Chef Mourad Lahlou’s Prawn-Kumquat Skewers

How pretty are these shrimp-kumquat skewers? And they taste even better than they look.

If ever food on a stick could be drop-dead glam, this would be it.

I practically felt like lighting candles and artfully arranging silk pillows all over the floor to set the proper mood to enjoy them with.

“Prawn-Kumquat Skewers” will do that to you.

The irony is they couldn’t be easier to make, yet they look as if some fancy restaurant made them for a fortune.

The recipe is from the new cookbook, “Mourad: New Moroccan” Artisan) by Mourad Lahlou, chef-proprietor of the magical Aziza in San Francisco, the only Moroccan restaurant in North America to boast a Michelin star.

Born in Marrakesh, Lahlou left his native land at age 17 to study economics at my old alma mater, San Francisco State University. But the flavors of his homeland beckoned him into the kitchen and it wasn’t long before he was running his own restaurant, Aziza.

Over the years, the food there has morphed from traditional to astoundingly progressive, with flavors that are hauntingly true and clear.

The cookbook, of which I received a review copy late last year, reflects all of that. The 170 recipes are meticulous — from making your own hand-rolled couscous and harissa powder to creating the elegant “Berbere-Crusted Scallops with Cauliflower Couscous and Vadouvan Foam.”

The skewers are one of the easier recipes in the book, and sure to become a favorite from November to June, when kumquats are around.

The recipe can be halved easily if you don’t want to cook that many shrimp. It also calls for shrimp that are deveined, but still have the tail shell intact. My shrimp were already completely shelled, so that’s what I used.

The prawns get a heady marinade of garlic, olive oil, turmeric, tarragon, parlsey, cumin, ginger and cilantro. Then, each prawn is carefully wrapped around a cute little kumquat before being skewered.

They cook quickly with the shrimp taking on a nice smoky char from the grill and the kumquats turning soft and juicy.

The flavors are warm and earthy, with a sunny squirt of tart citrus each time you bite into a tender kumquat.

It’s a party on a skewer.

Prawn-Kumquat Skewers

(Serves 6)

36 (about 3 pounds) U12 prawns or jumbo shrimp

For marinade:

2 cups extra virgin olive oil

2 1/2 tablespoons chopped garlic

3 1/2 tablespoons chopped tarragon

1 tablespoon ground turmeric

2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

1 tablespoon ground cumin

2 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro

For rest of skewers:

36 kumquats

Peel prawns, leaving the last section of shell intact. Run a sharp knife down the back of each prawn, just deep enough to expose the vein, and remove and discard vein.

For the marinade: Combine all the marinade ingredients in a large bowl. Toss in the prawns, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or as long as overnight.

To cook: Soak 12 long wooden skewers (or more if you are using shorter ones) in cold water for 30 minutes. Preheat a grill to high heat.

Remove prawns from marinade, squeezing them gently to remove the excess marinade. Curl a prawn around a kumquat and then run a skewer through both ends of the prawn and kumquat to hold the kumquat in place; add 2 more prawns and kumquats to the skewer in the same way, leaving a little space between them, then repeat with the remaining prawns and kumquats.

Place skewers on the grill and cook them for about 1 minute to mark the prawns. Turn skewers 90 degrees to mark with a crosshatch pattern and grill for another 30 seconds. (If using jumbo shrimp, cooking times will be less.) The marks should be well browned but not burnt. Turn skewers over and cook for about 45 seconds, until prawns are cooked through.

Serve on the skewers as is or over couscous.

From “Mourad: New Moroccan” by Mourad Lahlou

More: My Dinner at Aziza

And: Mourad Lahlou’s Shrimp Tagine Recipe

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