I have just returned from a very pleasant week in Moorish Spain and Morocco, where I was able to renew a longtime love affair with Middle Eastern food.

It's a pleasure to spend a week without a chain restaurant in sight, and an even bigger pleasure to eat good food prepared as it has been for thousands of years by cooks who understand that some things just can't be rushed.

The three most famous dishes from that part of the world are, in no particular order, paella, cous cous, and tangine. Paella and cous cous are already well known to many Americans, so let us go off the beaten path, so to speak, and talk about dishes from that area of the world that are not as well known here.

Before the main course arrives, there will be soup and appetizers. Moroccans are very big into hearty, homemade vegetable soups, usually pureed, usually containing carrots, chick peas, lentils and onions. On a cold day, a bowl of hot Moroccan soup can make one feel human again.

As much as I enjoy a good soup, I am particularly partial to Middle Eastern salads. My favorite is eggplant and tomato - boil the eggplant and cook the tomatoes in olive oil, then combine the two with garlic, red pepper, lemon juice, vinegar, paprika and cumin, then cook over slow heat for an hour. It can be served hot or cold; and I especially like it cold.

Other salads are tomato, cucumber or beet salads. In each case, you add a generous amount of parsley, chopped onion, lemon juice, white pepper and olive oil.

Now to the main event. Tangine is actually a method of preparing meat when you have some time to devote to it.

Lamb, chicken or beef are placed in a clay pot with other ingredients, placed directly on a low fire, and allowed to slow cook. The clay pot is then brought to the table and, if done right, the food will still be bubbly hot when it arrives. There are large tangine pots for the entire family and smaller, individual ones. I had a lamb tangine in the city of Fes that was superb. Cooked with the lamb were prunes, hard boiled eggs, sesame seeds and almonds; the liquid tasted of orange juice, cardamom, honey and saffron.

For lamb lovers, another sublime Moroccan dish is meshoui. Take a 4-pound leg of lamb and generously rub it with paprika, black pepper, garlic and cumin.

Place the lamb in the center of a roasting pan, then surround it with carrots, onions, tomatoes, and celery. Cook uncovered at 350 for 20 minutes, then add a quart of water, cover, and cook for two hours more. Make a sauce of the drippings, tomato paste and water.

There are two featured recipes this week, one for lemon chicken and one for skhina. Skhina was designed so that those who celebrate the Sabbath - whether Muslims on Friday or Jews on Saturday - could precook a meal the night before and enjoy it for the Sabbath.

Mel Dahl is a food writer. He can be reached at 863-421-5577.