Not quite a recipe but some background on Moroccan cuisine to enjoy with of course a plentiful helping of Morocco Gold extra virgin olive oil!
‘Of all things to be eaten once a day, it is alcuzcuçu because it costs little and nourishes a lot,”Arab traveller Leo Africanus (1465AD to 1550)
Considered by many to be the unofficial dish of Morocco, the name for these tiny steamed balls of semolina is believed to have been derived from the Berber words “seksu” or “kesksu”, meaning “well-rolled” or “well-rounded”.
Often served with stew on top, the origin of couscous is a matter of debate. One thing is certain, though: it, along with Moroccan mint tea, have become culinary ambassadors for a national cuisine spanning centuries.
However, the mixture of the smell of couscous in the kitchen, and the tagine, inside the special clay cooking pot, mixed with all the herbs and the fresh mint creates a very memorable odour like taking a one-way ticket to the middle of the Marrakech spice souq.
The mix of up to 20 or 30 spices: bay laurel, dry ginger, long pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, mace, star anise, fennel, nutmeg, cumin, peppercorn, galangal, coriander seed, turmeric and so on combine in a harmonious way to deliver a wonderfully exotic taste experience.
A Traditional Moroccan Feast
Tradition dictates a certain order when serving Moroccan cuisine. First, salads are served. These can include a mixture of raw and cooked vegetables, such as beetroots, carrots, cucumber with orange-blossom water, lemon, sugar and olive oil.
Zaalouk is another popular salad dish, made from aubergine and tomatoes, with garlic, olive oil and spices. Taktouka is another staple, consisting of a purée of tomatoes and green pepper.
Also served are briouat or birwat, sweet triangular or cylindrical pastries filled with meat or chicken mixed with cheese, pepper and lemon.
The first main dish can then be tagine. Tagine became the name of the dish, but primarily it is the name of the pot you cook it in. A tagine can be made using lamb with prunes, or chicken, either in an onion sauce with dried apricots, or with olives and potatoes. A host might also serve b’sara (fava bean soup) or b’stilla (a pie containing pigeon or seafood) dishes to their guests.
Couscous tends to be part of the second main dish served along with others such as rfissa (chicken with lentils and pan-fried dough). Dishes are always accompanied with bread.
For desert, plates of fresh fruits and a cup of fresh mint tea are served, along with pastries such as kaab al ghazal (gazelle horn, a crescent-shaped cookie made of sweet-almond paste, orange blossom water and cinnamon).
To help with digestion and overall health, herb-infused teas are sipped at the end of the meal. The herbs include naanaa (mint), louisa (lemon-scented verbena) and sheba (wormwood).
Cooking together in the kitchen is a very important to family tradition, where all the women of the family cook and catch up on the latest news. Cooking skills are passed down from gereration to generation.
Sources Of Moroccan Cuisine
Moreover, Moroccan cuisine combines Arab, Berber, African, Mediterranean and European influences and has historically been referred to as “a cuisine of the kings”.
Paula Wolfert is an award-winning author from the United States, who has more than 40 years of experience with Mediterranean food. She has written nine books, two of them about Moroccan cuisine.
“Morocco is blessed,” she says. “Developed in the kitchens of the royal palaces of Fez, Meknes, Marrakech and Rabat, the four royal cities, it reached summits of perfection.”
Bisteeya for example, Wolfert explains, had its humble origins in a simple Berber dish of chicken cooked with saffron and butter, before it was revamped in the royal kitchens.
“It was combined with the primitive Arab pastry called trid, enhanced when Arabs later brought the fine art of Persian pastry-making to Morocco, and was further embellished with Andalusian ideas until it became the bisteeya we know today,” she says.
From a culinary point of view, cultural influences can be seen widely in the three gastronomic centres of the country.
“In the Berber city of Marrakech, the food is basically Berber, with a Senegalese and African influence,” says Wolfert.
“In the Arab city of Fez, the cuisine shows the influence of Andaluz, and in the Andalusian city of Tetuan, the Spanish influence is strongest, with some Ottoman traces.
“Portuguese influence may be found in the cuisine of the Portuguese settlement cities on the Atlantic coast, and Essaouira, a city of white buildings and blue shutters, became the home of a large Jewish population who worked out their own variations on the national cuisine.”
What, then, makes a cuisine great? The author says four things are required.
“The first is an abundance of fine ingredients, a rich land,” she says. “The second is a variety of cultural influences: the history of the nation, including its domination by foreign powers, and the culinary secrets it has brought back from its own imperialist adventures.
“Thirdly, a great civilisation. If a country has not had its day in the sun, its cuisine will probably not be great. Great food and a great civilisation go together. Last, the existence of a refined palace life. Without the demands of a cultivated court, the imaginations of a nation’s cooks will not be challenged.”