We just got back from a memorable trip to Morocco. It was a long time awaited dream of mine and it finally happened. Morocco is a mesmerizing and astonishingly beautiful country. Every region is so different and has it’s own character. Our journey took us from the crisp ocean breeze of Atlantic coast resort Essaouira through dramatic and overpowering Atlas Mountains, all away down to the serenity of the largest Sahara Desert, near the Algerian border. We passed ancient Kzars (villages) in the rural south and climbed through the most fertile part of the country, Rif Mountains only to find ourselves wandering through vibrant souks (markets) of Fez and strolling by the Imperial walls of Meknez.
Everywhere we went, we were swamped with history, culture, craftsmanship, architecture, people, and FOOD. Moroccan cuisine is colorful, vibrant, fragrant, and flavorful. It’s very much influenced by Morocco’s interactions and exchanges with other cultures and nations over the centuries. Moroccan cuisine is typically a mix of Arabic, Andalusian, Berber and Mediterranean cuisines with a slight European and Sub Saharan influence.
Of all the ingredients used in Moroccan cooking, perhaps none is as distinctive as the combinations of spices. Spices are used to create rich, flavorful sauces, to add sweet and savory notes to dishes, to brighten and season and to add gentle spiciness and heat. Often, spices are bought whole, ground fresh, and added to a dish at the beginning of cooking, so that their flavors have time to develop and deepen.
Spices are used to add rich and complex flavors to a myriad of Moroccan dishes, like tajines, couscous, vegetable stews, chickpeas, dips…even desserts.
We took cooking classes in Morocco with our guide wife, Naima.
It was not a formal cooking class, it was more like a cooking at home with friends. Naima took us to her “spice” man to get spices for cooking class as well as getting educated and purchase some to bring home.
Mohamed’s (“spice” man) family was in spice business for centuries and knowledge was passed from generation to generation. Calm, attentive and extremely knowledgable, he opened a door to his treasure and share his passion with us.
Naima took packed spices home for our class and we were up to a challenge.
We cooked a starter – MORROCAN EGGPLANTS AND TOMATOES SALAD (ZAALOUK)
and a main dish – Beef Tajine.
And we got spices from Mohamed to take home.
Cumin – one of the world’ s most popular spices, cumin adds an enticing warmth and complexity to meat and poultry. It also adds a bold, rich flavor to roasts, tajines and curries. To get the most flavorful taste and aroma from cumin, buy whole seeds and grind them yourself.
Turmeric – prized for its rich golden hue and mild yet pungent mustard-ginger flavor, it is used to add depth to spice blends.
Mohamed prepared different Spice Blends for meat, poultry, fish and vegetables:
- Melange pour tagine – red meat and veggies
- Melange pur poulet – chicken
- Melange pour Ratatouille – veggies only
- Melange pour poisson – fish
- Melange pour salad
- Melange pour couscous – cooked with steamer over meat and veggies
And finally the most important, spice of the spice that adding to everything but dessert, Ras el hanout–the most fundamental spice blend in Morocco. Ras el hanout can be used in a myriad of ways: as a dry rub for poultry and meat; as a flavoring for rice; in yogurt dip; in bean and vegetable stews and braises.
Now, we are fully equipped for Moroccan cooking and eager to start and share with you. I’m just missing preserved lemons
but will learn how to make it.