I have an irrational aversion to the texture of boiled or braised sweet potatoes. Until I discovered oven roasting, sweet potatoes were emphatically not part of my diet.
Even so, I'd been hankering for Moroccan sweet potato tagine. A cookbook with the recipe had been sitting open on the couch for over a week. A bag of sweet potatoes from my Full Circle Farm CSA box languished on the counter. I needed to try the tagine.
At least that’s how it seemed. Every time I went to make it, however, I thought about mushy sweet potatoes, and stopped in my tracks. Like I said, my reaction is irrational. Intellectually, I want to try it; emotionally, I can’t get beyond no, no, no.
I finally gave up on the tagine, at least for now. Someday I’ll power through my aversion, and discover what I’ve been missing all these years. In the meantime, I constructed a menu around the tagine’s flavors and ingredients, and stuck with oven-roasting the sweet potatoes.
The tagine’s dominant spices – cumin, coriander, papika, and hot pepper – I used as a rub for salmon fillets. I made oven-fries with the sweet potatoes, and salad from fennel, red peppers, and preserved lemons, three more of the tagine’s ingredients. (For how to make preserved lemons, here is an easy recipe.)
The result was truly wonderful. It put us both in a good mood for the rest of the evening.
I wish all my meals tasted this good. Of course, it’s possible the tagine would’ve been even better. I’m still trying to think my way into it.
Moroccan-Spiced Salmon (Μαροκινός Σολομός)
1 pound salmon fillets
1 1/2 tsp. freshly ground cumin seed
1 1/2 tsp. freshly ground coriander seed
1 1/2 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. olive oil
Wash the salmon and dry it well. Using needle-nosed pliers, remove as many pin-bones from the fillet as possible. Skin the fish, if necessary, and cut it into 4 even pieces.
Mix the cumin, coriander, paprika, pepper flakes, and salt. Rub the spices over both sides of the salmon fillets.
Heat the olive oil in a pan until it is hot, but not smoking. Turn the heat to medium high, and add the salmon. Cook for 3 – 5 minutes, or until the pan side of the salmon is lightly browned. Turn over and cook for 1 - 3 minutes, or until the salmon is done to your taste. The exact cooking time depends on the fillets’ thickness; keep in mind that salmon tastes better slightly underdone than it does when it's overdone.
Serve immediately on a bed of Fennel and Preserved Lemon Salad.
When I served this, both of us wanted more salad than I’d made and thought the salmon should be served on a bed of it. I’ve adjusted the salad recipe accordingly. Adding the capers depends on how much you like them; one of us preferred capers, the other liked it better without. Taste the salad without the capers, then try it with capers and add them if you think they’re an improvement.
2 cups diced fennel, 1/4” dice
1 cup diced red bell pepper, 1/4” dice
2/3 cup finely sliced green onions
3 Tbsp. minced preserved lemon peel
2 tsp. minced garlic
1/2 tsp. freshly ground fennel seed
Freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup Preserved Lemon Aioli (see recipe below)
1/2 cup capers (optional)
Mix all the ingredients. Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary. Serve.
Preserved Lemon Aioli
Makes 1 1/2 cups
Preserved lemons are quite salty, the flesh more so than the peel. Preserved Lemon Aioli gets all the salt it needs from the lemons. I like making this with the peel from half of a preserved lemon, but the flesh from only a quarter of a preserved lemon. To prevent the aioli from being too salty, it’s best to start with a smaller amount of preserved lemon flesh and add more to taste. If you substitute lemon juice and peel for the preserved lemon, be sure to salt the aioli. I prefer making this in a blender because it grinds the ingredients more evenly, but I use the feed tube from my Cuisinart to add olive oil. Put the feed tube into the hole in the blender’s top, pour olive oil into the feed tube, and the hole in the bottom of the feed tube will effortlessly add oil at exactly the right rate for a perfect emulsion.
1/2 preserved lemon or the zest and juice of 1 lemon
3 large cloves chopped garlic
1 cup olive oil
Rinse the preserved lemon under running water. Remove the flesh and reserve. Roughly chop the preserved lemon peel and put it in a blender with 1/4 of the reserved lemon flesh. Purée and taste to determine the degree of saltiness before adding the egg and oil. If it needs salt, add more of the lemon flesh. Mix in the egg and purée; scrape down the sides of the blender. Add the oil drop by drop while the blender is running. (The aioli will break and separate if you add the oil too fast, see NOTE below.) When all the oil is incorporated, taste and adjust the seasoning, as needed. Refrigerate for up to two weeks.
NOTE: If the aioli breaks, pour it out of the blender. Add an egg and purée, scraping down the sides of the blender. Add the broken aioli drop by drop while the blender is running.
Sweet Potato Oven Fries (Γλυκοπατάτα στο Φούρνο)
6 garnet yams (sweet potatoes)
6 Tbsp. olive oil
Preheat the oven to 325°F.
Peel the garnet yams and cut them in 1/4” slices. Cut the slices into 1/4” sticks. Divide between 2 rimmed baking sheets, toss the contents of each sheet with 3 Tbsp. olive oil and plenty of salt. Bake for 30 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through the cooking time. Remove the pans from the oven. (Recipe can be made ahead to this point.)
Turn the oven heat up to 450°F; when the oven reaches temperature, return the pans to the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes, or until the sweet potatoes start browning. Remove from the oven and prop up one end of the baking sheet so the oil quickly runs off the potatoes to the lower end of the baking sheet (you may need to align the potatoes so they don't block the oil from running off). Serve immediately.
More Preserved Lemon Recipes
Preserved Lemons, Candied Lemon Peels, and Sparkling Mint-Lemonade (I show you how to make preserved lemons, how to candy the extra lemon peels, and how to use leftover syrup for sparkling lemonade.)
Moroccan Beef Stew (Mike makes a slow cooked beef tagine with sweet potatoes, chickpeas, preserved lemons, and lots of spices.)
Olives, Chicken with Preserved Lemon (Lydia makes a quick-cooking tagine with boneless chicken thighs, olives, and preserved lemons.)