This week, my mum was awesome enough to treat us to a leg of lamb so we had a classic roast dinner – leg of lamb studded with garlic, rosemary and anchovies, red wine gravy, crunchy roast potatoes, cauliflower cheese and shredded Brussels sprouts sautéed with hazelnuts and bacon. And although we all ate until we were bursting there was still a fair bit of lamb left on the bone as we cleared the plates.
As careful as we are with our portion control, there are always a few leftovers at the end of dinner, and if you are looking to save money, you need to think of the best ways to utilise these extra bits and pieces. You can often make a whole meal out of the leftovers from last night’s dinner.
So tonight I made one of my favourite dishes from Morocco.
I have memories of walking through the Djemaa el Fnaa – the famous medina in the old town of Marrakech, while The Travelling Companion was incredibly sick with gastro in our hotel room. I’d left the room to get myself some dinner and was hit by the most amazing scene. The long food stalls were crowded with locals, tourists and sellers shouting to each other and to potential customers. Through the eye-watering smoke I could see tables stacked high with lambs’ heads waiting to be boiled, b’stilla, the gorgeous, unusual pigeon pies sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, that so perfectly epitomise the sweet and savoury combination that North Africa has mastered better than any cuisine on earth, the obligatory tajines, and massive pots of dark, boiling liquid full of little sea snails (I think) which were scooped into a cup, and which we had eaten in the previous town, by hooking them out of their shells with a bent (and with hindsight, incredibly unhygienic) safety pin that the vendor offered sticking out of an orange.
Alongside the food stalls were performing monkeys, snake charmers, magicians, spice stalls and shops selling traditional medicine, leather goods and djellabas, the traditional Moroccan tunic.
Eager to avoid the appalling food poisoning that had struck down The Travelling Companion, I altered my usual travel philosophy of trying all the local delicacies, and chose the busiest stall with the food that looked like it had boiled the longest. It turned out to be harira, the famous North African dish traditionally served during Ramadan after sundown to break the day’s fast. It is satisfying and nutritious, but not too rich or heavy so it’s easy to stomach after a long day with no food or water.
Don’t be put off by the long, daunting list of ingredients, this soup is incredibly easy and simply involves throwing all your ingredients in a big pot, covering it with cold water and bringing it to the boil for a couple of hours. This is where your well-stocked spice shelf will come in handy. The recipe asks for chickpeas, however feel free to substitute any other tinned legumes – lentils or white beans are less authentic, but still very yummy. Many of the stalls I saw also used soup pasta or broken up pieces of noodles in their harira as well.
This recipe is inspired by Moro by Sam and Sam Clark – one of the best cookbooks on Spanish and North African cooking.
- Leftover leg of lamb on the bone
- 1 bunch coriander, roots washed and chopped, leaves washed and set aside
- 2 onions, chopped
- 1 piece ginger, crushed and finely chopped
- 1 finger fresh turmeric, grated (optional)
- 5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2 sticks celery, chopped
- 2 carrots, chopped
- 2 sticks cinnamon or 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 2 tsp ground ginger
- 2 Tbsp ground coriander seeds
- 2 Tbsp ground cumin seeds
- 2 Tbsp ground fennel seeds
- 1 tsp ground turmeric
- 1 pinch saffron threads (optional, as it is quite expensive, but very authentic)
- 1 tin chickpeas
- plain flour
To serve: lemon, flatbread, natural yoghurt.
Add all the ingredients, except the coriander leaves, chickpeas and flour, add a couple of litres of cold water – enough to cover the lamb bone and all the ingredients, then bring to the boil. Reduce to a comfortable simmer for 2 hours, when the lamb should be very tender. Remove the lamb, shred the meat from the bone and return the meat to the pot along with the chickpeas. Add salt and pepper to taste (it seems to need lots of salt).
Mix a couple of tablespoons of flour with cold water to form a thin, smooth paste, then add it gradually, stirring briskly to thicken the soup slightly.* Allow it to boil for a couple of minutes to ensure the flour is cooked out thoroughly.
Serve it with chopped coriander leaf, wedges of lemon, flatbread, and dollops of natural yoghurt.
* If you have a sourdough starter at your place, this is a great opportunity to use up your leftover starter when you feed it. It will add a lovely sour, sharpness to your soup. Perfect!