In Morocco, little salads are eaten every day at the beginning of a meal, with just a few or as many as nine or 10 different dishes served. They are enjoyed with French bread or Arab bread and remain on the table throughout the meal.
Moroccan salads are made with cooked or fresh vegetables, fruits and herbs, which are sliced, shredded, chopped or pureed and dressed with lemon or vinegar and olive oil or the local argan oil. The salads are lightly spiced and often quite sweet.
I have chosen five colourful and delicious salads which go wonderfully well together. You could add a green salad with rocket, cucumber, radishes and fresh herbs.
I have served Persian feta with my salads as well, but a soft goat's cheese or a creamy blue cheese would also be good. This is all you need for an alfresco lunch with perhaps a cake to follow.
The salads can all be made easily and ahead of time. Spending time on the preparation beforehand will help. Be sure to taste the dressings and salads and make any adjustments needed. My main references for the recipes have been from the books of Paula Wolfert and Claudia Roden.
French lentil salad
¾ cup Puy-style blue lentils
1 bay leaf or sprig of thyme
1 tbsp wine vinegar
1 tsp wholegrain mustard
2 tbsp chopped eschalot and/or 1 clove garlic, crushed
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
½ bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped
½ tbsp capers, rinsed and roughly chopped (optional)
Check through the lentils for pebbles and other debris and rinse. Simmer in plenty of water (no salt) with a sprig of thyme or a bay leaf until tender, about 20 to 25 minutes. Drain.
The dressing should be quite piquant to enliven the lentils. Mix the vinegar, mustard, eschalot and/or garlic, salt and pepper and whisk in the olive oil. Taste and adjust; it may need a pinch of sugar. Stir into the warm lentils and add the chopped parsley. Serve at room temperature.
Roasted pepper and tomato salad
3 red or green peppers (capsicum)
3 tomatoes, peeled and deseeded
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 tbsp chopped coriander and parsley
¼ preserved lemon (skin only), rinsed and finely diced (optional)
1 tbsp lemon juice or 2 tsp white-wine vinegar
sea salt and ground pepper
½ tsp toasted and ground cumin seeds
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven grill and line an oven tray with foil. Cut the top and bottom off the peppers and pull out the cores. Then cut down one side and spread out flat. Trim away the ribs and seeds. Lay the peppers skin-side up on the tray and press down to flatten. Put the ends on the tray as well.
Place under the grill and cook for about 10 minutes until the skins are dark and blistered. Rotate the tray after 5 minutes.
Transfer the hot peppers to a bowl and cover with foil or plastic wrap. Leave for 15 minutes to steam and cool. The skins should lift off easily now. Keep any juices with the peppers. Fry the garlic in a little olive oil if you like.
To make the salad, cut the peppers into little squares and mix with their juices. Dice the tomato and add with the garlic. Whisk the dressing ingredients and pour over the salad. Mix in the chopped coriander and preserved lemon (if using) and leave for an hour or so for the ingredients to intermingle. Taste and make any adjustments. Serve at room temperature with bread.
Variation: The peppers can be cut into strips and the tomatoes into wedges. Tip the dressing over the vegetables and sprinkle on the coriander and lemon.
500g carrots, preferably organic
2 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
juice of half a lemon (1½ tbsp)
½ tsp sugar
dash ground cinnamon
½ tsp toasted and ground cumin
½ tsp sweet paprika
pinch of hot paprika or cayenne
1-2 tbsp of extra-virgin olive oil
Peel the carrots and cut in half if large. Place in a saucepan with salted water to cover and cook, partly covered until barely tender. Meanwhile combine the ingredients for the dressing and adjust to taste. Drain the carrots, slice or dice them and mix with the dressing. Marinate for at least an hour in the fridge. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley at serving time.
Orange and black olive salad
250g kalamata olives
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil or as needed
4 navel oranges and/or blood oranges
1 eschalot or small red onion, finely chopped and rinsed
1 tbsp lemon juice or 2 tsp wine vinegar
pinch of hot paprika or cayenne
a few sprigs of lemon thyme, mint or flat-leaf parsley
To pit the olives, press down on them with a jar to break the flesh and then remove the stones. Place the olives in a jar with two or three strips of pared orange rind, a pinch of cayenne and olive oil to cover and leave to marinate for at least a few hours.
Using a serrated knife, cut the skin off the top and bottom of the oranges and then down the sides. Be sure to remove all the white pith. Slice the oranges crossways on a plate to collect the juices for the dressing. Arrange the orange slices overlapping on a serving plate. Scatter chopped eschalot or onion over the slices and sprinkle on small sprigs of thyme, torn mint leaves, or chopped parsley. Lift the olives out of the marinade (allow five or six per person) and place on the oranges.
Whisk the lemon juice or vinegar, saved orange juice, salt, cayenne or paprika and two tablespoons of the marinating oil from the olives. Taste and adjust. Tip the dressing over the salad and serve. You could also tuck a few rocket leaves in among the orange slices.
1 bunch of small to medium beetroots
1 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
juice of half a lemon (1½ tbsp)
2-3 tsp sugar
Dash ground cinnamon
¼ tsp toasted and ground cumin
1 pinch hot paprika or cayenne
1 tsp orange blossom water (optional)
1-2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Wash the beetroots and cut off the leaves, but leave about 3cm length of stems intact and don't trim the roots. This will prevent them bleeding. The beetroots can be baked or steamed. The flavour will be more intense when baked.
To bake, wrap the beetroots individually in foil and bake in the oven at 160C fan or 180C regular until tender. This will take an hour or longer depending on the size. To test when they are done press on a beetroot to see if it gives or pierce with a skewer or fork.
To steam the beetroots, prepare as above and put in a steaming basket and place in a saucepan with boiling water underneath. Bring to the boil, partly cover and cook until tender. Top up the water as needed. This may take 45 to 60 minutes.
Peel the beetroots when cool enough to handle. Rub oil on your hands (and the chopping board) first to prevent staining. Slip off the skins with your hands and a knife, if needed, and cut into wedges or slices.
Dress the baked beetroots while warm. Mix the dressing ingredients together and pour over the beetroot. Marinate for an hour or longer. Sprinkle with chopped parsley at serving time.
>> Diana Lampe is a Canberra writer, email@example.com.