One of my favorite ingredients to use in Moroccan cuisine, Argan oil, is produced from the pit of the fruit that grows on the Argan tree. Argan trees are indigenous to Morocco and only grow in the foothills of the Atlas mountains. They are an endangered species and extracting the oil from these pits is incredibly labor intensive, ergo Argan oil is pretty expensive. As I often tell guests, one of the most impressive sights is that of a goat standing atop the Argan tree. I haven’t quite figured out how they get there, but they climb to the top of the trees to eat the Argan fruit and then spit out the inedible pits. These pits are collected by Berber women and then ground into a paste with a mortar and pestle, a very labor intensive project indeed. As I witnessed at an Argan stand in Casablanca, the paste is kneaded to extract its essential oils and then filtered of any impurities. The oil is used for two purposes, one culinary and one cosmetic. The legendary oil is sought after for its health benefits. Not only is it purported to be higher in “good fats” than olive oil, but it also has restorative and rejuvenating properties that make it a popular ingredient in skin creams and hair products. Most importantly, however, is that it is delicious. Nutty and smooth, the oil can be used interchangeably with olive oil either for cooking or as a dressing for salads. A typical use for the oil in Morocco is to combine it with ground almonds and honey to create a spread similar in use to Peanut Butter called Amlou. You can find Argan oil at almost any international food store or you can order online at www.zamourispices.com. Here are a couple of recipes that take advantage of the Argan in both its raw form and its cooked form. Enjoy!
Roasted Pepper and Tomato Salad
6 red, yellow or orange bell peppers
2-28 oz cans whole peeled tomatoes
2 Tbl Argan or Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Tbl Red Wine Vinegar
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
Pinch Salt and Pepper
1-2 tsps paprika
1-2 tsps cumin
2 Tbl Italian parsley, finely chopped
2 Tbl Cilantro, finely chopped
1 Tbl Harissa (North African Chili Paste)
Place peppers directly over open flame of a gas burner. Char skins until they are completely black. Place into a Ziploc bag and seal. Allow to sit for at least 10 mins so the skins peel off easily. Remove blackened skins and seeds. Chop roasted peppers into a dice. Empty cans of tomato into a large mixing bowl. Using your hands, crush the tomatoes completely. Place tomatoes in a large sauté pan and cook over medium high heat for approx. 30 mins or until all the liquid has reduced. Add argan or olive oil, vinegar and garlic. Saute for a minute or until garlic is fragrant. Add peppers. Season with salt, pepper, paprika, cumin, parsley, cilantro and harissa. Continue cooking until all the liquid has evaporated and the flavors have developed. Season to taste. Cool completely and refrigerate. Allow to sit in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or overnight to develop the flavors. Serve at room temperature.
Orange and Olive Salad
6 Oranges, Peeled and Cut into Segments
3-4 Garlic Cloves, Minced
½ cup of pitted Moroccan or kalamata olives
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp paprika
Pinch Salt and Pepper
1 Tbl Orange Blossom Water
1 Tbl Argan Oil
Arrange orange segments on a platter. Garnish with garlic and olives. Season with cumin, paprika, salt and pepper. Drizzle with orange water and argan oil. Serve at room temperature.