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So long as I’ve had a spoon in my right hand and a fork in my left, Morocco has meant fire. Not just because my Mémé, with her fiery red hair, was born many decades ago in Casablanca (where, photos inform me, her hair was decidedly brown). But because everything that my French-Moroccan family put on my plate had spice, sass, and heat. In Morocco, spice doesn’t only mean chili, although the harissa with which I was anointed is certainly baptism by fire. It means smoky cumin, sweet cinnamon, and allspice. Like my family, Moroccan food is complicated, unruly, exotic, and feisty as hell.
Merguez is a Moroccan sausage that my family, when they left France and moved to America, had to recreate from scratch, because truth be told, there is not exactly a large Moroccan market here in the States. Here you don’t find merguez at every sausage counter as you do in France, and even in other parts of Europe. Even after Morocco ceased being a French protectorate, Moroccan food continues to pervade French restaurants and markets by the sheer force of immigration and cultural proximity.
My favorite way to eat it is the way you often find it in France, especially in the South where I happened upon it maybe too often last summer in Cassis. Merguez Frites: a sandwich of blistered links of merguez nestled into a baguette with mayonnaise or even more harissa and then loads of crispy fresh frites as the thorny crowning glory. Hotter than the sun, to me its summer beach food: irresponsible and sweaty.
When I am home in America, I can usually only find merguez at expensive specialty stores, which takes away a lot of its cheap eats street food appeal. For these boulettes, I tried my hand at recreating the sausage with all the same flavors of harissa, nutmeg, allspice, and cinnamon. The combination of hot spices and sweet spices is intensely exotic. If you buy your spices whole and grate the appropriate ones at the last minute, this will be even better. In the picture above, the garlic was chopped, but as the meat shrinks, you can see it becomes obtrusive. So, I recommend grating the garlic. I serve these with a soothing mint sauce made from yogurt and crème fraîche as the perfect spicy cocktail bite.
- 1/2 pound ground lamb
- 1 tablespoon harissa
- 3 cloves garlic, grated
- 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/16 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon light olive oil
- Preheat the oven to 400°F.
- In a large bowl, gently work all the flavorings into the lamb, without over-working the meat. Roll tablespoon-sized balls of the lamb, and place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake 10 minutes. Stick with pretty toothpicks, and serve with the creamy mint sauce (recipe follows).
Creamy Mint Sauce
- 2 tablespoons crème fraîche
- 3 tablespoons plain or Greek yogurt
- The leaves from 2 sprigs mint, finely chopped
- Simply stir everything together. About as easy as it gets!