The editor for My Paris Kitchen came to Paris last week. Since we’d spent two years working together on a book about my kitchen, I figured – at long last – we’d be able to dine tête-a-tête, in my actual Paris kitchen. So I invited her for dinner.
We were in touch nearly every day for the last few months as I raced toward the finish line, and went had plenty of back-and-forths about every little detail. And since the dinner was somewhat of a celebration of finally leaning back after all that work and relaxing together, I wanted to make her something from the book. (Although I did think it might have been funny if I’d ordered a take-away pizza, and served that to her. But I thought better of it.)
Because it was a warm summer night, I gathered all the ingredients to make the lamb tagine in the book. Although tagine is a North African dish, Parisians have adopted tagines and couscous as their own, just like Californians have adopted sushi and Mexican food.
I headed to my favorite butcher in Belleville, an Arab boucherie where I like to go because they’re always good-natured. And they’re always surprised by the américain who comes in, and is very, very specific about what he wants. (When you’re writing a recipe and you need 450 grams of something, you don’t want 550 grams. You want 450 grams — exactly.) So I make them weigh every piece of meat in the refrigerated case, and try a different piece if necessary, to get it as close as possible.
They’re always good natured about it, though. However recently I was in there picking up a roast chicken, and they tried to convince me to buy a roasted lamb head, which they had lined up on the rôtisserie below the chickens. While I’m sure they are delicious, I wasn’t sure how my editor would react to an invitation to come over and communally pick the meat – and all the other stuff (that I won’t mention here…) that’s in and around it – from a roasted lamb head with our fingers.
While I was preparing dinner, at the last minute, I decided to make chermoula, a spicy herb sauce often used in North African cuisine. One thing I love about condiments, like gastrique and chimichurri, is that they can be made in advance.
And another thing, which is even more important, is that they can take a standard dish – even something that’s already as inviting and highly seasoned as a tagine – and dial it up even more, with additional spices and flavors. And each guest is welcome to add as much, or as little, as they like – which is especially important when you are feeding a Franco-American group of guests who have different tolerances for levels of heat and spiciness.
Dinner was a success and after polishing off a bottle of Champagne, and a few bottles of rosé, we discussed another book, which I don’t think was her intent. Nor mine. If it happens, though, don’t expect any recipes for lamb head. But like our dinner, I wouldn’t count out the possibility of some spicy surprises.
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1/3 cup (15g) coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 1/3 cup (15g) coarsely chopped cilantro leaves and tender stems
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1-2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- 6 tablespoons (90 to 125ml) to 8 olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon chili paste (or 1/2 to 1 fresh chile, seeded and chopped)
- Sprinkle the cumin seeds in a skillet and toast them over medium to high heat, stirring, until they smell fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a mini-chopper or food processor (or in a mortar and pestle), place the parsley, cilantro, garlic, smoked paprika, 1 teaspoon of lemon juice, 6 tablespoons (90ml) olive oil, salt, chili paste, and toasted cumin. Grind until smooth.
- Taste and add the additional teaspoon of lemon juice and the rest of the olive oil (or more), if necessary, so the sauce is a loose paste.
Just a note that I’ll be doing the Franco-American thing, and taking a little summer break for a week or two. Bonnes vacances! – David