FOODS OF THE MOROCCANS
Morocco, unlike most other African countries, produces all the food it needs to feed its people. Its many home-grown fruits and vegetables include oranges, melons, tomatoes, sweet and hot peppers, and potatoes. Five more native products that are especially important in Moroccan cooking are lemons, olives, figs, dates, and almonds. Located on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, the country is rich in fish and seafood. Beef is not plentiful, so meals are usually built around lamb or poultry.
Flat, round Moroccan bread is eaten at every meal. The Moroccan national dish is the tajine, a lamb or poultry stew. Other common ingredients may include almonds, hard-boiled eggs, prunes, lemons, tomatoes, and other vegetables. The tajine, like other Moroccan dishes, is known for its distinctive flavoring, which comes from spices including saffron, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, ginger, and ground red pepper. The tajine's name is taken from the distinctive earthenware dish with a cone-shaped top in which it is cooked and served. Another Moroccan dietary staple is couscous, made from fine grains of a wheat product called semolina. It is served many different ways, with vegetables, meat, or seafood.
Sweets play a very important role in the Moroccan diet. Every household has a supply of homemade sweet desserts made from almonds, honey, and other ingredients. Mint tea is served with every meal in Morocco. It is sweetened while it is still in the pot.
Chicken Tajine with Almonds and Prunes
- 6 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon powdered cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon powdered ginger
- ½ teaspoon powdered saffron (optional)
- 3 short cinnamon sticks
- 4 ounces butter
- 2 large onions
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 strip lemon peel
- 1 pound dried prunes
- Blanched almonds
- Fresh watercress or mint
- Combine the oil and ground spices in a large bowl.
- Cut the chicken into cubes and chop the onion finely. Put the chicken and onion into the bowl with the oil and spices. Combine well and let stand for 30 minutes.
- Melt the butter in a large skillet. Add the chicken, searing (browning) them lightly on all sides.
- Add any remaining marinade and enough water to cover. Simmer until chicken is tender (about 30 minutes).
- While the chicken is cooking, put the prunes in a small saucepan, cover with water and bring the water to a bowl. Remove the pan from the heat and let them stand for 20 minutes.
- Drain the prunes, return them to the pan, and ladle a little liquid from the meat pan over the prunes. Simmer the prunes for 5 minutes.
- Add the lemon peel, cinnamon sticks, and half the sugar to the prunes.
- Stir the remaining sugar into the meat.
- Arrange the meat on a serving platter. Add the prunes to the meat, and pour the sauce from the prunes over the meat and prunes.
- Boil the remaining liquid from the meat rapidly to reduce it by half and pour over the meat and prunes.
- Melt a small amount of butter in a saucepan and brown the almonds lightly. Garnish the tajine with the almonds and watercress or mint.
- Serve with rice or couscous.
Serves 10 to 12.
In Morocco, tajine is the name of both the stew and the covered clay pot it is baked in. The tajine may be called the "Moroccan crockpot" because it is used to slow-cook meat dishes. EPD Photos/Yzza
Moroccan Mint Tea
- 1½ Tablespoons green tea (or 2 teabags of green tea)
- Boiling water
- 3 Tablespoons sugar (or to taste)
- Handful (about 2 Tablespoons) of fresh or dried spearmint leaves
- Put the tea in a 2-pint teapot and fill it with boiling water.
- Let the tea steep (soak) for 2 minutes.
- Add mint leaves and sugar to taste.
FOOD FOR RELIGIOUS AND HOLIDAY CELEBRATIONS
Muslim dietary restrictions prohibit the consumption of pork and alcohol. During the holy season of Ramadan, when Muslims fast during the day, a thick soup called harira is served at night. A bowl of harira, which is made with beans and lamb, is served with fresh dates. It is served both at home and in cafes. For the holiday Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, a holiday feast is prepared. A popular dish at this feast is bisteeya, made with pigeon meat wrapped in pastry dough. More than 100 layers of pastry dough may be used.
The Muslim feast day of Eid el Kebir takes place seventy days after Ramadan. For this holiday, a sheep is roasted on a spit and served whole at the table. Each person cuts off a piece and dips it into a dish of cumin. Rich date bars called mescouta are a popular dessert at many festive occasions.
Cashew bisteeya (pie made with phyllo dough)
Couscous with fennel
Fresh seasonal fruit and dates
Assortment of salads
Tajine of potatoes, peas, and artichoke hearts
Dates stuffed with almond paste
Fresh seasonal fruit
Mescouta (Date Cookies)
- 6 eggs, well beaten
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ cup (1 stick) melted butter or margarine
- ¾ cup flour
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- 1 cup pitted dates, chopped
- ½ cup walnuts or almonds, finely chopped
- ⅓ cup raisins, seedless
- 3 Tablespoons confectioners' sugar
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- In large mixing bowl, mix eggs, sugar, vanilla, and melted butter or margarine by hand (or with an electric mixer) until well-blended (mix for about 3 minutes).
- Gradually stir in flour and baking powder, a little at a time, stirring with a wooden spoon to blend.
- Add dates, nuts, and raisins, and mix well.
- Pour mixture into greased 8- or 9-inch square cake pan.
- Bake for about 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
- While still warm, cut into rectangular bars about an inch wide.
- Put 3 Tablespoons confectioners' sugar into a small dish.
- Roll each bar in confectioners' sugar.
- Store bars in a box with wax paper between layers.
Makes 24 to 30 bars.
After baking, Mescouta (Date Cookies) are rolled in confectioners' sugar. EPD Photos
- 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
- 3 cloves garlic, crushed, or 1 teaspoon garlic granules
- 2 large onions, grated
- ½ cup almonds, sliced
- 1 cup fresh parsley, finely-chopped or ½ cup dried parsley flakes
- 2 teaspoons ginger, ground
- 3 teaspoons cinnamon, ground, or more as needed
- 5 cups boneless, skinless chicken, cooked and cut into bite-size chunks
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 cup butter or margarine, more or less as needed
- 5 eggs, beaten until frothy
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1 pound package frozen phyllo dough (available in freezer section of most supermarkets), thawed according to directions on package
- 2 teaspoons confectioners' sugar, more or less as needed
A shopper selects lemons from the stock at an open-air market. Moroccan cooking uses ingredients common to North Africa, such as lemons, olives, figs, dates, and almonds. Cory Langley
- In large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat.
- Add garlic, onions, almonds, parsley, ginger, and 2 teaspoons cinnamon. Stirring constantly, fry until onions are soft, about 3 minutes.
- Remove from heat, add cooked chicken and salt and pepper to taste, and stir well. Set aside.
- Melt 2 Tablespoons butter or margarine in medium skillet over medium heat.
- Add eggs, sugar, and 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, and stir well.
- Adding more butter or margarine if necessary to prevent sticking, stir constantly until eggs are soft scrambled, about 5 minutes.
- Add to chicken mixture and lightly toss together.
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Melt ½ cup butter or margarine in small saucepan.
- Brush bottom and sides of pie pan with melted butter or margarine.
- Remove sheets of phyllo from package and unfold; keep covered with clean, dampened paper towel.
- Center one phyllo sheet in buttered pie pan and gently press into the pan, leaving a generous overhang all around the top edge.
- Brush the first sheet with plenty of melted butter or margarine.
- Layer 5 more sheets of phyllo dough, brushing each one with melted butter or margarine.
- Fill crust with chicken mixture and cover with 3 more layers of phyllo, brushing each with butter or margarine.
- Roll overhanging edges together and tuck inside of pie pan rim.
- Brush top and edges with the remaining melted butter or margarine.
- Using fork, poke about 8 steam vents into top of crust.
- Bake in oven for about 20 minutes or until golden brown.
- Remove from oven and sprinkle top with confectioners' sugar and cinnamon.
Serves 6 to 8.
- 4 Tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 teaspoon ginger, ground
- 1 teaspoon cumin, ground
- 3 cans (approximately 6 cups) chicken or vegetable broth
- 8 ounces (1¼ cups) green lentils, washed
- 1 14-ounce can chopped tomatoes
- 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained
- 3 Tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
- 3 Tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
- Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
- Lemon juice (optional)
- In a large saucepan, heat half the oil. Add the onion and cook 10 minutes, until soft.
- Add the garlic, turmeric, ginger, and cumin and cook a few more minutes.
- Stir in the stock and add the lentils and tomatoes.
- Bring to a boil, cover and simmer 20 minutes or until the lentils are soft.
- Stir in the chickpeas, remaining olive oil, cilantro, parsley, salt, pepper and lemon juice (if using), and simmer 5 more minutes.
Serves 8 to 10.
Fried Baby Carrots
- 1 pound baby carrots
- 3 Tablespoons olive oil
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- Grated rind of 1 lemon
- Juice of ½ lemon
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 Tablespoons fresh mint, roughly chopped
- Sprigs of mint, to garnish
- Heat the oil in a skillet large enough to hold the carrots in a single layer.
- Add the carrots and cook gently 15 minutes, shaking frequently.
- Add the garlic and cook 10 minutes more until the carrots are tender and spotted with brown.
- Add the sugar and cook 2 minutes.
- Stir in the lemon rind and juice and season with salt and pepper.
- Stir in the chopped mint and transfer to a serving dish.
- Garnish with sprigs of mint.
Makes 4 servings.
Moroccans eat their meals at low round tables, sitting on cushions on the floor. They eat with their hands instead of silverware, using the thumb and first two fingers of their right hands. They also use pieces of bread to soak up sauces and carry food to the mouth. Small warmed, damp towels are passed around before the meal to make sure everyone's hands are clean. Most meals consist of a single main dish, often a stew, a couscous dish, or a hearty soup. It is served with bread, salad, cold vegetables, and couscous or rice on the side. A typical breakfast might include beyssara (dried fava beans stewed with cumin and paprika), beghrir (pancakes), and bread. Two breakfast favorites that may sound exotic to Westerners are lambs' heads and calves' feet .
Although Moroccans love sweets, they are usually saved for special occasions. With everyday meals, the most common dessert is fresh fruit.
The sweetened mint tea that comes with every meal is served a special way. It is brewed in a silver teapot and served in small glasses. When the tea is poured, the pot is held high above the glasses to let air mix with the tea. Tea is served not only at home but also in public places. In stores, merchants often offer tea to their customers.
Morocco is famous for the wide range of delicious foods sold by its many street vendors. These include soup, shish kebab, roasted chickpeas, and salads. Both full meals and light snacks are sold. A favorite purchase is sugared doughnuts tied together on a string to carry home.
Chickpea, Feta, and Olive Salad
Ingredients for salad
- 2 cans (15-ounce each) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 5 ounces feta cheese, cut into cubes
- 8 ounces cherry or grape tomatoes
- 2 ounces pitted black olives
- 4 Tablespoons flat leaf parsley
- Lettuce or other salad greens
Ingredients for dressing
- 5 Tablespoons olive oil
- 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- Salt, to taste
- Place the chickpeas in a bowl and add the feta cheese cubes.
- Cut the tomatoes in half if necessary, to make them bite-sized.
- Add tomatoes to the chickpeas and feta cheese mixture. Add the black olives, parsley, and lettuce.
- Combine dressing ingredients in a small bowl.
- Pour over chickpea mixture, toss gently, and chill.
- Serve chilled or at room temperature.
Moroccan "String of Doughnuts"
- One box doughnuts (may be regular or "mini" size)
- Clean heavy string (such as kitchen twine)
- Large safety pin
- Cut several 2-foot pieces of string.
- Tie the safety pin to the end of the string.
- Using the safety pin as a "needle," thread the string through the center holes of 3 or 4 doughnuts.
- Remove the safety pin and tie the ends of the string together.
- Repeat, making several strings of donuts to share as a snack with friends.
- ⅓ cup cornstarch
- 3 cups milk
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1 cinnamon stick
- ½ cup almond, finely chopped
- 2 Tablespoons orange flower water (optional)
- In a small bowl, dilute the cornstarch with ½ cup of the milk. Set aside.
- In a heavy, medium saucepan, bring the remaining 2½ cups milk, sugar, and cinnamon stick to a boil.
- Add the cornstarch mixture.
- Whisk continuously until the mixture thickens, about 5 minutes.
- Remove from the heat and remove the cinnamon stick.
- Optional: stir in the orange flower water. Pour into 5 dessert bowls and let cool.
- Sprinkle with the chopped almonds. Serve chilled or at room temperature.
Sweet Grated Carrot Salad
- 4 to 6 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon, ground
- 1½ teaspoons confectioners' sugar
- Juice of 2 oranges
- 1¾ pounds carrots, grated
- Mix the chopped parsley with the cinnamon, sugar, and orange juice in a salad bowl.
- Add the grated carrots and mix well.
- Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Serve slightly chilled.
Serves 10 to 12.
DAIRY PRODUCTS Fresh milk consumption is considered to be low, but for good reasons. As in other areas of North Africa and the Middle East, transportation and storage facilities make it difficult to distribute perishables such as fresh milk.Whether out of taste or out of necessity, leben is a favored beverage. It is similar to buttermilk except that the natural milk from which the butter is churned is first allowed to ferment in an earthen jug. The low-fat leben is widely used especially by lower-income groups; cream and natural whole milk is used sparingly by upper classes. Served cool or slightly chilled, raipe is a type of thickened milk dish eaten as a refreshment. The milk is warmed then thickened with the addition of the pulverized powder from dried wild Moroccan artichoke hearts.
BREADS AND GRAINS
Bread is the essential of every meal. For the very poor the whole meal may be only bread, sometimes dipped into olive oil. The classic Moroccan bread is shaped into absorbent, chewy oval discs, made from a mixture of wholewheat and unbleached white flour and gently fragrant with aniseed.
Bread is much more than a meal accompaniment. Bread is viewed respectfully in deep recognition of its ability to satisfy hunger and as a gift from God. A piece of bread inadvertently dropped may be kissed and blessed as it is carefully retrieved. Broken pieces of bread become eating utensils as they scoop up moist foods and soak up tasty juices and sauces. Community bakers pride themselves on recognizing each family's special symbol stamped on their breads, for breads are made with loving attention in private homes then toted on trays to be baked in the communal ovens.
Moroccan diets can be described as "classic antique Mediterranean" because grains and oil form the basis. Wheat and barley are the principal grains and are used to make a great variety of breads. European-type white bread is increasing in popularity.
After weaning, the child's principal food is sweet tea and grains in the form of rice, corn, semolina, breads, and pasta.
Despite the importance of bread, no other food can compare in variety of preparation and importance to the legendary couscous. Of undisputed Berber origin, this incomparable dish may be called by various names, contain infinite varieties of ingredients and seasonings, and may be made from wheat, corn, barley, millet, green wheat, green barley shoots, or sprouts and even rice, tapioca, or bread crumbs. Named seksu by Moroccans, it may also be called sikuk, sksu, utsu, ta'am, and even kouski as in Tunisia. The principle is the same. Dry floury grains are dribbled with water and rubbed to form tiny pellets. These are carefully steamed with no cover over a perforated pot set upon a bubbling stew. The small pellets swell with moisture and absorb some of the flavors of the broth. Often two steaming are required to get the proper consistency of separate fluffy and tender granules. Frequently a light sprinkling of oil or smen (like clarified butter) is added. Today pre-cooked couscous speeds up meal preparation.Couscous may be served upon one large platter, with meat, fruits, vegetables, and well-seasoned sauce heaped over the grain base. Or, as in the French or Algerian version, each part of the couscous may be served on separate plates. Couscous may be savory or sweet, and is usually served as a luncheon meal or at the very end of a diffa (banquet) solely for the purpose of achieving shaban, total satisfaction.
SWEETS AND SNACKS
Many sweet pastries, chewy nougat-type candies, sugared dried fruits, and spicy sweet couscous as well as sugared fried pastries are readily available. But probably more sugar is consumed in the endless cups of heavily sweetened green tea scented with mint than in any other form.
The traditional dessert to end a meal is inevitably an array of available fresh fruits and nuts. Dried fruits may replace the fresh. Moroccans will likely enjoy their sweetly rich pastries at the start of a special occasion meal such as at a wedding or circumcision and especially during the month of Ramadan where the meal after sundown is often begun with sweet cakes called shebbakia or mahalkra hungrily downed together with bowls of spicy harira soup.
Tiny decorated glasses of green tea served hot, sweet, and scented with fresh spearmint are the classic Moroccan beverage. Countless glasses are enjoyed every day at any time. But coffee is enjoyed too and helps many a Moroccan to begin the day. Coffee may be served black and sweet – it may also carry the surprise of a blend of sweet and peppery spices. Carbonated beverages are gaining in popularity but sweetened fruit drinks made from local produce and sometimes from crushed nuts are enjoyed as refreshers: these are called sharbat. Cool leben, similar to buttermilk, is also a frequent thirst-quencher.
Street vendors sell plain water, fruit juices, and even sharbat. Water is also the usual mealtime beverage accompanied by the main dishes with green tea following the meal. In rich homes, it is not unusual for the mealtime beverage of water to be lightly perfumed with the subtle addition of orange flower water, rose petal syrup, or other aromatic concentrates.
The prohibitions against alcoholic beverages that stern from Islamic traditions are kept to varying degrees. No such prohibitions exist in Jewish homes and many Jewish kitchens are known for their home-made wines and fruit brandies prepared from ancient recipes and distilled from a great variety of fresh fruits. Wine is a part of Sabbath and festival tradition in Jewish homes.