Beyond the Tagine in Morocco

For our week long stay in Morocco, we are staying in hotels, which is a change from the self-catering of Airbnbs. So for the first time in two months we are “forced” to eat out and sample the wonderful Moroccan cuisine.

Moroccan food has had many influences, similar to its cultural diversity. Southern Spain, Arabia, France, and the traditional Berber culture, are all melted together, culminating in a wide array of interesting, diverse, and delicious flavours.

The colourful and vibrant marketplace

The colourful and vibrant marketplace

One of my aims before coming to Morocco was to experience a cooking class. I really wanted to get to know, and taste, the talked up cuisine of Morocco! Olive and I got taken to the local markets to purchase the ingredients, then to a traditional Riad (home) to cook up the menu, which I had helped choose.

The huge array of herbs, spices and other unidentified things

The huge array of herbs, spices and other unidentified things

The menu included brewats with beef mince, olives and preserved lemon, the main was a beef tagine with vegetables and preserved lemon. For dessert we made a layered pastry dish (all described below).

At the cooking class

At the cooking class

After cooking we sat by their pool and enjoy the food we had made, with a quick cooling dip afterwards! It was a fabulous experience!

Semolina and wheat flour bread

Semolina and wheat flour bread made during the cooking class.

The tagine is probably the most common of Moroccan dishes. Tagine is actually the name of the clay cooking pot with a conical lid, and there are a myriad of dishes you can cook inside it. They are often loaded with vegetables, making them not only tasty but nutritious as well.

Moroccan tagines

Moroccan tagines

Many of the tagine combinations include dried fruit like dates, apricots or sultanas, which certainly challenges my perceptions of a savoury dish. Although after trying a lamb and prune tagine I could be lured in again!

Lamb and prune tajine

Lamb and prune tagine

One speciality is the kefta tagine, which is meatballs, beef or lamb mince, with garlic, fresh coriander and parsley, cinnamon and ground coriander, cooked in a tomato and onion sauce. Then eggs are cracked into depressions in the sauce and cooked to perfection. Simple but very tasty!

Kefta and egg tagine

Kefta and egg tagine

You can also get a special Berber omelette, which is the eggs cooked in the tagine with spices and an onion/tomato mix.

Berber omelette

Berber omelette

Couscous is a staple of Moroccan cuisine, featured on all menus. It is steamed, and always served with vegetables, and sometimes meat. It is not just food, but a work of art, with vegetables cut a certain way to be layered over the meat so it​ looks attractive.

Coucous stacked with vegetables

couscous stacked with vegetables

Kebabs (or brouchettes), either mince or pieces of meat grilled on long skewers.

Kebabs or brouchettes

Kebabs or brouchettes

Harisa paste is a spicy chili sauce with typical Moroccan spices, often served with meals, and used in cooking.

Olives are usually served with drinks before your meal arrives, and can be warmed in Harissa paste for extra hot flavour.

Delicious olives in harisa paste

Delicious olives in harissa paste

Harira is a hearty soup often eaten during the holy month of Ramadan. The taste reminded us a little of minestrone but with a bit more ooomph! It is a rich tomato broth, cooked with lentils, chickpeas and lamb, and a squeeze of lemon juice and coriander. It was really flavoursome and a great starter to any meal, or even as a main course with some bread.

Harira soup

Harira soup

Another fantastic street food is the brewat, a little bit like triangular spring rolls, sold on many street corners and also in fancy restaurants. They are filled with a variety of things, like mince or potato, a real treat enjoyed by all of us.

Brewats were a handy snack for anytime

Brewats were a handy snack for anytime

One of the most interesting foods we came across was the bastilla (or pastillas). It’s the classic mix of sweet and savoury, and was actually quite good! It is a chicken pie cooked with saffron, with a pastry crust and top, sprinkled with icing sugar… yes you read that right, straight up powdered sugar which makes the whole dish really sweet, strange but actually really nice. It has to be tried to be believed!

Bastilla, the classic sweet and savoury

Bastilla, the classic sweet and savoury

The cooking class dessert we made was probably a version of the French dessert mille-feuille. Made from deep-fried rounds of thin pastry, then layered with cream and chopped fried almonds, which is the traditional Moroccan version. However, we also made a more moist version with fresh fruit which I preferred.

Moroccan layered pastry dessert

The Moroccan layered pastry that I made in the cooking class

There are lots of desserts to try, which are often really sweet, and commonly include dates, figs and nuts, covered in pastry, fried, and soaked in sweet syrup. Sticky goodness.

More sweets with figs and nuts

More sweets with figs and nuts

Moroccans often provide a fruit salad after a meal, and one of the traditional options is orange sprinkled with cinnamon, simple but delicious! Another fruit which is everywhere is the date, delicious and very sweet like a lolly!

Orange and cinnamon simplicity

Orange and cinnamon simplicity

There are plenty of fresh fruit juice stalls in the main square all trying their hardest to get your business. It’s hard to say no when it’s so hot! Freshly squeezed orange juice is the most common, and can be had for between 50 cents and 1 euro each.

Cheap fresh juices, with friendly juicers!

Cheap fresh juices, with friendly juicers!

Mint tea, once described to us as Berber whiskey, is their staple drink. It was served as a welcome drink on arrival at our accommodation, and is rather refreshing.

Mint tea is the Moroccan welcome drink

Mint tea is the Moroccan welcome drink

It is usually made with dried mint leaves as well as fresh mint leaves, which leads to an interesting fresh but strong taste.

Refreshing mint tea

Refreshing mint tea

It has been an alcohol free week for us, staying in a Muslim country, though after a long hot day a beer would have been perfect. You could find one if you really wanted some, but for us it was a break that the body is probably happy about.

Hotel breakfast; breads, jams, olives and eggs

Hotel breakfast; breads, jams, olives and eggs

It has also been a little strange being in a Muslim country during the holy month of Ramadan. The locals can not eat, drink or even smoke during daylight hours. After sunset they feast, then again before the sun rises, and their sleeping habits are mixed up as well because of this. Occasionally restaurants were closed, but on the whole most tourist cafes were open.

We felt a bit guilty eating in front of the staff who cook and serve food all day, when they themselves cannot eat! Fortunately we did not have to follow those eating times.

Dinner with a view

Dinner with a view at Ait Ben Haddou

As you can see we tried a lot of different Moroccan dishes during our short stay. There was actually not much scope for international foods on any menus, and there are only so many tagines you can eat.

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