Serious Entertaining

Seasonal menu planning for the perfect dinner party.

Serious Entertaining: Hello, Morocco

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[Photographs: Carrie Vasios]

It may seem counter-intuitive, but in the middle of snowy weather the best places to look for menu inspiration are those that don't really get winter at all. Take Morocco. The geography of this country is a hybrid of dazzling coasts and arid deserts. As a result, Moroccan cooks know how to make the most of limited produce as well as how to cook up some awesome seafood.

Moroccan meals can start with over a dozen small salads, but for convenience this menu starts with two. They'll whet your guests appetites for the second course, which should be served alongside a large bowl of fluffy couscous. A pitcher of mint tea is my beverage of choice.

So invite some friends over and give your lasagna pans and slow cookers a rest. A well stocked spice rack is the only tool you'll need.

Blood Orange and Cured Black Olive Salad

The first small salad in this menu gets things going with a range of flavors. Briny, wrinkly, cured black olives are salty with a slick of oil, while blood oranges liven your tongue with acid and a hint of sweetness. These two main components are tied together with a spiced dressing that includes cumin, sweet paprika, and just enough cayenne to start your lips buzzing.

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Beet Salad with Cinnamon

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Moroccan cuisine often incorporates sweet or earthy flavors into otherwise savory courses. Here, roasted beets develop an almost candy-like sweetness that pairs perfectly with ground cinnamon. The dish is balanced by a good dose of lemon juice and salt, and tied together with fruity olive oil.

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Grilled Colossal Shrimp with Charmoula

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Charmoula is a popular Moroccan sauce that can be used on everything from fish to vegetables. Coriander and cumin are the leaders of the spice mix, and cayenne and paprika add a little heat. The spices are ground with garlic, which adds bite, and brightened with freshly squeezed lemon juice. When blended with olive oil, the resulting spiced dressing has a pesto-like texture and can similarly be used to give any dish a strong pop of flavor.

Charmoula makes a great topping for seafood, and that includes these colossal shrimp. Boy, did these bad boys live up to their name—they weighed in at just 10 to the pound, making them by far the meatiest shrimp I've ever had. That also means they are perfect for the grill; the outsides get lightly crispy while the insides stay moist and succulent.

Make sure to serve these skewers with couscous. The small grains of semolina pasta will cut the heat from the spices as well as soak up any leftover sauce.

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About the author: Carrie Vasios is the Community Manager of Serious Eats and writes the Wake and Bake, Cookie Monster, and Serious Entertaining columns. She likes perusing her large collection of cookbooks while eating jam from the jar.

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