Saturday, 1 March 2014

Moroccan Delights

We have all embraced Morocco! Famous for its tajines (or tagines) and spicy, aromatic foods. It's culture a blend of Arabic, Berber and African influences existing over many centuries. But what do we really know about this exotic country other than how it is portrayed in the 1942 movie 'Casablanca'? 
This film, starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman was made entirely in film studios of America, with left over props and stage settings from other movies. Any reference to Morocco was in name only!

Did you know that Casablanca has over 3 million people and it is the largest city in Morocco, but Rabat is the capital. The currency is called Moroccan Dirham and is often abbreviated to Dh or MAD!

But let's concentrate on the food, because that's what we are here for, isn't it?
As part of the spice trade, Morocco has been blessed with an array of aromatic spices. This leads to dishes and enhancements such as 'chermoula' , 'harissa' and that wonderful spice blend 'ras el hanoult'. Preserved lemons added to couscous, honey, cinnamon and almond pastries and thick stews of dried fruit and vegetables are just a few of my most favourite tastes. And, all this leaves the most superb aroma in the house, better and cheaper than any room freshener.

My request to family members for a ceramic Tajine has so far fallen on deaf ears, (hint, hint) so when making tajines I use a mixture of 'Le Crueset and large stainless steel pots, depending on how many people I am cooking for. I have a small slow cooker, which is perfect for making smaller batches and experimenting with different spices. While this is not authentic, the tastes are pretty damn good.
(All the photographs of Morocco are by Victoria Hannan. They were taken in the markets and souks around Marrakech and Rabat in 2013.)

I have Morocco on my bucket list, but I think it will be 2016 before I can even think about a visit because my 2014 and 2015 trips are already spoken for.
Marrakech has a huge spice market and I think a visit just for this alone would be well worth it.

For something a little bit exotic I am sharing with you the perfect recipe for a Vegetable Tajine. It has all the ingredients to give you that wonderful taste of Morocco, without leaving your dining room. Put on some arabic music, and imagine you are in a dusty market somewhere in Morocco. "Here's lookin' at you kid"
Vegetable Tajine


Serves 6 people

2 cloves garlic crushed
1 large onion thinly sliced
300g prepared pumpkin
100g green beans
400g tin chick peas
2 large tomatoes chopped
3 potatoes peeled and chopped into wedges
pinch saffron
2 tsps sweet paprika
2 tsps turmeric
1 cinnamon stick
1 tbls cumin seed
handful of dried apricots sliced
handful of prunes sliced
1/2 cup sultanas or raisins
salt and pepper
2 carrots chopped into batons
1/2 bunch coriander chopped
Few sprigs mint chopped
2 small eggplants sliced
10 black olives
1 or 2 small red chillies
1/4 - 1/2 preserved lemon chopped
plain yoghurt

This does look like a lot of ingredients, but you really need all of these to get the balance of flavours right. Here's my photo of some of the ingredients as I was gathering everything together.

  • In a large pan, preferably what you want to cook the whole dish in, add oil and heat slowly.
  • Take the chopped onion and garlic and fry off until they start to soften. Add the spices; paprika, turmeric, cinnamon and stir for a couple of minutes, if it gets too hot and dry, add a tablespoon of water. Add 3 tablespoons hot water to the saffron and leave for a couple of minutes before adding to the pan. Break the chillis in half a place in the pan.
  • Add tomatoes, 1/4 bunch coriander, all the fruit, eggplants, pumpkin, olives, green beans, potatoes, carrots, any other vegetables you have chosen and stir well. Cook this very slowly, either in the oven, cooktop, slow cooker or a Tajine!
  • When everything seems to be cooked, approximately 1 hr or more depending on your cooking method, take out the chillies.
  • Adjust seasoning, add the rest of the coriander, chopped mint and the chopped preserved lemon and serve with a dollop of yoghurt. You can also serve this with some spiced couscous, but I like it by itself.
Later this week I will post my recipes for Chermoula because I need to make some tomorrow for a fish dish I am cooking for family members.  I will also post a quick and easy Harissa Paste recipe. If I have time to whip up a dessert, I will post that too because I have a great one in mind.  Besseha!

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