Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Rhubarb Custard Tart

I have a tendency to favor sour flavors. My grandfather owned a deli, so this might be some aftereffect of all the pickles I filched off the table during childhood. I shake up puckery citrus cocktails, mix salad dressings with lashings of vinegar, and have taken to buying my lemons from the restaurant supply store in 5-lb sacks. So it's no surprise that I adore rhubarb.

I love rhubarb's spring-bright astringency, especially after the heavier flavors of winter. I've been known to nibble raw stalks, or slice them paper-thin over salads (in addition to sipping my home-infused rhubarb liqueur). But even a sourpuss like me knows that rhubarb needs balance. I grew up with strawberry-rhubarb pie, pairing the puckery stalks with sweet spring berries. But here in Portland, our local strawberry crop hasn't come in yet. Which is fine with me, because I've got custard.

This tart is lovely. You first sweeten rhubarb ever-so-slightly with a bit of sugar (which also helps draw out the excess liquid that can sog up your tart), and then round out its pucker with a cup of sweet eggy custard. The surface of the custard will crack a bit as it puffs and then settles, creating an inviting, rustic appearance. Like rhubarb itself, this tart's season is fleeting--it's best enjoyed the same day you bake it. This shouldn't be a problem.

Rhubarb Custard Tart

Inspired by Paula Wolfert's The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen: Recipes for the Passionate Cook, but tweak*tweak*tweaked according to my taste with my current favorite tart crust from Dorie Greenspan, and the custard that I adapted the heck out of from Saveur for my take on their Plum Custard Tart, further adapted for this recipe. Leftovers must be stored in the refrigerator due to the custard, which will sadly blunt the fresh-baked buttery deliciousness of the crust. Let leftover slices come to room temperature first. Or, better yet, eat them all the first day.

yields 1 9" tart

1 sweet tart crust, unbaked (I followed this great breakdown of Greenspan's recipe, swapping 1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour)
1 1/4 lbs rhubarb, washed and sliced in 1/2" pieces (or long thin batons if you want a more dramatic presentation)
1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp sugar, separated
2 Tbsp flour
1 pinch salt
1 cup half and half
3 eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla

In a large bowl, toss the rhubarb with 2 Tbsp of the sugar until it's evenly coated. Transfer the sugary rhubarb to a colander over the bowl, and let sit at least 2 hours to allow liquid to drip out. Overnight is fine too.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Roll out the crust and fit it into a 9" tart pan, prick a few times with a fork, and place in the refrigerator to chill while the oven is preheating.

Whisk together the remaining 1/2 cup sugar with the flour and salt. Add a bit of half and half, whisking until it's a well-combined sludge. Add the remaining half and half, eggs, and vanilla, whisking until just combined.

Remove the crust from the refrigerator. Press on the rhubarb to expel any last bits of liquid, and scatter evenly (more or less) over the crust. Give the custard another whisk to re-mix, and pour gently over the rhubarb. Place in the oven.

Bake until the custard no longer jiggles in the center and is just beginning to brown, about 30-45 minutes. The filling will puff dramatically (but will settle back down as it cools). Remove from the oven and let cool a bit before serving.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Potato Knish

Several years ago, I heard a public radio host talk about the Romantic poets. He read aloud poems that compared the agonies and ecstasies of love to freezing out in the cold one moment, and being burned by the sun the next. But to this Midwest-born host, that didn't seem so dramatic. That just sounded like springtime in Minnesota. It's a romantic time of the year.

Here in the temperate Pacific Northwest, we don't have quite the sun-or-snow range of springtime weather you'll see in middle America. But we do have a bit of a swing. We've had some ridiculously sunny days recently, with warm twilit evenings. They seem to call out for salads, maybe a light dinner cooked on the grill. And then there are the rainy gray days that drive you inside, looking for something a bit heartier. Like potato knishes.

In New York City, you can purchase a fried version of these Jewish turnovers at most hot dog stands. But the real deal (also, unsurprisingly, readily available in New York City) is so much better than that. An enriched dough is rolled out in a paper-thin layer, and wrapped repeatedly around a filling of seasoned mashed potatoes (or spinach mashed potatoes, or buckwheat, or whatever you want, but I'm partial to the classic potato). As you can see, it has some strudel-like delicacy from the layers of flaky dough:

But this lightness is anchored by the earthy potatoes and rich caramelized onions. Add a dollop of mustard to spice things up, and you've got a perfect snack.

Sharp-eyed readers may note that the pictures below were not taken in my usual kitchen (my own granite countertops, along with my dreams of a livable wage and international travel, seem to be on back order). As with most Things Wrapped in Dough, the knish is best made when you have a kitchen full of friends (or helper monkeys) to lend a hand. I made this batch during a visit with my sister, catching up as we peeled potatoes, broke down and caramelized several pounds of onions, and shaped a small army of knishes. We filled her freezer with flash-frozen trays, and then baked a few rounds to eat ourselves and share with friends. And then wished we had made more. I could end this post with a nice kicker about how potato knishes are the perfect snack to see you through the last chilly nights into the coming spring. And they are. But the truth is, I would eat a knish in most any weather. They're just that good.

Potato Knishes

adapted from the lovely egullet tutorial by the lovely Pamela Reiss
yields ~3 dozen knishes, depending on size
(it's a lot, but they freeze beautifully)

4-4 3/4 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 cup neutral oil, such as canola
2 tsp white vinegar
1 cup warm water

1/4 cup neutral oil, such as canola
2 lbs yellow onions, diced
5 lbs red potatoes, peeled and quartered
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
2 Tbsp butter (optional)

mustard for serving

Mix 4 cups of the flour, baking powder, and salt in the bowl of a mixer. Beat together the eggs, oil, vinegar and warm water, and add to the dry ingredients. Mix with a dough hook for 8-10 minutes, adding additional flour as needed until the dough just clears the sides of the bowl (it will still be very soft). Divide the dough into two equal portions, form into balls, and let rest at room temperature, covered, for at least an hour.

While the dough is relaxing, prepare the filling. Heat the oil in a heavy skillet over a medium flame. Add the onions and saute until well caramelized, stirring every few minutes. You want them deeply browned, which will take ~30-40 minutes. Turn down the flame if this goes too quickly--lower heat=more even caramelization=more flavor.

While the onions are cooking, place the potatoes in a pot of water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat until it's just enough to maintain a simmer, and cook until the potatoes are fork-tender. Drain well, and mash well (or press through a ricer). Add the browned onions, salt, pepper and garlic powder, and mix well. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed, adding butter if desired. Let cool.

When the dough has relaxed and the filling has cooled, preheat your oven to 375 degrees and clean off a table or huge countertop. Take out one of the dough balls, and roll it into a rectangle as thin as possible--roughly 1 foot by 2 1/2 feet. If you'd like bigger knishes, you can make a wider rectangle. Some small holes are okay (the multiple layers of dough will cover them). If it's not rolling easily, let it relax a few minutes, and try again. Take half the potato filling, and evenly distribute it in a thick snaky line along the long edge, leaving about 1" of dough. Pull the edge of the dough over the filling, and roll until you get to the opposite edge, making a nice thick rope. You want the initial rolls to tuck the filling together neatly so that you don't have gaping airholes inside, but not ridiculously sushi-roll tight (otherwise you risk knish explosions in the oven).

Pinch the rope where you'd like to cut the first knish, slightly stretching the dough and drawing it together (I favor knishes that are a bit smaller than tennis balls). Twist it around a few times, creating a little twist of dough between the knish you're shaping and the main rope, and pinch off the knish. Repeat until all the knishes have been pinched off. If any of the pinched-off edges open, gently draw the dough over the top and pinch the ends together to re-seal. Press gently on the center, flattening it into a chubby puck, and creating a slight indentation in the center. Repeat to shape the remaining knishes.

Place knishes on a tray lined with parchment or silpat (or well-greased, if you don't have either of the former), and bake until lightly browned (~40 minutes, although time will vary depending upon knish size). If you would like to set some aside for the future, freeze them unbaked, on a lined tray, and then move to a bag or container. Bake as with fresh knishes, adding ~5 minutes to the baking time. Serve with mustard.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Pannukakku (Finnish Oven-baked Pancake)

It seems that the casual drop-in visit is something of a rarity these days. Aside from our next-door neighbors, who are so close they nearly share a common wall, we rarely host an impromptu guest. Which is a shame, because such drop-ins can be the nicest of surprises.

A few days ago a friend found herself between appointments in the neighborhood, and gave a last-minute call. I happened to have a pot of homemade vegetable soup in the refrigerator, and a slice of fresh honey oatmeal flax bread to toast up and serve with it. I fed her, and we caught up on the several weeks that had passed since we'd talked. It was such a nice highlight to the afternoon, all the sweeter for its surprise.

Now I realize that I am more likely to have a fresh-baked treat on the counter than a lot of people. But it's also possible that my friend could have phoned when all I had in the house for snacking were some limp carrots and the leftovers of a disastrous cooking experiment. For times like those, there are a few secret weapons I keep in reserve. There are jars of dilly beans and pickled asparagus in the basement, and often some slices of crusty bread in the freezer and cheese in the fridge. And there's pannukakku.

Finland, like much of Scandinavia, is a country with a strong tradition of hospitality. Nearly a religion, in fact. You will be fed by your host before you depart, and you will be fed by your host when you arrive. Even if the two should occur in the space of a few hours. Coffee flows freely, and a spread of little snacks and delicacies is brought out. Even if it's just casual friends, you can't get away without something to nibble with your coffee.

Pannukakku is an ideal dish for the impromptu guest. It's a tender, puffy pancake, like a Dutch baby without the staggering amount of butter. It's easy to mix together from pantry staples of milk, eggs, and flour, and it bakes in the oven while you chat with your guests (or prepare a pot of coffee). It can be sweet or savory, topped with a puddle of jam or used to fancy up a slice of cheese or smoked salmon. I recently spent a full day picking and jamming strawberries with my sister (in Houston, where it's already 80 degrees and well into strawberry season), and her friend suggested pannukakku to enjoy with the fruits (jams?) of our labors. She called her Finnish husband, translated a recipe from deciliters, and before we knew it we were enjoying the eggy, pillowy pannukakku with our still-warm jam. But even if you don't have fresh syrupy strawberries, pannukakku will still make for a welcome treat. It's warm and inviting, with minimal fussing. Like the best of hosts.

Pannukakku (Finnish Oven-baked Pancake)

Adapted by Rebecca Rautio, from the classic Finnish cookbook Kotiruoka (Home Cooking), and her classic Finnish mother-in-law. This is best enjoyed the day it's made.

serves ~8 as a snack, ~4 as a light meal

3 eggs
3 1/4 cups milk
1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 tsp salt
toppings of choice (jam, cheese, smoked fish)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a jelly-roll pan (or similar pan with a thick rim) with overhanging parchment paper, if you have, and grease the parchment paper. Otherwise grease the pan liberally, and hope for the best.

Beat the eggs for several minutes, until thick and light. Mix together the remaining ingredients in a separate bowl, and then mix into the pannukakku. Let the batter rest 10 minutes, then pour into your prepared sheet pan. Bake 30 minutes, until fluffy and lightly golden in some spots. Cut into squares while still warm, and serve.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Honey Oatmeal Flax Bread

I always thought of bread dough as a fairly forgiving creature. Who needs to check measurements? Just toss flour in until it feels right! Why follow recipes? Just pour in some leftover oatmeal from breakfast! Want to be healthier? Just substitute whole wheat flour! Unsurprisingly, this approach wasn't always met with success. I created loaves that were too dense, that crumbled under the bread knife, or that just didn't taste that awesome. As it turns out, I was only partially wrong in my approach.

Bread is, to some extent, forgiving. But there are rules to be followed. You'll find that professional bread bakers talk about a whole lot more math than you'd expect. In bread, it's all about percentages: the amount of water used to hydrate flour, and the proportions of salt and yeast. Knowing these formulas, and how they create the ideal bread, give you a template for successful tinkering. Of course, you can always forgo the math and follow a good recipe. Like this one.

When I bake bread, it's usually a crusty hearth loaf, like Jim Lahey's no-knead recipe. But when we need a sandwich loaf, this is our current favorite. It's healthy from the whole wheat, oats and flax, but has a light crumb and a slightly sweet taste. The addition of just a bit of gluten helps compensate for the whole wheat flour, which is high in bran and fiber at the expense of structurally-helpful gluten. If you do want to engage your inner math geek, I've provided the weights as well, which will keep you in line with the ideal percentages, yielding a more consistent result.

Honey Oatmeal Flax Bread
adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum
yields 1 loaf

This loaf also makes great burger buns--cut into 9 pieces (3.5-4 ounces each, if you're feeling mathy), shape into rolls, and let rise for a slightly shorter time. If desired, brush with an egg wash and sprinkle with sesame seeds before baking. I also leave out the milk powder, to no ill effect, but adding it creates a more tender crumb.

1 1/4 cups + 2 Tbsp (11.5 oz) warm water
1/2 (1.3 oz) cups rolled oats
1/4 cup (1.3 oz) cracked flax seeds (you can buy a packaged flaxseed meal like this, or else take whole flax seeds and blitz them in a coffee or spice grinder)
2 cups (11.3 oz) bread flour
3/4 cup (4 oz) whole wheat flour
2 Tbsp vital wheat gluten
1 Tbsp powdered milk (optional)
1 1/8 tsp instant yeast (or a scant 1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast)
2 Tbsp (1.5 oz) honey
2 1/2 Tbsp (1.2 oz) neutral oil, like canola
2 tsp salt

Place the water, oatmeal and flax seeds in your mixing bowl, and let soak at least 15 minutes to hydrate. Sift together the flours, gluten, and milk powder (if using), and set aside.

After 15 minutes, sprinkle in the yeast (if using active dry yeast, let soften for a minute or two, but if using instant proceed to next step). Stir in the honey and oil, and then add the flour mixture. Knead for 3 minutes, then let rest for 20 minutes. Sprinkle on the salt, and knead an additional 4 minutes. The dough will be quite moist and sticky, but will clear the sides of the bowl.

Scrape the dough into a lightly oiled bowl, swish around to distribute the oil on the bottom of the dough, then flip it over so the oiled portion is on top. Cover your container, and let rise until doubled (this will take about 1 1/4 hours in a warm setting (like a turned-off oven or microwave with a bowl of hot water), longer in cooler settings.

When the dough has doubled, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface, shape into a rectangle, and let rest, covered, for 15-20 minutes to let the gluten relax. Shape into a loaf (there's a nice pictorial here),and place into an oiled loaf pan. It will be a little under an inch shy of the top of the pan. Cover the loaf (I place it inside a plastic bag), and let rise again in a warm spot until the dough is over an inch higher than the top of the pan, ~1 1/4 hours.

When the dough is about 40 minutes away from being fully risen, preheat the oven to 400 degrees, and place a baking pan on the rack under where the bread will be. Slash the top of the loaf if you like that look, or leave plain. Mist the loaf with water, place in the oven, and toss a few ice cubes in your preheated pan to create steam (I'm sometimes lazy and just toss a glassful of water on the floor of the oven, but the former creates a more sustained moist cooking environment). Shut the oven door (quickly!), and lower the heat to 375. Bake for 20 minutes, rotate the loaf, and bake another 15-20 minutes, until golden brown.

Remove the loaf from the oven, and tip out of the pan onto a rack to cool. The bread will continue to cook internally, so resist cutting it open until it is fairly cool.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Rhubarb Liqueur

If there were some sort of Church of Spring, I think rhubarb would be among its primary sacraments. I know that many people would lobby that that role go to asparagus, with its jaunty spears poking through the barely-thawed ground. I can see their point--I totally adore asparagus (more on that later), it has a wholly unique flavor, and the ridiculous brevity of its season makes it all the more dear. But when it comes down to it, there are always green vegetables to be had, even in the depths of winter. But fresh fruity flavors--those I have truly missed. My fruit intake has been restricted to too-much-already citrus, mealy wintered-over apples, and canned plums and pears. Rhubarb, with its punchy, berry-like brightness, is a clear sign that things are coming around again. Hello, Spring!

I'm fond of rhubarb in many forms, from stewy compotes to cocktail syrups. But as soon as the first harvest appears, I start thinking about rhubarb liqueur. Mostly because it has to sit and age for so darned long to achieve its most delicious destiny. Rhubarb is cleaned, chopped, and steeped in grain alcohol for a few weeks until the color and flavor leaches out. Then it's strained to a ruby clarity, and sweetened and diluted to a drinkable concentration. Then the aging begins--a month minimum, but the longer the better. The liqueur gradually loses its harsh edge, but still maintains that characteristic rhubarb bite. I like it mixed with seltzer for an instant cocktail, or enjoyed straight up, still cold from the freezer. It's become our favorite celebratory toast, reminding us of the sweetness of Spring at any time of the year.

Rhubarb Liqueur

this is more a loose template than a recipe, easily adapted to however much rhubarb you have

grain alcohol

Chop the rhubarb finely to expose maximum surface area -- I like to pulse it a few times in a food processor. Place in a glass jar, cover with grain alcohol by an inch or so, screw the lid on, and allow to steep 2-4 weeks. Over this time, the flavor and color will leach out of the rhubarb, leaving the alcohol rosy and the rhubarb a sickly yellow-white (the exact amount of time this takes will vary).

When the rhubarb has finished steeping, strain it from the alcohol, and filter the solution through several layers of cheesecloth or, preferably, coffee filters. Measure the final amount of alcohol -- this is your base number. In a saucepan, heat 1.5 times that amount of water, and 1/2 - 3/4 that amount of sugar, depending on how sweet you like things (I tend towards the middle). To give an example: 4 cups rhubarb alcohol would need 6 cups of water and 2-3 cups sugar. Let the sugar syrup cool, then add it to your filtered alcohol. Taste (the flavors will be a bit harsh), and add more sugar if desired. Let age for at least a month before enjoying. Rhubarb liqueur keeps at any temperature, but is especially delicious straight from the freezer.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Flourless Chocolate-Walnut Cookies

As much as I'd like to pretend otherwise, the truth is that I do not always handle disappointment with the utmost grace. I'd love to be the sort who accepts bad news with a sunny shrug, and then rolls up her sleeves and moves on to the next task. But the truth is that I often spend several hours mourning the loss of Plan A before I can even think about moving on to Plan B. Which brings me to flourless chocolate walnut cookies.

This past weekend I attended a delicious Sephardic-style Passover Seder, full of saffron pilaf, Tunisian fish patties with aioli, spinach-feta minas, and good friends. My host asked if I would bring chocolate-covered matzoh caramel buttercrunch, known to all who enjoy it as matzoh crack. It's ridiculously addictive, the sort of dessert you almost don't want to make, because it is all anyone will ever you to make ever again. Well, for Passover at least.

I headed out to the grocery store with this singular vision, but couldn't find any matzoh. I figured my matzoh-finding skills must have been on the fritz, and sought out some assistance:

me: I'm sorry, I can't seem to find the matzoh.
manager: We're sold out.
me: Are you joking?
manager: Why would I joke about that?

Yes, they were sold out of matzoh. On Passover. So did I cruise the shelves looking for alternate dessert inspiration? Did I phone a friend to get a shopping list for a new recipe? Of course not. I fumed out the door and biked home, composing angry letters to the grocery store management in my head all the while. Because that's helpful. And then I proceeded to reenact the above conversation to several people, both in my home and on the telephone, and share my indignation. And then I remembered Oh yeah! I still have to make dessert! Like now!

After all this attempted-matzoh-getting and protracted-hissy-fit-throwing, I didn't have time to go shopping again. Luckily I remembered a recipe I'd seen a few years back for a flourless chocolate cookie studded with toasted walnuts. I had all the ingredients in my house, and the mixing and baking times were nice and short. And the cookies? Divine.

If you're seeking a chewy chocolate gluten-free (or Passover-friendly) cookie, look no further. They're ridiculously simple--just some toasted walnuts, powdered sugar, cocoa powder and egg whites, spiked with a bit of salt and vanilla. Because the egg whites are just stirred in rather than beaten, you end up with a cookie that's fudgey-chewy rather than meringue-crisp. They're glossy and chocolatey, and taste much more sinfully rich than they are. Not getting what you planned on should always be so delicious.

Flourless Chocolate Walnut Cookies

adapted from Payard, via New York Magazine

yields ~4 dozen cookies

2 3/4 cups walnut halves or pieces
3 cups confectioners' (aka powdered) sugar
1/2 cup + 3 Tbsp cocoa powder (Dutched is recommended)
1/2 tsp salt
4 egg whites, at room temperature
1 Tbsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Spread the walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet, and bake, stirring occasionally, until lightly golden, ~7-10 minutes (check frequently!). Let cool slightly, and coarsley chop. Set aside.

Reduce the oven temperature to 320 degrees, and line two baking pans with parchment or Silpat liners if you have, or grease well and hope for the best. Set aside.

In a large bowl, sift together the powdered sugar, cocoa powder, and salt. Add the chopped nuts, stir, and then add the egg whites and vanilla. Stir until just combined (do not overmix). Let the batter sit ~5 minutes.

Spoon the batter onto the prepared cookie sheets in heaping tablespoons (allow space--cookies will spread). Bake 14-16 minutes (rotating racks halfway through), until the tops are glossy and lightly cracked. Remove from oven, and let set a few minutes until the cookies are cool enough to remove. Remove to a rack to cool completely, and repeat with remaining batter.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Potato Tagine with Preserved Lemon and Olives

Potatoes can be many things on the plate. They're undeniably comforting, especially when mashed up with frightening amounts of butter (and a wee bit of buttermilk or cream cheese for just a slight tangy note). They're a nice neutral element to round out a dinner, and, when fried up, make for a great hangover breakfast or latke. Basic, sure. And undeniably thrifty. But I wouldn't generally describe them as exciting. Or at least I wouldn't have, until I tried this tagine.

If you've never made a tagine before, you may be unfamiliar with the delicious mix of flavors in store. Tagine, or tajine, refers to a Morroccan conical-topped clay pot, as well as the traditional braised dishes made therein. But even if you don't have the baking dish (like me), you can easily prepare a tagine in any old heavy pot. Tagines are usually made with meat, although there are vegetarians versions featuring hard-boiled eggs, or these potatoes. The main elements are combined with the warm spices common to North African cooking, and sometimes a bit of dried fruit to boot. This sweet slow braise is then enlivined with bright fresh herbs, or tangy lemons and olives. The resulting dish has a complex layered flavor unlike any other cuisine.

Preserved lemons are the sole ingredient here that might give you a bit of pause. They're sold for ridiculously amounts of money at specialty stores, but can be easily made at home. Regular old lemons are allowed to sit with salt for several weeks, until the texture softens and the taste changes in a way that's difficult to describe. They maintain their citric bite, but the flavor rounds out, becoming almost piney in a way. Beyond that (and the optional North African harissa chili paste for serving), this is essentially a pantry meal. But a pantry meal like none other. Potatoes are cooked up with the usual olive oil, tomato, and onion, but then taken in a surprising direction with saffron, fresh herbs, olives and the preserved lemons. You'll never look at potatoes the same way again.

Potato Tagine with Preserved Lemons and Olives

This recipe also works wonderfully as an elegant make-ahead company dish. Simply transfer to an oven-proof casserole or serving dish at the end, set aside and get your kitchen and self company-ready, and then reheat in a 350 degree oven until hot (~20 minutes, depending on how long it's cooled). I recently made 3x this recipe for a Passover Seder for 18, and it turned out beautifully.

Adapted from
Paula Wolfert's The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen: Recipes for the Passionate Cook. Why haven't you bought this book yet?

serves 4-6

2 lbs red potatoes
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, grated coarsely on a box grater and squeezed dry
1/3 cup tomato, grated coarsely on a box grater (I've also subbed slightly smaller amounts of canned tomatoes, or tomato sauce when I'm in a pinch)
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp paprika
pinch cumin
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 medium onion, sliced into thin half-moons
1 bay leaf
1/4 fresh lemon
2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
1 pinch saffron threads, crumbled
2 dozen purple or tan olives (pitted makes eating easier, but unpitted is fine too as long as you warn your dining companions)
1/2 preserved lemon, flesh scraped off and cut in thin slices
harissa (or other chili pastes) for serving (optional but recommended)

Peel the potatoes, and cut into thick slices (~1/2"). Place in a bowl of cold water, and set aside.

In a heavy pot, heat the olives oil over a medium heat. Add the grated onion, and cook until it starts to melt, ~3-5 minutes. Add the tomato, ginger, paprika, cumin and garlic, and cook, stirring, for an additional couple of minutes.

Drain the potatoes, and add to the pot. Add the sliced onion, bay leave, fresh lemon quarter, cilantro and parsley, and saffron. Stir, gently, to mix the ingredients. Add 1 1/2 cups hot water, a hefty pinch of salt, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat until it's just high enough to maintain a simmer, cover, and cook until the potatoes are tender, ~40 minutes. Turn very gently once or twice during cooking, being careful not to crush the potatoes.

When potatoes are tender, use a slotted spoon to transfer to a serving dish. Discard the lemon and bay leaf. Add the olives to the remaining cooking liquid, and simmer, uncovered, until the liquid is reduced to a thick sauce. Taste to correct seasonings, pour the sauce over the potatoes, and top with the preserved lemons. Serve with harissa.