Monday, March 28, 2011

M is for Morocco: Why use Glade Plug-Ins When You Can Cook Moroccan Food

Want to make your house smell good? Do not light a candle, or even think about using a Glade plug-in, just cook Moroccan food. The simmering sauce of exotic spices provides the best aromatic. 

So why Morocco? No, not because of Casablanca, but because of North Campus Food Mart. Confused? I have a fairly comfortable relationship with the workers of this tiny bodega. They share stories about their family and special order me plum wine, so needless to say, they are great. Two of them are also Moroccan, and their friendliness intrigued me to learn more. 

Morocco is located in northern Africa and is borded by the sea and sheltered by the snaking mountains that literally split the country in half.  These mountainous areas were once populated by the Berber's, the indigenous people of Morocco, who still compromise most of the population. Yet, these are not the only people that have influenced this exotic cuisine. Morocco is like the doorway of Africa. Imperial rule and trade have traversed the land. The influence of the Arabs, Moors, African, Jewish, French and Spanish have created a cultural stew that is just as flavorful as it's food. 

Unlike the herb-based cooking of the Mediterranean (see Lebanon), Moroccan cuisine use deep, rich flavors that are created by spices. The use of spices also create amazing aromatics, that are tantalizing to both scent and taste. Predominate spices include cinnamon, ginger, coriander, cumin, marjoram, and saffron (very expensive!). These spices mingle with other commonly found ingredients such as olive oil, mint, and lemons to compose pungent, and earthy tones in the food. 

tajine pot
Moroccan cuisine is a beautiful blend of savory foods enhanced with sweetness. Lamb and chicken are the big meats eaten because they can be raised on higher ground, although beef is also used. Moroccan roasted meat is cooked until it is so tender that it can be pulled apart by your fingers (and make your mouth water!) or stewed for hours to create Morocco's national dish "Tajine", which gets its name from the traditional clay pot in which the stew is made in. Tajine is often accompanied by the most traditional, and well-known Moroccan dish, couscous. Couscous is granular semolina rolled into tiny balls and then coated with wheat flour. Traditionally couscous is made in a kiskas (see picture on right), a special metal food steamer, in which meats and vegetables are cooked, and on top of the base the couscous is steamed to fluffy perfection absorbing the flavors of the meat and veggies. The sweetness in disges comes in with the use of fruits. Apricots, dates, figs, prunes, and raisins, can be used either as a fresh garnish or to make a sauce that is poured over meats. Nuts are also important, with pine nuts, almonds, and pistachios often making an appearance in dishes. 

No meal is complete without Morocco's most popular drink, mint tea. Making and serving tea in Morocco is an art form. The pouring of the tea is just as important as the preparation of the the tea itself. Traditionally, the tea was made with black tea, steeped with mint leaves, and sweetened with sugar, but the use of green tea has become more popular.  Moroccan tea pots have a long, curved spout that allows the tea to be poured from a great height into tiny cups so bubbles are formed. The tea is also traditionally served three times a day and the taste vary according to the time of the day. A Moroccan proverb explains this wonderfully:

"The first glass is a bitter as life,
the second glass is as strong as love,
  the third glass is a gental as death."

Moroccan teapot  
I'm going to end this post with one of my mantra, that just so happens to be a Moroccan proverb:

"He who has nothing to die for, has nothing to live for"

I think some people wonder why I spend so much time and money learning and eating, and it's simple...I love it. I love learning about new cultures, customs, and people. I love cooking and everything that encompasses it, chopping, smelling, and of course eating. So, although I don't know where my passion may take me, I very much enjoy learning about all these amazing places, meeting new people, eating and cooking new things, and hopefully enlightening others. So until I get some amazing job (Lisa Ling... Anthony Bourdain...Call me!),  I will continue to write, learn, eat, share, and be mesmerized by the beautiful Moroccan homes on "House Hunters International"...all while sipping on mint tea. 

Recipe Time:

Guess who came to visit me this week....Kelly! A visit from her was long overdue.  To get a taste of Moroccan food I was recommended to visit the The North Market's Firdous Express. They specialize in Mediterranean cuisine, but was told they also usually have Moroccan dishes. I went really hungry, so by the time I remember to take photos I had basically eaten all my Moroccan chicken and Saffron rice. It was delicious. I would definitely go again, and you should go to, because the North Market is an amazing place and has many many good places to eat and shop at. I was suppose to get a recipe from Hafid's (one of my friends from North Campus Food Mart) wife, but he forgot! So I decided just to go with a tradtional dish, tajine with couscous and finished with some mint tea that Kelly made. She also cut the onions and shallots for me because I am a huge baby and I easily cry, and Kelly loves me and does not want to see me cry. Forewarning: start this meal when you ARE NOT hungry because it takes a lot of time and work. Rest assure, your love and devotion with pay off. Not only will your home smell of exotic spices the food is tender, earthy, and extremely flavorful. Definitely a meal to impress friends. 

serves 4
  • 3tbs butter
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts
  • 1/2 cup shallots, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 cup couscous
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • 1 3/4 cups chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup parsley
  • lemon zest, salt
  1. Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the shallots and saute until golden.
  2. Add the couscous, cinnamon stick, and bay leaf. Stir until couscous is slight brown.
  3. Add broth and bring to a boil.
  4. Readuce heat, cover, and simmer until liquid is absorbed and couscous is tender, but not mushy.
  5. Add pine nuts, parsley, lemon zest.
  6. Flavor with salt.

Chicken Tajine with Almonds and Raisins
serves 3

  • 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 1 tsp sal
  • 1/2 tsp ground pepper
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp powdered ginger
  • 1/2 tsp saffron (optional)
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 oz butter
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1/4 cup sugar, divided 
  • 1 strip lemon peel
  • 1/4 lb raisins
  • blanched almonds
  • fresh mint
  1. Combine the oil and spices in a large bowl.
  2. Combine chicken and onions to the spices and let marinate for 30 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, place the raisins in a small saucepan,cover with water and bring to a boil. Remove the pan from heat and let it stand for 20 minutes.
  4. Once chicken is done sitting, melt butter in a large saucepan or skillet and cook the chicken and onions until they are lightly browned.
  5. Add enough water to cover and simmer until chicken is tender.
  6. Go back to raisins and drain them. Return them to the pan and ladle a little liquid from the chocken and simmer for about minutes.
  7. Add lemon peel, cinnamon sticks, and half the sugar to the raisins.
  8. Stir the rest of the sugar into the meet. 
  9. With a slotted spoon, arrange the meat in a bowl. Add the raisins and pour the sauce in the saucepan on the chicken. 
  10. Boil the reaming liquid from the chicken rapidly to reduce it. Ladle some of that sauce on the chicken. 
  11. Brown the almonds in butter.
  12. Garnish with almonds and mint.
  13. Serve with couscous. 

Moroccan Mint Tea
serves 2
  • 2 teabags of green tea
  • Handful of mint leaves
  • Sugar
  • Boiling water
  1. Put the tea with the boiling water, and steep.
  2. Add mint leaves and sugar to taste. 
Moroccan tajine on a bed of couscous 


  1. Where exactly is North Campus Food Mart?

  2. And for the record, that Moroccan Tajine looks amazing!!!!

  3. I know for sure,I am going to love exotic Morocco food,because their use my favorites spices,nuts,prunes and raisins.So far this will be my the good smell.Plum wine.yummm.Excelente trabajo.Te anotaste 100 puntos mas.