Sunday, 23 November 2014

Moroccan fresh cheese -Jben

I have posted a couple recipes of our beloved fresh cheese commonly called Jben. The recipes were all in French (here and there) back in the days where I started the blog.

Some jben are crumblier than others and that's good especially if you want
to make cheese balls or stuff briouats

There is a version of Jben in practically every country (kind of queso fresco) and it costs a lot less to make it home and season it to your liking.

We love cheese with a good warm Moroccan bread or harcha. You can pair it with black olives. This is my morning treat!

Jben is served for breakfast or afternoon break. Some people just have a light dinner which is just like the morning formula I mentioned above.

We also use Jben to stuff Moroccan briouats and Rolls (ouarka-wrapped starters). Try to wrap jben with a mint leaf and shallow-fry it or bake it. Serve it as a starter.

Having lived in different countries, I had to start making my own instead of popping out to buy some. One of things I learned in the process is that a good milk was not always an easy thing to come by. Now that I live in London and I heavily rely on supermarkets, I found a brand that does the job for me and I'm quite happy with that.

Making jben calls for natural ingredients and simple tools

Too much processing, homogenisation etc made it practically difficult to get hold of a good bottle and make Jben. Obviously this depends on where you live and this may not apply to you.

To make a good Jben, you need a good whole milk, ideally unhomogenized and not too fiddled with. A good cow's milk and/or goat milk straight from a farm will make the best Jben.

A softer and silkier Jben that the one in the picture above, mostly used for spreading

I've never seem my family making jben but when I was 19, I've seen a few people making jben just by letting the milk on the kitchen counter for a couple of days during the warm season and they just had to drain it to get the cheese! Nature knows what to do!

To be honest, the first time I made jben was in 2009, the day I got hold of Houda El Yadari's little book about Moroccan dairy products. The lady is a well-know person in the word of food back home.

I went to Morocco for a break. Then I looked for a good milk to make it. This is not the thing you get in a supermarket back home since most of the packed milk seems to be watery. This is the thing you ask someone to get you from a farm.

Serving appetizers with Jben and Moroccan marinated olives

Because my family makes Moroccan Raib the old way, they have their way to get a good cow's milk and I was happy to use the same contact.

Moroccan harcha galettes stuffed with Jben

While trying to make my first batch and working out that moment where I should knock off the heat, one of my father's friend popped in to visit us. That was a few months after my father passed away.
A quick chat on what I'm doing and then the guy said: " Knock it off now and add lemon juice, it will curdle". It was like magic!

Stuffed mini-bites with Jben and some favourite Moroccan
 flavours (cheese, cacher, olives, herbs)
Then I went back to my El Yadari's book which offered a few different options on how to make basic traditional Jbens.

Practice makes perfect, I have now a way of getting the textures I want depending on what will the Jben be used for.

In the process of making cheese, you will end of with curdled bits (the cheese) and whey (the transparent liquid). I don't throw this liquid, I make Baghrir pancakes or Moroccan semolina bread (another one in French) using it.


My favourite Jben Saiss shop in Fes, selling slightly hard goat Jben.
Some are older than others 

Very lately, I learned from Mourad Lahlou's New Moroccan that I can brine my meat in it to tenderize it. How about that?

So all is good about making your own Jben. You could combine milk and buttermilk, you could add creme fraiche or sour cream for a rich and creamy texture, you could flavour it to your liking.

One of my  homemade versions

I suggest you do not add a lot of salt in the beginning as this ends up draining a lot of water from it. I usually sprinkle more salt when I'm about to eat it.

A woman selling Jben in Assila/North Morocco
Different families use different proportions of milk and buttermilk. Some only use milk. vinegar and lemon are also a matter of choice and availability. Experiment and pick your favourite. Just get the right milk to start.

Ingredients 
Makes about 1 1/2 to 2 cups of Jben
Prep: 10 min - Cooking: 7 min - Waiting time: minimum 2h20

Jben n 1: good for spreading
  • 700 ml of good farm cow or/and goat milk or a good unhomogenised fresh one
  • 700 ml of buttermilk (the best you can get)
  • 250 ml of creme fraiche (optional but improves the texture)
  • 1 to 2 tbsp of lemon juice (optional but gets you more curdling)
  • 1/2 tsp of sea salt
Jben n 2 : it has more of a ricotta texture
  • 1 L of good farm cow or/and goat milk or a good unhomogenised fresh one
  • 400 ml of buttermilk
  • 2 to 3 tbsps of white vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp of sea salt
Jben n 3: More on the buttermilk taste
  • 1/2 L of good farm cow or/and goat milk or a good unhomogenised fresh one
  • 1 L of buttermilk
  • 1/2 tsp of salt
Jben n 4: basic
  • 1/2 L of good farm cow or/and goat milk or a good unhomogenised fresh one
  • 1 tbsp of vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp of salt
Flavouring
Herbs, spices, garlic.. or serve with honey and olive oil.


In UK, I just get this supermarket brand but with a rich buttery
 layer and and unhomogenised texture 

Preparation

Prepare a cheesecloth-lined colander or strainer, a medium one will do and place it over a deep bowl. I tend to double the cheesecloth but you don't have to. the main thing is that you should have enough dropped on the sides of the colander to be able to twist it later and possibly lift it.

For all the versions above, heat the milk and take it off the heat before boiling point, just when you see that it's simmering and small bubbles are forming.


Mix in the other ingredients and stir a couple of time all around. You could add the salt now or you leave it after you scoop the curdles.

Set aside to cool for about 20 min.

Scoop the curdles and pour them over the cheesecloth. I usually keep the whey for other recipes and pour the rest of the liquid in the bottom of the pot onto the cheese curdles.


I tend to bring back the sides of the cheesecloth to the middle and tie it like a pouch. I press it gently for 3 or 4 times to get rid of more water then I hang it for 2 to 4 hours depending on the texture I am after.

The other thing you could do is to cover with a plate and place a 400 g bottle of jam or equivalent to give some pressure and release the water.

My spreadable Jben with fresh herbs and different cracked peppercorns

Give it more sea salt or any other flavouring you fancy. One thing though, the more salt you put the less water you get. Add more salt on your serving and not in the main cheese container.


Obviously since this is a fresh dairy product you should keep it refrigerated.

I never got to check if it lasts more that 5 days since I always finish it before.



Thursday, 20 November 2014

Moroccan sweet potato starter with chermoula

Still on the topic of using sweet potatoes in Moroccan cooking. Here is another starter or cooked salad with a savoury note (see here for a sweet version of this starter).


The use of Moroccan chermoula in this recipe balances the natural sweetness of the sweet potatoes and I think it's a dish you have to try.



Ingredients
Serves 3 to 4 
Prep: 5 min - Cooking: 25 min

1st set of ingredients
  • 2 medium-size sweet potatoes, peeled and diced 
  • 1 medium-size onion, chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, crushed
  • 1 tbps of olive oil
  • 1 heaped tbsp of chopped coriander and parsley
  • 1/2 tsp of turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp of sweet paprika
  • 1/2 tsp of ground cumin
  • A pinch of cayenne (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp of salt or to taste
Finish and garnish
  • 1 tbsp of olive oil
  • 1 tbsp of lemon juice
  • Coriander (optional, I used cress for a green touch)
  • Green olives (optional)



Preparation

Peel and dice the sweet potatoes into small cubes. Chop the onions.

Place an adequate cooking pot over medium heat. Sauté the onions first in oil for a couple of minutes. Add the garlic all the diced sweet potatoes and cover to 2/3 with water. Let simmer for 10 minutes, covered.

Uncover the pot and add all the spices and herbs. Let simmer and reduce for another 15 minutes. Stir a couple of times and check if the pot needs water.

Finish with the garnishing ingredients and stir delicately.

Serve warm or at least at room temperature, never cold from the fridge.



Moroccan sweet potato starter with sultanas

There are a few vegetables I never clicked with. But since I started weaning my baby boy I thought it was only fair that he does not suffer from my discriminative choices regarding vegetables.

Never say never, maybe our taste buds mature as we do and we can take in more things than we did before (and drop some in the process such as white chocolate).

I started introducing pumpkin and butternut first and I was pleasantly surprised. I also introduced the dreadful beetroot and that went well too.

Now I won't blame my parents on this as these vegetables are used in Moroccan cooking and in a nice way..It's just one of those things when you don't like something.



I also didn't like okra because of its slimy inside but that's over, only within limits I'm afraid. Nothing wrong with that vegetable except its sliminess, but passed that, it's nice, especially when you spice it up properly.

Last in the list was sweet potatoes. I was the only one not really into it but I could see my sisters finishing the sweet potato cooked salads with the speed of light..




Now, a few years forward and with a different mature palate, I suggest you try sweet potatoes cooked the Moroccan style.

Ingredients
Serves 3 to 4 
Prep: 5 min - Cooking: 25 min

1st set of ingredients

  • 2 medium-size sweet potatoes 
  • 40 g of dried raisins or sultanas (presoaked for 30 min in water)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tsp of ground ginger
  • 1/2 of sweet Ras El hanou
  • 1/2 tsp of turmeric
  • Salt to taste
2nd set of ingredients
  • 1/2 tsp of cinnamon
  • 1 tbps of honey or sugar
  • 1 tbsp of olive oil




Preparation

 Peel and dice the sweet potatoes into small cubes.

Place an adequate cooking pot over medium heat and add in the 1st set of ingredients. Cover with water to 2/3 and cover the pot. Simmer for about 25 min. Stir a couple of times and check if the pot needs water.

Add the second set of ingredients and gently stir. Caramelize for a few minutes and adjust the seasoning.

This cooked salad should not be too sweet but you could add more honey if you feel like.

Serve warm or at least at room temperature, never cold from the fridge.

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