The term Moorish Food can be quite difficult to accurately define. The Moors (from the Latin maurus, meaning person from the Roman province of Mauretania – North Africa) invaded Spain in 711 AD. Two thirds of Iberia was controlled by Berber Hispanic Muslims for 375 years, followed by 160 years ruling about half that area and finally 244 years running the Kingdom of Granada (in the South). In effect the Caliphate presided over much of Hispania for 800 years, taking over a fertile land which had previously been Rome’s market garden – this could, perhaps, be compared to Spain’s relationship with the European Union today.
With the Moors came almonds (almendras), artichokes (alcachofas), aubergines (berenjenas), carrots (zanahorias), cumin (comino), dates (datileras), rice (arroz), saffron (azafrán) and spinach (espinacas) – Claudia Roden (in the Food of Spain) states that lemons (limones) and pomegranates (granadas) returned to Iberia, having disappeared after the collapse of Rome. So the above could definitely be considered Moorish foods. However, it is said that Jews and Muslims taught the Spanish how to cook pork, which sounds preposterous until you consider that the Iberians adopted Moorish methods of cooking lamb and used them for the pig, which became the symbol of Christian food in Spain and Portugal. Contrary to what Jamie Oliver would have us believe, the Moors did not bring Pimentón to Spain! The Conquistadors discovered pimentón in Mexico and are responsible for introducing it to Europe and North Africa. However, paprika went so well with Moorish cuisine that it has become almost synonymous with it. After the Reconquista (1492), a Muslim minority stayed in Iberia until 1609 – when they were expelled, most would have settled in the Maghreb or on the Barbary coast. Spanish military expeditions in North Africa also ensured an early adoption of chilli and pimentón into Berber and Moroccan cuisine. It is thought that the Spanish took chilli peppers to Tunisia (when they occupied the country between 1535 and 1574), which led to the creation of Harissa. After that, pimentón went East via the Ottoman Empire, which is relative to the journey of Moorish ingredients coming West from the Levant. Food tends to go around the Mediterranean in a circle. Not all Spanish food is Moorish, but much of it has been influenced by the Moors.
Clean the liver and chop it into bite sized pieces. I used pig’s, but this would work well with most types of liver.
Warm a teaspoon of cumin seeds (to bring out the flavour) in a frying pan. As soon as the seeds become fragrant, take them off the heat. Grind the cumin and black peppercorns with a mortar and pestle.
Add the wet and dry ingredients to the liver.
Mix to make a sticky mess – you could use a spoon, but it’s probably easier to get your hands dirty. Allow to marinate for a hour or so.
Moorish Liver (serves 2):
1lb pig’s liver (cut into bite sized pieces and marinated)
3 slices smoked streaky bacon (sliced)
1 large onion (sliced)
6 pieces garlic (chopped)
2 dessertspoons plain flour
extra virgin olive oil for frying
sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste
a teaspoon of fresh coriander
a sprinkle of pimentón de la Vera picante
1/4 pint stock (pork or chicken)
a teaspoon sherry vinegar
blood from the liver (optional)
a knob of butter
You could fry the onion with the liver, but caramelising it separately will bring out the natural sweetness and add more to the dish. If you caramelise onion in a saucepan, the depth of the allium in the pan helps to stop it burning. Use plenty of olive oil on a low heat and stir often.
In the meantime, using the frying pan that the liver will be cooked in, brown 3 slices of smoked streaky bacon.
Combine the bacon, onions and 6 pieces of chopped garlic. Cook for a few minutes until the garlic has softened.
Season 2 dessertspoons of plain flour with salt and pepper and put it into a large bowl then lightly coat the marinated liver with it. Keep any surplus flour.
As this is pig’s liver, fry it on a reasonably high heat in a generous amount of olive oil. This will want to stick, so discourage it with vigorous stirring.
When the liver is cooked through (5 minutes or so), combine with the onions, bacon and garlic. Other types of liver (not chicken!) will be OK with a shorter cooking time and can be served pink (if desired). Season with salt and pepper, then sprinkle on a little chopped coriander (cilantro) and a touch of pimentón de la Vera picante. Stir and remove to a warm plate. Cover with foil while you make a gravy.
Deglaze the now vacant frying pan with a splash of stock and a teaspoon of sherry vinegar. Reserve this liquid. Add extra virgin olive oil to the pan and stir in some of the surplus flour to make a roux. Slowly pour in the deglazing liquid, followed by the remainder of the stock. I stirred in the blood that had come out of the liver, but that’s optional. To finish, melt in a knob of butter.