I've been day dreaming of Morocco for years now. Landscapes awash with sand, doorways painted bright turquoise, and dirty street markets flicker through my mind as I doze off. I want to see Morocco. I want to taste the flavors of North African cuisine on my tongue and I want to know what it smells like. While I don't always admit it, I'm a lot like my Dad: he taught me to wander, to see the world. He taught me to embrace "from scratch" recipes, and he showed me world cuisine (Thanks, Dad!).
As you may have gathered in my recent tropical vacation post, when I can't hop a plane, I travel with my tastebuds. While I've been dreaming of Morocco for years (seriously, it's been on the top of my travel wish list for 6 or 7 years), I have yet to make the trip.
In my day dreams I can be more creative than I might be if I knew what traditional Moroccan food actually entailed. It's liberating really--my minds is free to pair traditional spice blends with less traditional produce items. Case in point: Broccoli is actually a Mediterranean vegetable, but it works well (really well) with Za'atar, a toasted, nutty, herbaceous spice blend used in North Africa and Middle Eastern cooking.
You can buy Za'atar at some grocery stores, but it is actually pretty simple to make. To me, traveling is all about awakening your senses: what you see, what you feel, what you taste, and what you smell. Make your own Za'atar at home. Toasting the spices fills your kitchen with the sweet scent of toasted sesame seeds, sumac, and thyme. It smells like a Moroccan kitchen and, as my Dad might point out: homemade just tastes better.
Another lesson from Dad, the photographer: get more human with your photography. While holding food and photographing it is a juggling act, I've been working on it!
Za'atar Roasted Vegetables
Serves 2 - 3
For the Za'atar (also known as Zahtar, Zatar, Za'tar, this spice blend varies regionally)
Makes 1/2 cup
1/4 cup white sesame seeds
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 tablespoon sumac
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon dill
1. In a small skillet over low heat, toast the sesame seeds, cumin, and coriander until the spices are fragrant and the sesame seeds are golden. Stir frequently so that they toast evenly.
2. Dump the toasted seeds into a mortal and pestle, and add the thyme, sumac, salt, and dill. Grind the mixture until it begins to form a loose powder. I prefer to leave it a bit chunky, a mix between chunky and powdery.
Za'atar Roasted Vegetables
2 heads broccoli
1 sweet potato
2 tablespoons avocado oil
2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup Za'atar
Optional: Salt to taste, extra Za'atar for garnish
1. Preheat the oven to 450°F.
2. Chop the broccoli into evenly sized pieces. Chop the sweet potato in similarly sized cubes. Mince the garlic. Place all three in a large mixing bowl, and drizzle with avocado oil. Toss to coat. Sprinkle the Za'atar over the vegetables, once again tossing to coat.
3. Spread the vegetables on a large cookie sheet, in an even layer. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until broccoli florets is beginning to crisp and sweet potato is cooked through. Sprinkle with additional salt or extra Za'atar as desired.