Thursday, March 29, 2012

Morocco - The Food

Can you believe I've waited this long to go into detail on the fabulous food of Morocco?  I wanted to establish the sense of place first, and now that you know where we are, it's time to dive into the world of gastronomy.

Just about every day we had a cooking class wherever we were with the local chef, which gave a nice comparison of different styles and techniques. The star attraction has to be the tagine.  They cook everything in it - chicken, lamb, vegetables, eggs, you name it.

On our first day in Marrakech, the lovely Baija from Jnane Tamsna, helped us make chicken tagine with many different variations on spices and vegetables according to taste. 

I made a spice filled chicken, artichoke and brussels sprout tagine with notes of ginger, turmeric, garlic, and cumin.  The beauty of all of our cooking classes was that we'd get to eat our hard work for lunch or dinner afterwards.  I was quite pleased with my chicken tagine.

In Marrakech, we put all the ingredients with the raw chicken in the tagine, and then on the fire outside to cook.  At the Kasbah du Toubkal in Imlil, chef Omar cooked everything inside and browned the lamb before adding the rest of the ingredients like fresh figs and walnuts, which also made for a tasty, and more browned, meat.

At Sidi Kaouki, we totally switched things up and made Berber Omelets in the tagine using a base of tomatoes and spices, and then cooked the eggs right on top, resulting in a perfect breakfast dish for guests or yourself with some bread.

On our drive from Imlil back to Marrakech, we made the best of stops at Nectarome Gardens.  Not only can they tell you about the healing properties of every herb in their garden, they also have fabulous oils, soaps, and lotions.  As if that's not enough, they gave us a bread making lesson, with olive oil tasting and a wonderful afternoon.


Back in Marrakech, Baija patiently and energetically led us through many afternoons of cooking.  We learned about different types of couscous, and how to cook it when it doesn't come in a box with boil and go instructions. 

It requires much hand holding and caressing, and while it may be a sensual experience, I'm not 100% sure I noticed a great enough difference to give up my afternoon in exchange for the instant box variety.

I do have to say that it made for some lovely one plate presentations.

We also did a day playing with the similar flavors of Spain and Morocco by cooking a Spanish tortilla and a wonderful tapenade with figs, walnuts, olives and balsamic vinegar.

All of our cooking prepped us for a trip to the Spice Market in the Medina.  You smell it before you see it, but the spices are all so fresh and fragrant that most of us ended up taking quite a few home.  My little Parisian apartment (and my neighbors) have never smelled such things coming from my place.

Everywhere we went, we were treated to traditional Moroccan tea.  The mint tea has about 25 pounds of sugar in it so naturally it's sinfully delicious.  I tried to opt for the fresh Verbena tea when possible, which was lighter and still refreshing.  There is much ceremony that goes into the making of the tea with multiple washings and specific pourings.  Girls at the age of 12 are supposed to be able to make bread and perform the tea ritual, which then decides her fate as a wife.  I did see some Lipton tea bags in a few locations, so not sure if that's what happens once you land the man.

Our final day we made kefta, spice filled meat balls, cooked in a bed of tomatoes and those were delicious and definitely something I will try to repeat again. 


Unfortunately the painstaking pastilla was the least favorite dish, but it certainly looked pretty and a lot of love went into the making.  I suppose it was a fitting ending to prepare us for the transition of cooking unsupervised.

It was a fluke though as every meal we had was really outstanding, and it was always served in a lovely location, usually under the stars with beautiful local greenery around us.

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