How Chef Mourad Lahlou Marries Moroccan and Mexican Flavors in a New Vegetarian Dish
When Chef Mourad Lahlouopened Aziza in San Francisco, it became the first Michelin-starred Moroccan restaurant in the country. His new venture, Amara, which debuts this spring, explores the synergy between Mexican and Moroccan food. (A brief history lesson: The Moors invaded Europe in the eighth century, bringing their cuisine with them; the Spanish carried those influences to Mexico 800 years later.) The menu, developed in collaboration with co-chef Louis Maldonado, looks for harmony in Mexican and Moroccan cooking methods and ingredients, such as fideos, the short noodles the cuisines have in common. “It was a head-scratcher for me to create a vegetarian dish,” says Maldonado. “I created one based on the traditional Mexican sopa de fideo and seffa,Moroccan vermicelli served with a rich burnt-onion broth.”
Try the dish at Amara—we dive into the components here.
Marash Chiles and Mexican Oregano
Served alongside the dish, the Turkish chile flakes have a warming piquancy and fruity, slightly sour flavor. Paired with Mexican oregano, the dried garnishes release their aroma when they hit the hot broth.
Short vermicelli noodles—an ingredient that seffa and sopa de fideo have in common—are steamed over a vegetable-saffron broth spiced with cumin, coriander, chiles, and oregano. Steaming the noodles is a nod to how seffa and couscous traditionally are prepared in Morocco. At home, instead of steaming, toast 1 part noodles then simmer them with a pinch of saffron in 2 parts vegetable broth.
For the base of their hearty vegetable main course, the chefs use local California brassicas like kale, Brussels sprouts, and Broccolini charred on a plancha.
Fresh Herbs and Limes
Finishing the dish with cilantro, basil, dill, mint, and a squeeze of lime tempers the richness of the other components.
Seffa is usually accompanied by a rich, onion-infused broth, so the chefs employ the Mexican technique of charring onions, which caramelizes their sugars and lends a smoky flavor to the mahogany broth. Chiles, cinnamon sticks, cardamom, cloves, and allspice—all common to both cuisines—are toasted to release their fragrance.
Drizzle this spicy oil over grilled vegetables, or toss with cold noodles.
Combine 1 cup sliced raw almonds, 1/2 cup canola oil, and 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil in a small saucepan. Cook over medium until almonds are evenly toasted, about 8 minutes. Strain mixture into a bowl; reserve almonds for another use. Blend toasted almond oil and 4 stemmed dried chipotle chiles until smooth.
Amara will open at 5800 Geary Blvd., San Francisco this spring.