Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Morocco: The food

One of the greatest pleasures of a trip to Morocco is the food. Moroccan cuisine is unusual and very distinctive, using a combination of ingredients and spices that are unlike any other I have ever eaten. The combination of sweet and savory, sour and spicy and that fragrant combination of cumin, turmeric, ginger, cloves, cinnamon and saffron is irresistable. If you need a little heat, harissa, a flavorful chili paste, is a common addition. The dish, above is lamb with dried apricots, prunes, almonds and sesame seeds. The flavorful broth is the stuff of dreams.  This, like many Moroccan dishes was cooked in a tagine, which is a ceramic vessel with a domed lid that catches the steam from the cooking food and redirects it back onto the dish, creating moist, tender meat and vegetables, bathed in mouth-watering flavor from spices, olives, preserved lemon, garlic and onion. Are you hungry, yet? The tagine is placed directly on the stove to cook, or, more traditionally, on a small charcoal grill. 

In addition to the tagine, other staples of the Moroccan diet include small salads, skewered, grilled meat, fresh fruit, olives, nuts and traditional bread. The bread is made using semolina flour which gives it a beautiful golden color, and is often flavored with anise seed. It is baked daily. Most communities have a community oven where people take their loaves to be baked. Some people have their own small clay, outdoor ovens. And, of course one can always buy fresh bread in the open air markets. The bread is wonderful. It's an easy recipe and I have been making it in my own kitchen since our return. 

In Morocco we ate in restaurants, mostly, but were treated to a dinner in a private home, prepared by a Moroccan family. A very special meal with lovely people.  

A highlight of our tour was a cooking class in Marrakech. The Lotus Cooking School was created to provide training for Moroccan women, leaving abusive marriages to prepare them for restaurant jobs as chefs, bakers and cooks. Our teachers, for the day, included some of these women. Our main teacher was our beautiful "Dada"—the word used for female chefs. 

For our cooking lesson we first learned about the spices and how the bread was made, then with the Dada's instruction, we prepared chicken with olives and preserved lemon tagine, two different salads, including one topped with a tomato rose (fancy!) and two different beverages. 

Then we ate. It was one of the most delicious meals of my life—truly!

We ate well. We ate often. Everything was delicious. I almost hate to admit this, but even the French fries were outstanding! We learned this with our travel companions and friends, the Olafsons, on the first day, meeting up for a drink and snack in the hotel bar. It became a special treat. After a large midday meal, dinner could easily be a glass of wine and fries. What made them so good?  We never found out. 

Have I mentioned that Morocco, as a whole, was a treat for the senses? Nothing more so than the food. 

Tagines cooking on individual charcoal grills, for our outdoor lunch at an herb garden..

Breakfast with dates, fig jam, thick, chewy pancakes and cafe au lait.

Dinner at a fancy restaurant