Maghreb brings spicy meals to North London
I enjoy most things stuffed into a pita – falafel of course, aubergine, especially in the form of the fabulous sabich, and, most recently, fish balls. A home-meal kit from Maghreb enabled me to enjoy a couple of dishes that are already family favourites and to have dinner on the table in minutes.
The noughties have seen a proliferation of restaurants and eateries in London established by Israeli chefs, a trend set by the Ottolenghi enterprise which has gone on to train not only many independent restaurateurs but also the palates of the diners who cannot seem to get enough of the cuisine of the region. A sizeable number of Israelis hail from the Maghreb – a collection of countries from North Africa – Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, and Libya. These countries had long-established Jewish communities down the centuries and mass migration took place after the establishment of Israel in 1948. The new migrants brought with them a style of cooking called Sephardi cuisine which is completely different from the Eastern European style of Jewish cooking called Ashkenazi. Of course, both Sephardi and Ashkenazi cuisine have their roots in the regions in which they developed. So the cooking of the Maghreb is, as visitors to the region are aware, filled with pulses, grains, olive oil, lemons, tomatoes, harissa, herbs, and fish.
Two Israelis in London, Shiri Kraus and Amir Batito set up a private dining catering and restaurant consultation company called Maghreb with a focus on the food of the region. Since lockdown, Maghreb has transformed its business into home-meal kits, a burgeoning trend across the UK. Larger enterprises have the logistics and budgets for national distribution while smaller businesses are keeping afloat by offering delivery, sometimes within designated postcodes. Maghreb is currently offering delivery – throughout North London – of four meal-kits in small and large sizes: chraymeh fish cakes, shakshuka, shakshuka with merguez sausage or arayes which is minced lamb and beef stuffed into a pita and grilled.
Chraymeh fish (often spelt chraimeh) is a very popular dish in Israel that originated in Tripoli in Libya. It is frequently served as a starter on a Friday night as part of the sabbath dinner. The sauce is hot and rusty red with paprika, chilli and tomato paste. The fish is often served as steaks or fillets, while Maghreb serves it in the form of fish balls. I usually make it with salmon fillets and it is delicious and so I was keen to try the home meal-kit from Maghreb.
The white, cake box used for delivery contained a punnet with 500g of minced fish that had been mixed with herbs and spices. The instruction card suggested forming golf-ball-sized fish balls, around 30g each. I wet my hands and got to work with a little gentle rolling. Then it was a very simple matter of heating the sauce in a saucepan, gently lowering in the fish balls and cooking for 15 minutes. I turned them over carefully half-way through.
Along with the fish, there was a punnet of chraymeh sauce which included chickpeas. Maghreb cooks it for several hours, reducing the tomato and chilli into a deeply satisfying sauce. There was also a punnet of quite excellent tahini – it really does matter what brand one uses as the quality varies a lot – as well as a punnet of coriander. A packet of three, handmade pitas were included.
A tip I learned from a home-meal kit from Shuk which I reviewed recently, is to heat the pita in the oven along with a bowl of water which steams the pita and I did this with the Maghreb pitas which were perfectly pillowy. The texture of the fish balls was very good, firm yet yielding, and the spicing was just right. Five fishballs along with a pita was a good portion size.
The following morning I had the shakshuka for breakfast. This is a very popular dish in my household and our go-to favourite for Sunday brunch. Since Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem was published years ago, I have made shakshuka so often that the recipe is spattered with harissa oil and the book falls open automatically to the required page. I like to taste how others make this spicy tomato and red pepper sauce.
The box contained a 6 pack of beautifully white eggs along with a packet of pita and punnets of tahini, parsley and pickled red cabbage. I must admit that I have never had a shakshuka with pickled cabbage on the side, but I can now recommend it. As for eating shakshuka with tahini, this was a revelation after all these years as I usually eat it with dollops of plain yoghurt to temper the heat of the sauce. The Maghreb sauce is milder than the one I usually cook, so if you want to dial up the heat, just add some rose harissa. That said, the Maghreb sauce is delicious and was hot enough for me. I liked the small chunks of bell pepper. The tahini added a lovely richness. Once again, the portion was good – two eggs per person along with sauce, side salad and that fluffy pita. The old adage advises starting the day on an egg. I couldn’t agree more.
Check out the website and see if you are lucky enough to live within the Maghreb London catchment area – at the moment they only deliver to certain North London postcodes but, hopefully, this will change soon.
T: 07547 838810