I do! And so do you! I recently went WAY out for Moroccan food — all the way to Morocco! I saved almost all my vacation time for a two-week adventure to Morocco – inspired by a fabulous friend who’s now living in Casablanca (hi, Pam!). After nearly going cross-eyed on Trip Advisor from shopping for riads (a Moroccan version of a Bed-and-Breakfast-style hotel), my friends and I excitedly settled on Riad ZamZam , in part because it offered a cooking class. Zam Zam is an utter delight. Run by Brit expats Marcus and Emma Joyston-Bechal, it’s located in the far north part of Marrakech’s Medina, offering a delightful experience in authentic daily life. I’m talking local women carrying big, flat baskets of bread dough on their heads to the communal bakery, cute, funny school kids shouting out “Bienvenue a Marrakech” to us American tourists, speeding moto-bikes and quick-moving donkey carts laden with everything from bags of flour to cages of chickens headed for market. But back to cooking class! First, I’ll share a few photos of the whole experience.
They set up prep tables in the courtyard of the Riad for the seven of us (two fun Brit couples and us three American girls).
There were little dishes of spices including paprika, ginger, turmeric, pepper, cumin and cinnamon, along with garlic cloves, raw almonds and my obsession – preserved lemon.
The class was really hands-on, with our dada (a Moroccan cook), directing us and owner Emma translating from Arabic when necessary. Here you see yours truly, with my cooking mate, Tina, chopping tomatoes for a classic salade Marocain – stewed tomatoes to be mixed with roasted, mashed-up eggplant and spices (delish!)
First we prepared a classic Moroccan tagine. A tagine is the name of the ceramic cooking dish (with the cone-shaped lid) and the meat dish itself. You can make any kind of tagine you want — chicken with preserved lemon and olives, or lamb with dried apricots, almonds and prunes or beef with dates and figs, for example. One of the most interesting things about Moroccan cooking to me is the happy meeting of sweet and savory. The meats with sweet, tangy preserved lemons, and the pastilla (traditionally made with pigeon, which I liked except for the tiny bird bones, but also made with chicken). Pastilla is a pie-style dish, made with phyllo dough and ground meat, nuts (usually almonds, sometimes hazel nuts), and spices, and then topped with a generous amount of, yes, powdered sugar and cinnamon. Like this:
Okay, back to the tagine we made. We made chicken tagine, and while I am still searching for the actual recipe they gave us, I will share my basic recollection and hope to share the actual recipe soon! It’s a pretty easy dish to make, if you have good ingredients.
You place two or three clean chicken parts (legs, thighs, breast) into the tagine. Add a good glug of olive oil (a few tablespoons). Then add spices — teaspoons of ground, dried ginger, turmeric, salt, pepper, cumin, minced parsley, paprika – a thread or two of saffron if you’re feeling “rich” (it’s a rare, expensive delight) and a few minced garlic cloves. Add about half a preserved lemon (which are lemons ‘preserved’ or fermented in salt over the course of about a month, in a sealed jar).
Put the tagine’s “hat” on. Place onto a charcoal tagine cooker-thing — or onto a gas stove with a tagine-ring (which you apparently buy when you buy a tagine) and cook, covered, at medium-to-high heat for about an hour or hour and half. I think you can also create this in an enameled cast-iron type of pot (think Le Crouset) and cook in the oven, too. About 10-15 minutes after you start cooking, add maybe 1/2 cup of water. Then check it 45 minutes in, and add more water if it looks dry – or you like more sauce. And that’s about it! The meat and other ingredients cook together into a fabulous, stew-y, braise-y kind of fantastick-ness, until the meat is tender and almost falling off the bone.
Along with some Moroccan kbread and Moroccan salads (to come in a future post … think cooked carrots with cinnamon, cumin, honey and raisins, cooked zucchini with various spices, eggplant-and-stewed-tomatoes … oh, it makes a vegetable lover so happy!), tagine is a hearty centerpiece to a delicious Moroccan meal! Here’s a photo of some of the salads we made:
Overall, I highly recommend Zam Zam Riad, for the cooking class experience, and the amazing hospitality and fun! I’ll be posting more about Moroccan cooking, as I am currently in a Moroccan fad, recalling all the fresh, delicious flavors and experiences that were so new to me and so very enjoyable! Bon Appetit and Shokran (thank you, in Arabic) for sharing my experience!