If your only notion of Moroccan food is associated with the tinkling piano notes of “As Time goes By”, you need to visit Burlington’s The Stone House restaurant(http://www.stonehouserestaurant.ca/): For Chef Mitch Lamb has created a menu that will tempt you with all of the exotic romance of Casablanca.
The Stone House sounds, perhaps, like an unlikely venue for North African food. But the restaurant characterizes its cuisine as Mediterranean and that takes in a lot of territory — from the pasta and thin-crust pizzas of Italy to the paellas of Spain and, of course, to the flavorful tagines of Morocco.
Go Cooking was recently the lucky recipient of a preview of one of The Stone House’s Valentine’s Day menus — a trip to Morocco which included a red lentil and lamb shank soup, Moroccan spice-rubbed chicken served with couscous, and a date and almond pastilla for dessert. I’ve never been to Morocco (although it’s definitely on my “bucket list”), but have eaten lots of so-called Moroccan food over the years and it’s one of my favorite cuisines. The food is the product of the mingling of many different cultures — Berber, Moorish, Arab, French — and I find that this layering of influences makes for a very sophisticated complexity in terms of fragrances and flavours.
Mitch Lamb says that it’s all in the spices and he noted that he had used cinnamon in each of the courses that were served.
The dinner unfolded like a three act entertainment. Opening with the red lentil and lamb shank soup, the chef created a teasing sort of play on the most well-known of the Moroccan dishes, the tagine. The traditional tagine is actually an earthenware, clay or ceramic pot that is sometimes painted or glazed. It’s made up of two parts — a base unit that is flat and circular with low sides and a large cone-shaped cover; the shape of the cover promotes the return of the condensation and flavour to the food in the base. The cover then can be removed to serve the food. The name of the pot became associated with the food that is served in it — usually meat and vegetables braised or cooked slowly — here, the shreds of meat from the lamb shanks which were floated in the soup and were as tender as butter.
This innovative chef closed the meal with a similar play on the basic pastilla. Pastilla, in a traditional Moroccan meal, is a sort of sweet and salty meat pie, usually served as a starter. Lamb turned the tradition upside-down by filling the pastry with dates and almonds and brown sugar and serving it as dessert. Using buttered sheets of phyllo dough he demonstrated the technique for filling the pastry and his explanations clarified the reasons why the use of phyllo dough always occasions a lot of bad language in the kitchen when I am trying to work with it. Apparently, it’s important to let the phyllo dough thaw for a couple of days in the refrigerator before working with it — not to throw it on the counter and pray that it will soften quickly. Okay, lesson learned. The buttery pastries were topped with a white chocolate and lavender flavored ganache. Oh, my …
Anyway, I’m including the recipe for the main course. Nothing difficult or “foreign” here — all of the ingredients readily available — and yet the result is a definitively regional flavour. Inspired by Africa, this food will be completely at home at your table.
(I should just mention here that The Stone House will be presenting an eight course tasting menu on February 28th. Call 905/632-1316 for reservations.)
Moroccan Spice Rubbed Chicken
Created by Chef Mitch Lamb, The Stone House restaurant
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. allspice
1 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. chopped garlic
4 chicken breasts or legs
1. Combine all dry spices in a bowl.
2. Toss with chicken.
3. Add garlic and olive oil and rub thoroughly into chicken.
4. Chicken can either be roasted at 400 F. for 20 minutes or grilled.
1 cup cous cous
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tbsp. brown sugar
1 cup chicken stock
2 tbsp. olive oil
salt and pepper
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup diced dates
1/4 cup diced roasted red peppers
1/4 cup chopped spinach
1. Combine couscous, cinnamon and sugar in a bowl.
2. Bring chicken stock to a boil and pour over couscous.
3. Immediately wrap bowl with plastic wrap and let sit for five minutes to steam.
4. Uncover bowl, fork apart couscous granuals and mix in olive oil, salt and pepper.
5. Fold in remaining ingredients and serve hot or chilled.
Honey and Vanilla Yoghurt Drizzle
1 cup Greek yoghurt
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
2 tbsp honey
1. Combine all ingredients and drizzle over chicken.
The chicken breasts should be skinless and boneless. I thought that the chef had bought some special kind of chicken breasts because they were so plump and juicy. But I found that when I made this myself, my very ordinary supermarket chicken breasts were like that too — I can only imagine that it must have something to do with the rub that’s applied. Also, the chef noted that vanilla flavoring can be used instead of the bean paste, if you prefer. Don’t leave off the drizzle — it makes the whole delicious dish even more spectacular.