Twice-Baked Potatoes with North African Spices

Twice-baked potatoes with chermoula and yogurtA few months back, I read a post from the Nerds with Knives blog about Yotam Ottolenghi’s Chermoula Roasted Eggplant. The recipe looked great — roasted eggplant drenched with a piquant spice paste (the chermoula) — and since it was eggplant season, I tried it a few times.  Finding the right eggplant proved challenging, but when I found the right one it was a great success.

My culinary gears started turning. What else could this chermoula flavoring be used for?  Of course, I could have consulted a North African cookbook or one from Ottolenghi, but it can be fun to explore ideas on my own. My first though was potatoes. The flavors of the chermoula — cumin, coriander, garlic, paprika, olive oil — would be a perfect foil for potato’s hearty and mellow flavors.

Now that I had my “what,” it was time for the “how.”  How about twice-baked potatoes, a mid-20th-century classic?  Twice-baked potatoes are often filled with hefty, high-calorie ingredients like cheese, bacon, and sour cream. Those fillings can be great — cheese and potatoes are a winning combination — but the chermoula paste could make this dish healthier and bring some new flavors to the table.

The preparation is fairly basic: make baked potatoes, and while they bake, make the chermoula paste.  After the potatoes are done, the insides are removed and mixed with some chermoula and yogurt, which is then put into the potato shells; then the stuffed potatoes go into the oven to heat the filling.

 

Chermoula ingredients (except for olive oil)
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Chermoula

A spiced oil from North Africa with cumin, coriander, garlic, and preserved lemon.

Course Sauce
Cuisine Mediterranean
Prep Time 5 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp ground coriander seed
  • 1 tsp coarse salt
  • 1 tsp ground paprika (not smoked)
  • 1/2 tsp red chili flakes (or more optional)
  • 6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (75 grams)
  • 1 1/2 tbsp preserved lemon (peel only), diced fine (35 grams)

Instructions

  1. In a mortar, combine the garlic, salt and spices. Pound into a smooth paste. (Alternatively, chop the garlic very fine and mix with the salt and spices).
  2. Stir in the olive oil, combining thoroughly.
  3. Stir in the preserved lemon.

Recipe Notes

Preserved lemons can be purchased at Middle Eastern markets and specialty food stores. They also can be made at home with little effort but often require many days for the lemons to transform.  Recipes can be found in most North African cookbooks;  I have had great results using a recipe from Paula Wolfert in her book Mediterranean Grains and Greens (this one takes seven days).  If you are in a hurry and have six Meyer lemons on hand, the Los Angeles Times published a recipe for quick-preserved Meyer lemons from Marcus Samuelsson's "The Soul of a New Cuisine." Recipe adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi's Chermoula Roasted Eggplant by Nerds with Knives and Chermoula aubergine with bulgar and yoghurt by Yotam Ottolenghi in the Guardian.

 

Twice-baked potatoes with chermoula and yogurt
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Twice-Baked Potatoes with Chermoula and Yogurt

Mellow baked potato is enlivened by a North African spice blend with bits of piquant preserved lemon and tangy yogurt.

Course Side Dish
Cuisine Mediterranean
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 15 minutes
Servings 4 people

Ingredients

  • 4 baking potatoes (russet variety) (about 250 grams each)
  • cooking oil
  • 8 tbsp chermoula sauce (120 mL)
  • 8 tbsp plain yogurt (120 mL)
  • chopped cilantro, for garnish
  • yogurt, for garnish

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
  2. Scrub the potatoes, dry them and rub lightly with vegetable oil.
  3. Place potatoes on a baking sheet or directly on the oven rack.
  4. Bake for about 60 minutes, or until easily pierced with a knife or skewer.
  5. Allow to cool slightly, then slice in half. Allow to cool further until safe to handle.
  6. Holding the potato with a towel, pot holder, or other tool to protect your hand, use a spoon to scoop out the inside of the potato, transferring it to a bowl. Leave about 1/4 inch of potato on the skin to help with structural stability.
  7. In a medium bowl, mash the extracted potato, then mix in the chermoula and yogurt. Check for salt.
  8. Spoon the chermoula-yogurt-potato filling back into the shells, place them on a baking sheet, and return to the oven for 10 minutes.
  9. Top with chopped cilantro and additional yogurt.

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