The International Vegetarian: Part 8, Morocco

[This is an entry in my occasional series on vegetarian meals from around the world. Check out my earlier entries on Ethiopia, India, Italy, Mexico, Spain, China, and Japan.]

It’s been a while since I did one of these entries, but I had to take a small break from international cooking while the semester has gotten busier. This, however, is a quick recipe entry that is nice for fall.

Spice is central to Moroccan food, given the country’s location and history in international trade. Ras el hanout is a spice blend associated with many Moroccan dishes, but the actual term “ras el hanout” means “best of the market,” and it should be noted that it refers less to a specific recipe for a spice blend and more to some guidelines on blending spices. As noted at the site linked above, sometimes this blend can include over 30 different spices! For me, making ras el hanout was a good way to use up some extra spices that I had from many of my other vegetarian dishes. Plus, the inclusion of cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and nutmeg makes the blend feel like fall.

Rather than trying a stew, I was inspired by the acorn squash that I bought at Trader Joe’s and took some inspiration from Martha Stewart and my Pampered Chef “The Vegetarian Table” cookbook to make a rice dish. I used some leftover medium-grain rice as  the base, but wild rice or the more traditional cous-cous would work equally well. I re-heated the cooked rice in the microwave, combined with chopped, dried apricots and prunes (my go-to substitute for raisins, which would work just as well in this recipe). The steam from the rice helps plump up the dried fruit a little. Then I toasted some crushed almonds on the stovetop, set them aside, and heated garbanzo beans with a little water and ras el hanout to taste. The rice, seasoned beans, almonds, and fruit should all be mixed together to create the rice. While doing this, I hollowed out my acorn squash, brushed it with brown sugar and olive oil, and baked it at 425 degrees until tender (about 25 minutes). The squash bowl makes a great serving vehicle, and the entire dish looked very classy and filling. This almost felt too fancy to eat on a Monday!

I highly recommend this as a fall dish, I think it will impress meat eaters and would even be fancy and unique enough to serve to company. I plan to make it again soon, but this time instead of acorn squash I will try serving it in a little tiger pumpkin that I got at the market. Who knew that Moroccan spice and American traditions could blend so well!

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