Why fear the fennel?

Having a husband who eschews eating any beast that he can’t kill with his bare hands has somewhat curtailed my culinary education.  I’m an expert with a breast or two (fnar – I mean chicken) and a dab hand with a whole fish.  I get my carnivorous rocks through gutting and scaling, the nearest thing to butchery that my kitchen is likely to see.

But here’s the really irritating equation; people who are fussy meat eaters are fussy anything- eaters.  Being a vegetarian/pescetarian (unless on ethical grounds) does not mean that one will automatically embrace every jaunty veg on offer.  Richard, my husband will sniff out celeriac at one hundred paces and throw his bib down in defiance.  Likewise any attempt at subterfuge with a  kohl rabi (sliced thinly, served unannounced in a salad of lettuce and tomato) is met with disdain and said tasty root is left to linger untouched with the dressing dregs at the bottom of the bowl.

So my adventures in cooking have narrowed considerably, which means I always jump for joy at an opportunity to go out and eat adult food.

Adult food is stuff that doesn’t make its way into your trolley in an average shop; sumac, chicory, roquefort and quail.  Adult cooking is when you artfully combine aforementioned ingredients using adult methods (braising, sauteeing, ceviche-ing). Adult cooking is Moro, the much lauded near-veteran of the East London restaurant scene, which popularised Middle Eastern cooking and whose eponymous cookbook has assumed erotic status in my kitchen.  This place has also been on the hotlist of my friend Rhi, who, as a mum, worker bee and actor/singer/muso with a fussy eating partner also rarely gets to eat adult food.

A good sign – it was packed as we entered and remained so even after we had royally out-stayed our welcome.  I could tell you about the room, which was light, subtly Moorish and elegant, but who cares?  It’s the food that counts, right?

Moro runs a tapas menu throughout the day, which seems like a good idea as it was practically impossible to choose just one starter and main from the lunch list.  After much cogitation, I went for the scallop, pan-fried caper, paprika and shaved fennel.  I was heartened when the waiter double checked out order and pluralised the scallop and was fully expecting three little beauties – but lo, it was a solitary queen who arrived, replete with a delicious coral.  The paprika oil was an unctuous counterpoint to the delicacy of the fennel and the capers added naughty texture to a well-balanced dish.  Rhi plumped for the seared pigeon, served as tiny rose red petals of gamey flavour with a puree of something (garlic?  honestly I can’t remember) which carried a pleasing slightly sour top note.

Scallop with pan fried capers, paprika and shaved fennel. On the tiny side, but very tasty.

When the mains arrived, it turned out that Moro know everything and that I’m an idiot – the one scallop starter was a perfectly sized prep for a whopping main; lamb with carrots, caraway, yoghurt and lentils and vermicelli.  Not so heavy on the adult ingredients, but brilliantly cooked by a smarty pants chef; the lamb pliant and pink, holding its shape against the comforting mush of the lentils and vermicelli.  The carrots were the breakout star, however, laced with caraway they were soft and savoury-sweet.

Charcoal Lamb with carrots, caraway, yoghurt, lentils and vermicelli. Om om.

Rhi’s Wood Roast Bream (max points on the adult food scale) looked like a gorgeous cartoon fish with a delicious minty green Borani.  I have since found out that Borani is a middle eastern spinach yoghurt dish – but please, Moro could you define these hidden wonders on your menu?  Lots of your glorious dishes sound like minor Star Trek characters.  Needless to say, everything was delightful and none too heavy in the afternoon sun.  We topped off with Malaga ice cream with raisins – I’m not a pudding person, but since in this context, Malaga meant rum, I dug in. We drank a light non-snooze inducing Txocalli (‘Yes Captain, the Txocalli have just hailed us‘) wine which proved a fabulous accompaniment to a memorable meal.

So back to my kitchen and I’m experiencing a sea change.  I’m a great believer in salt, chilli, lemon and garlic and I put them in everything but the dishes at Moro used very little ‘catch all’ seasoning in favour of  the natural taste (enhanced by some jaunty herbs) to create long lasting flavours.  Maybe I should have more faith in the ingredients themselves- for too long I have been hiding my beetroot under a bushel.  No more parading the chard as spinach, disguising the anchovy, camouflaging the turnip – the husband will just  have to embrace my adult food revolution.

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One thought on “Why fear the fennel?

  1. Aah! Borani is spinach, is it? No wonder I loved it. Just having a little daydream about my first mouthful of that Bream. Dee-flipping-licious. I love how the paprika oil glistens in your picture. Rhi x

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