Moroccan feast [duck and pomegranate salad, couscous, baba ganoush]

It’s amazing how quickly your desires and cravings can shift, especially at this time of year. One minute you want mulled cider, mashed potato and rich, deep stews to stave off the cold, then before you know it, you can’t look at another root vegetable without feeling bloated and overfed. I reached such a point yesterday. On Wednesday night we had jugged hare which was delicious and all, but there comes a time when enough is enough, and I just couldn’t face doing another ‘wintry’ dish with the duck breasts I defrosted last night.

So we went Moroccan (ish) – there was no cinnamon or raisins, indeed there were very few bells and whistles, just good, informal salads and dips and wine and smiles. That’s all you really need. It was a bit of a renaissance for me, actually. It’s so easy to get into a complete frenzy trying to keep warm, then plate and serve your guests supper before it gets cold. My flatmate Sam is especially good at taking two plates through then standing there nattering to everyone while the food slowly drops in temperature and the mash congeals. This way is so much easier. Dishes that don’t rely on being piping hot, and they don’t even need ‘plating’. Just stick everything on the table and let them go at it.

Duck, watercress and pomegranate salad

Duck ain’t cheap, but this reduces the amount you need to serve people. You could do this very well with pigeon too. Indeed, your suggestions towards this dish are welcome, though I’m not sure it needs much fiddling with. I was tempted to sling in some pear, or toasted pine nuts too, but this is lovely in its simplicity.

Serves 6

4 duck breasts, fat removed (don’t throw it away! render it over a medium heat in a saucepan and keep for christmas roasties)
1 pomegranate
100g watercress
olive oil
white wine vinegar

First get stuck into the pomegranate. It’s a little time consuming, but it’s a job to enjoy, not endure. There are a lot of jobs like this in the kitchen. If you look upon them as a chore then you’re not doing yourself any favours, but if you stick some music on and enjoy a few quiet minutes of reflection then it turns into quite a pleasant task. Aaanyway, quarter the pomegranates and separate all the pith and membrane, keeping the pink pearls and chucking the rest.
To make the dressing, take a couple of tablespoons of pomegranate seeds and liquidize or chop. Whisk in about 30 ml of vinegar then 50 ml of oil. Taste and adjust. It shouldn’t need seasoning.
Pat the duck breasts dry and season with salt and pepper. Heat a little olive oil over a high heat until it’s thinking about smoking, and pop in the duck. How long you cook it for both depends on the size of the breasts and how you like them cooked. These were pretty small, so I did 3 minutes a side, but the sort of breasts you see in butchers shops might need double that. I’d suggest cooking for 5 minutes and turning. Give the breast a prod with a finger after a minute or two. If it’s slightly firm to the touch you’re about right.
Put on the carving board and rest for a few minutes. Put the watercress on a serving plate, slice the duck and lay on top. Scatter with pomegranate seeds and then drizzle with the dressing.

Cous cous with roast squash, feta and mint

Serves 6

1 medium squash
100g cherry tomatoes
2 red chillies
250g cous cous
100g feta
A good handful of fresh mint

Preheat the oven to 200C.

Peel and deseed the squash. Chop into chunks and place on a roasting tray. Drizzle with oil, season and roast for 40 minutes. Add the cherry tomatoes and roast for a further 10 minutes. Pour 300 ml of boiling water over the cous cous, stir, cover and leave for 5 minutes. Meanwhile deseed and finely slice the chillies, crumble the feta and chop the mint. Stir into the cous cous with the squash and cherry tomatoes and season with salt and pepper.

Baba ganoush

Serves 6

2 large aubergines
Juice of a lemon
Chilli powder
100g Tahini
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 200C.

Turn on two gas hobs, prick the aubergines all over with a fork and place them directly onto the flame. Char for about 15 minutes, turning occasionally. This gives the baba ganoush a wonderful smokey flavour. Pop in the oven and cook for 40 minutes or so, until completely tender. Remove and cool.

Peel the skin off the aubergine and cut in half lengthways. Scoop out the seeds and discard. Put in a magimix with the lemon juice, a pinch of chilli powder, the tahini and salt and pepper. Blend, pouring in about 50 ml of olive oil as you go. Leave to cool and serve.

Eat the whole lot with some flatbreads from my August blog, or some warm pitta breads. A light, nourishing, warming, heavenly supper. And not a potato in sight.

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