marrakech

Souk Cuisine--a Very Special Cooking Class in Marrakech
by Victoria Challancin

Souk Cuisine.  The very name conjures up magic for me.  Long-enchanted with souks, bazars, and markets all over the world, I find that they are usually my first destination when traveling.  Imagine the thrill for me of taking an actual cooking class smack dab in the middle of Marrakech's ancient medina, preparing a cuisine I love, filled with fun students and led by a delightful and knowledgeable teacher!  A perfect combination of ingredients, literally and figuratively.

I have been trying for several years to schedule a cooking class with Gemma, a savvy Dutch entrepreneur who has made Marrakech her home as well as the base for her very successful cooking school appropriately called "Souk Cuisine."  In April, after the group I led (my ninth!) departed Marrakech, I finally was able to take this class.  Gemma puts the skills she learned in hotel school in Holland to good use with her lively business.  Not content just to provide a cooking experience, Gemma starts the class by handing your group shopping lists and wallets holding enough dirhams to buy what you need for the day's menu!  Of course, she doesn't entirely throw you to the wolves, rather she leads you through the souk, greeting well-known and respected vendors along the way, teaching us about the ingredients we will prepare.

We stop to buy spices...
and to receive a lesson about the qualities of saffron and how not to be duped by one of lesser quality

We turn our tongues yellow with the real stuff

We buy some smen, the slightly fermented butter loved all over North Africa

We even taste the lovely smen flavored with dried meat

We purchase olives and preserved lemon (and I learn that the brightest, most yellow ones aren't the preferred type to use!)

We also buy a bit of olive oil sold to us in a recycled Coca-cola bottle, with a wad of cardboard to seal it
We stop at the local "grocery store" for flour, baking powder, and ground almonds, bargaining as we go

The cooking class is given in a small riad (a larger one is used for larger groups than our six) and has two Morrocan cooks on hand to help

The mise en place is ready for us, complete with the fresh saffron protected by paper

We thought we'd never get the herbs chopped fine enough for the Moroccan cooks who watched over us and scolded us with sign language when we fell short!

The chicken was left to marinate in chermoula, a Moroccan sauce/marinade rich with garlic and herbs
(My version of chermoula can be found here--plus numerous ways to use it!  And my own recipe for a chicken tagine with olives and preserved lemon can be found here--and with it, of course, a lesson on tagines!)

We make briouts filled with vegetables and using the local purchased warka, which resembles phyllo dough

The briouts, fried and ready to eat!
The finished chicken tagine, bursting with flavor

A selection of salads we prepared (mine is the eggplant next to the carrots)

Once you've tried Moroccan'll be hooked forever!

(Learn what all the fuss is about in my two-part series on Moroccan salads here and here, plus my recipe for Moroccan Raw Carrot Salad here)

And now, with Gemma's permission, I give you the absolute BEST Moroccan carrot salad I have ever tasted--and I've made and tasted quite a few!

Cook's Notes:  Although I didn't make the salad in class, Stefan did and he clearly peeled the almonds (blanching in boiling water makes it simple).  They could also be fried in a touch of olive oil, if desired.  When I made this at home, I didn't take the core out of the carrot, though Stefan did, under the strict tutelage of his Moroccan overseer!  Apparently, she also indicated that they should not be cubed, but rather left in long pieces.  This, of course, is up to you.  Use argan oil if you are lucky enough to have it; extra-virgin olive oil, if not. And please, don't shy away from the orange flower water, which gives the dish such a special, yet ver subtle, touch.

Recipe:  Moroccan Carrot Salad from Souk Cuisine

Moroccan Carrot Salad with Almonds and Raisins

1 kg carrots
100g raisins
100g almonds, unpeeled
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 cinnamon stick
6 teaspoons sugar (2 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon orange flower water
2 tablespoons argan oil (or top quality olive oil)

Peel the carrots and slice them lengthways.  Remove the inner core of the carrots and cut into cubes. Boil carrots in salted water. Drain after 15 minutes and leave a small quantity of water in the pan. Place again on the stove over low heat.  Add ground cinnamon, cinnamon stick, ground ginger, raisins, almonds, sugar, orange flower water and oil.  Simmer until carrots are well-cooked.  Serve the salad lukewarm or cold.
My version, made at home once I returned

I have been lucky enough to take classes from some of the best cooks in the world:  Jacques Pépin, Julia Child, Martin Yan, Madhur Jaffrey, Rick Bayless... and others.  All worthy.  All fascinating.
But I can honestly say that this class, with Souk Cuisine and Gemma, was my favorite ever.  I will definitely schedule one on my next trip.

Want to join me?  Let's take a class with Gemma together on my next trip in April of 2015 and possibly in October of this year as well!

©Victoria Challancin.  All Rights Reserved.

Flavors of the Sun Cooking School (and Trips!)
San Miguel de Allende,

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Glorious Morocco!

Flavors of the Sun

Glorious Morocco!
by Victoria Challancin

I'm back!  Many thanks to those of you who have written to ask why I have fallen off the grid, but let me assure you that all is well.  I just led two fantastic groups to both Paris and Morocco and will soon be ready to share my experiences--and new recipes--with you.   For now...a casual glimpse into the heart of glorious Morocco.
 Eating oysters and razor clams on the beach in Safi, Morocco

Like what you see?  Come join me in October 2014 or April 2015 for the real thing!

©Victoria Challancin.  All Rights Reserved.

Flavors of the Sun Cooking School and Trips

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Marinated Tunisian Chicken Kebabs with Raisin and Green Olive Relish

Marinated Tunisian Chicken Kebabs with Raisin and Green Olive Relish

Marinated Tunisian Chicken Kebabs with Raisin and Green Olive Relish
by Victoria Challancin

I have often suspected that I prepare main dishes just as an excuse to slip them under or alongside some dazzling condiment.  When I first discovered celebrity chef Susan Feniger's marinated chicken kebab recipe, that is just what I thought, "Wow, look at that relish and sauce!  Oh...and some chicken bits to go with it."  That, I fear, is how I frequently see recipes.

Susan Feniger, chef, renowned restauranteur, television personality, and cookbook author, outdid herself when she published Susan Feniger's Street Food:  Irresistibly Crispy, Creamy, Crunchy, Spicy, Sticky, Sweet Recipes, in which she serves up not only tempting recipes of street food from all over the world, but thrills with her personal travel anecdotes and photos, to inspire the home cook to reproduce authentic flavors and dishes back home, far from the steppes of Mongolia or the bazaars of Turkey.

This recipe works at several levels:  it can be prepared on the grill, in a grill pan or skillet on the stove, threaded onto kebabs, or simply served in cubes.  Maybe over rice...or pasta...or in a salad...or even a pasta salad.  And although the chicken is delightfully seasoned and works perfectly on its own (especially after I tarted it up a bit with a touch of garlic and chile), it is the two condiments that really make this recipe shine.  Half of the pepper marinade is reserved as a dipping sauce, but I found far more uses that a mere dipping sauce for this delectably-seasoned condiment.  In my house, it found its way into tuna salad, on crackers with cheese, in vegetarian wraps, and more.  And the accompanying relish, with its chunky textures and sweet-salty flavors, is equally good.  I've already had requests from my family to make more, chicken or not!

Marinated Tunisian Chicken Kebabs with Raisin and Green Olive Relish

Cook's Notes:  I used only chicken breasts instead of thighs, which worked fine.  Just be careful not to overcook the chicken.  Peppadew peppers, with their delicate flavor, are preferred; however, other fire-roasted jarred bell peppers could be substituted.  Because I had no access to currants, I substituted raisins in this luscious recipe. And while I am certain that currants would be wonderful, the raisins worked beautifully as well.  I might double up on the relish the next time I make this, as I surely will--it is just that good!  I also added a clove of garlic and a pinch of red pepper flakes, because I couldn't help myself and they proved to be nice additions indeed.  As this was taught in a cooking class with many other dishes, I just didn't have time to light the grill, which would be the preferred way to prepare these by far.  Still, even cooked in a skillet and then threaded on to a skewer, this chicken is simply delicious.


  • Once cooked and chilled, this dish would work well mixed into a green salad.  Simply use some of the reserved marinade as the dressing and toss the chicken and some relish with the mixed greens.  
  • Also, if you are keen on pasta salads, you could toss the chicken, some marinade, and the relish with fusilli or other cooked pasta of choice.  
  • Leftovers, chopped fine, would be great on crostini or even a modern take on pizza
  • I used leftover marinade to smear on vegetarian wraps, which added a lovely, richly-flavored kick to them (sometimes with tuna or egg salad or hummus or cheese, and with tomatoes, avocados, and alfalfa sprouts)

Recipe:  Susan Feniger's Tunisian Chicken Kebabs with Raisins and Olives

2 medium red bell peppers
1 cup dried currants or raisins
One 14-oz jar sweet Peppadew or other sweet pickled red peppers, 1/2 cup of the juices from the jar reserved
1 large garlic clove, optional
1 or 2 pinches red pepper flakes, optional
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for grilling
Kosher salt
3 pounds skinless boneless chicken thighs, trimmed and cut lengthwise into 1-inch-wide strips (or cubes)
3 pounds skinless boneless chicken breasts, lightly pounded and cut into 1-inch-wide strips (or cubes)

Roast the bell peppers directly over a gas flame or under the broiler, turning until charred all over. Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let cool.  Peel, seed, and core the peppers.

Meanwhile, soak the currants or raisins in 1/2 cup of hot water until plump, about 5 minutes.  Drain and transfer the raisins to a blender.  Add the roasted peppers, Peppadews and their liquid and the 1 cup of olive oil.  If using the added garlic and red pepper flakes, add them now.  Puree.  Season the marinade lightly with salt.

Thread the chicken breast and thigh strips separately onto 30 to 40 bamboo skewers and transfer to a large rimmed baking sheet.  Pour half of the marinade over the chicken, turning to coat completely. Refrigerate for 4 hours.  Refrigerate the remaining half of the marinade in a serving bowl.

Light a grill (or alternately heat an oiled grill pan or heavy skillet and work in batches).  Remove the chicken from the marinade, letting the excess drip off.  Season the chicken with salt.  Oil the grill grates and grill the chicken skewers over high heat, in batches if necessary and turing with tongs, until lightly charred and cooked through, about 8 minutes for the breasts and 10n minutes for the thighs. Serve the kebabs hot or at room temperature with the reserved marinade and the Tunisian Relish (recipe below)

Make ahead:  The marinade can be refrigerated for up to 4 days.
The extra marinade doubles as a dipping sauce

Cook's Notes:  I will certainly double this relish recipe the next time I make it.  It is wonderful with tuna, on crackers with cheese, on crostini--so many uses.  

Recipe:  Tunisian Relish
1 cup dried currants or raisins
1 cups pitted green olives, roughly chopped
1 cup sweet Peppadew peppers, chopped
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
Kosher salt

In a bowl, soak the currants or raisins in hot water until plump, about 5 minutes.  Drain, pressing out the excess water.  Return the raisins to the bowl and add the olives, Peppadews, olive oil and vinegar. Season the relish with salt.

On the left is the marinade/dipping sauce; on the right, the olive relish.  Yum.

Parting Shot:  Jennifer's Heads

©Victoria Challancin.  All Rights Reserved.

Please do not use text or photos without permission.  Thanks!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Jerk Shrimp Tacos with Mango-Kiwi Salsa

 Jerk Shrimp Tacos with Mango-Kiwi Salsa

Jerk Shrimp Tacos with Mango-Kiwi Salsa
by Victoria Challancin

When the temperatures begin to creep up, what could be more welcome to the palate than a taste of the islands?  In this lively recipe, fresh shrimp blend with Caribbean spices, a touch of chile, and a tangy salsa made from seasonal tropical fruits.  Fast and easy to prepare,  this dish will dazzle you with its layers of bright flavors, including allspice, thyme, and chile--the triumvirate of ingredients necessary to all good "jerk" recipes.

For a little history on jerk dishes and my own recipe for Caribbean Jerk Chicken, click here.

 Mango-Kiwi Salsa

 Jerk Shrimp Tacos with Mango-Kiwi Salsa

Cook's Notes:  The original recipe uses cantaloupe in the salsa, but as mangoes are just coming into season here (and because I love them, love them, love them...), I chose the latter to make the fruit salsa and added a kiwi as well.  Of course, they are still a bit tart, so I added a touch of honey to round out the flavor.  Pineapple would work beautifully with this recipe as well.  I also reduced the amount of thyme to 1 teaspoon instead of two as I find thyme can be overpowering.  Normally, I would use corn tortillas, but here I chose to use whole wheat flour ones.  When I make these again, as I surely will, I think I will pat the shrimp slightly dry with a paper towel.  Oh, and if you want to make this even more authentic, substitute scotch bonnet or habanero chiles for the milder jalapeño or serrano!

Recipe:  Jerk Shrimp Tacos with Mango-Kiwi Salsa
(Recipe adapted from

For the shrimp and marinade:
1 pound raw peeled and deveined shrimp
2 tablespoons minced onion
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 teaspoons ground allspice
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Corn or flour tortillas
Crumbled ranch cheese/queso fresco
Lime wedges for serving

For the salsa:
1 cup chopped cantaloupe, mango, or pineapple
1 kiwi fruit, peeled and chopped
1 jalapeño or serrano chile, seeded and diced (or to taste)
1/4 red onion, diced
1/4 cup freshly torn cilantro
1 lime, juiced
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons honey, if needed

To make the marinade:  About 1 hour before serving, whisk together all of the spiced (the minced onion through the salt) in a medium bowl.  Add the cleaned shrimp and toss with olive oil and lime juice.  Stir to coat the shrimp well, then marinate for 30 minutes in the fridge.  

To make the salsa:  While the shrimp are marinating, combine all the salsa ingredients in a bowl, seasoning with the salt.  Toss well and let sit until ready to eat.

After allowing 30 minutes for marinating the shrimp, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add a teaspoon or two of olive oil.  Add the shrimp and cook until pink and opaque throughout, about 3 to 5 minutes, depending on the size of the shrimp.  Warm tortillas, if desired, then assemble tacos with shrimp, salsa, and crumbled fresh ranch cheese on top.  Serve with lime wedges.

 Jerk Shrimp Tacos with Mango-Kiwi Salsa

Trasterso, from talented designer Laura Hogan, Studio Five, San Miguel de Allende

©Victoria Challancin.  All Rights Reserved.

Please ask permission before using text or photos.  Thanks!