In my book Mourad: New Moroccan, I wrote a chapter entitled “The Dance of the Seven Salads,” explaining the “contrasting selection of warm and room-temperature foods, some spicy, some pickled, some sweet, and some savory” that constitute the standard start to Moroccans’ midday meal or a feast. Most feature whatever vegetable is at its peak ripeness, which can be both a blessing and a curse. After a while you become numb to eating the same thing six days a week, every day, except for the day couscous is prepared as the main dish. When artichokes are in season, Moroccans use them mostly as a complement to lamb in various stews, Moroccans’ first choice in meat. Then, we move on to incorporate them into preparations with beef, chicken, fish, and finally, in one or more of the “seven salads,” depending on their abundance.
This dish takes its inspiration from a dish of artichoke hearts stewed with spices, preserved lemons, and sometimes a few cracked green olives that’s chilled and served as one of the salads with big chunks of unflavored bread to soak up the flavorful sauce. I wanted to extract the intense and unmistakable flavor of the artichoke without having to deal with the fibrous strings lodged in the heart. That’s why I puree and strain the cooked artichoke heart, add minced preserved lemon rind, and reconstruct it as a sphere akin to its natural shape using xanthan gum, locust bean gum, and agar-agar as binders. Take my word, it tastes like a Moroccan salad. To mimic the salad’s sauce, I make a clear, tart Granny Smith juice enhanced by bonito flakes and Marash peppers. The caviar lends visible complexity and a luxurious feel to the dish. Also, it never hurts to have caviar for any occasion. In addition, the subtle oceanic flavors of bonito and caviar let me recall the period during artichoke season when we cook it with fish, my favorite part of the vegetable’s life cycle in the Moroccan kitchen.
For 12 servings
2 to 3 lg. artichoke hearts with stems, trimmed, peeled, and halved
5/6 cup vegetable stock, made from basic mirepoix
2/3 cup heavy cream
1/4 tsp. locust bean gum
1/4 tsp. agar-agar
1/5 tsp. xanthan gum
preserved lemon rind, minced
Bring artichoke hearts, stock, and cream to a boil in nonreactive pan; reduce heat to medium; cook until softened; place in a blender; puree; strain through fine chinois into clean nonreactive pot.
Set puree over high heat; add locust bean gum, agar-agar, and xanthan gum (A); bring to a boil, whisking constantly; reduce heat to medium; simmer, whisking constantly, 15 minutes; reduce heat to low; season with salt and sugar; remove from heat; reserve.
Set small piece of plastic wrap over small bowl; ladle small amount artichoke mixture onto plastic wrap (B); spoon small amount preserved lemon over artichoke mixture (C); bring edges of plastic wrap together; twist to form a small ball (D); secure with rubber band (E); place in a bowl of ice water; repeat with remaining artichoke mixture and preserved lemon.
10 Granny Smith apples, juiced with skin
1 tsp. Marash red pepper flakes
3 1/2 Tbsps. bonito flakes
1 2/3 Tbsps. mirin
1/2 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 tsps. granulated sugar
xanthan gum, measuring .2 percent by weight of above ingredients
Bring juice and red pepper flakes to a boil in a saucepan; cook, skimming surface occasionally, until reduced by 1/3; add bonito flakes; cool; strain through fine chinois lined with cheesecloth into a bowl; stir in mirin, soy sauce, and sugar; blend in xanthan gum with immersion blender; reserve.
To serve, remove plastic wrap from custard balls; place in center of a chilled bowl; spoon small amount apple reduction around (F); top each generously with caviar.
Food Arts Note: Marash red pepper flakes can be ordered from zingermans.com.
What to drink: Schloss Gobelsburg Grüner Veltliner Qualitätswein Trocken Kamptal 2008