The Evolution of Tapas in Darwin

Discovering North Africa in Australia's Northern Territory.

Before we arrived in Darwin, Australia, we weren’t sure what to expect. We’d spent some time in Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney, and Cairns on a previous trip, and I suppose I thought Darwin would be much the same.

But the country’s Northern Territory has a much different personality than its east coast siblings. Located on the sparkling waters of the Timor Sea, Darwin is a harbor town that was named for naturalist Charles Darwin when British sailors landed on its shores in 1839.

It’s no surprise that you’ll find loads of seafood on local menus, including fresh-caught barramundi, snapper, scallops, prawns, lobster, and oysters.

Our surprising Darwin find was some of the best Moorish food we’ve eaten anywhere on the planet.

The Moors were the Muslim inhabitants of Northern Africa, Sicily, Malta, Spain, and Portugal during the Middle Ages. If you aren’t familiar with their cuisine, you’re still probably familiar with some of their more notable architecture, like the ornate Alhambra palace in Granada, Spain, and Gaudí’s famous Sagrada Família church in Barcelona.

The Darwin restaurant Moorish is a jewel showcasing food from that part of the world. The name is both a play on the Moors and on the British term “moreish,” which means something so scrumptious that you can’t get enough of it. It is entirely accurate in both regards.

Moorish restaurant features a sophisticated menu of tapas that include everything from dukkah, hummus, and harissa to Berber spiced kangaroo with tomato jam. There are incredible entrées, too, but a selection of hearty tapas will give you lovely variety and leave you pleasantly stuffed.

We wandered into Moorish for lunch on our first day in Darwin, and we enjoyed it so much we made a dinner reservation for the very same night. Of all the delectable things we tried, my favorite was a gorgeous dish of roasted pumpkin topped with dried figs and blue cheese, all drizzled with a brown butter dressing.

I’ve dreamed about this dish for two years. I hope you find it dreamy, too.

This week’s subscriber exclusives: Turn this featured dish into a full-blown tapas date night with the addition of Beef Carpaccio and Jalapeño Olive Tapenade with Grilled Sourdough Bread. Subscribers have access to both of these bistro-worthy recipes!

Moorish Roasted Pumpkin with Dried Fig, Blue Cheese, and Brown Butter Dressing

While jack-o-lantern pumpkins are pretty, they have no flavor. You’ll want to choose a sugar pumpkin or pie pumpkin for this recipe. Pumpkin skin is edible, so there’s no need to peel it off unless you simply prefer it skinless.

If your pumpkin is larger, you may wish to double the amount of brown butter vinaigrette you make. And if your figs are too tough to chop easily, soak them in a small bowl of cool water for 30 minutes first.

small roasting pumpkin
avocado or olive oil
4 oz. blue cheese
6 oz. dried figs, chopped
2 oz. (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
salt and freshly-ground black pepper
flat leaf Italian parsley for garnish (optional)

Preheat your oven to 400°F.

Break the stem off the pumpkin and scrub the outer skin as you would clean a potato. Place a towel on your work surface to stabilize the pumpkin as you cut it. Using a large chef’s knife, insert the tip into the pumpkin to start your cut, then gently rock the knife back and forth to cut the pumpkin in half.

Using an ice cream scoop or large metal spoon, remove the pulp and seeds from each half, saving the seeds to roast later. Slice the pumpkin into wedges.

Place the pumpkin wedges in a glass baking dish or on a rimmed roasting pan lined with parchment paper. Drizzle the pumpkin with avocado oil or olive oil, using a basting brush to coat all sides.

Roast until soft. Baking times will vary based on the size of your pumpkin; begin checking for doneness at 15 minutes using a fork to pierce the flesh.

While the pumpkin is roasting, melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. As it melts, whisk it while it continues to cook, watching for it to begin turning light brown. It will start to smell nutty. Remove it from the heat and whisk in the honey and vinegar until it is emulsified. Season with freshly-ground black pepper and salt to taste.

Arrange the roasted pumpkin on individual plates or a serving dish. Top with crumbled blue cheese and diced figs. Drizzle with brown butter vinaigrette. Garnish with parsley and serve immediately. Makes approximately 6 tapas-sized servings or 3 entrées.

For $5 a month or $50 a year, you can get an additional weekly issue of Around the World in 80 Plates that includes bonus recipes not available to the public.

This week’s recipes for subscribers only:

  • Beef carpaccio: This high-end restaurant favorite is easier to make at home than you might think.

  • Jalapeño olive tapenade with grilled sourdough bread: Shake up the traditional Mediterranean tapas dip with the addition of pickled jalapeños, and serve it with bread so good you’ll want a piece with every meal.