Spices feature extensively in Moroccan cooking and there is a centuries-old art to their careful balancing. Many ingredients, such as saffron, mint, olives oranges and lemons, are frequently homegrown. Common spices include karfa (cinnamon), skinjbir (ginger), tahmira (paprika), gesbour (coriander) and zaafran beldi (saffron). Other popular spice additions include harissa – a paste made of garlic, chillies, olive oil and salt that adds a fiery kick to many dishes, and ras el hanout – a dried spice mix that combines anywhere from a dozen to 100 spices, with every home cook and vendor having their own secret recipe.
A classic Moroccan dish is the tagine (or tajine) – a slow-cooked stew made in an earthenware dish known by the same name. They are typically made with inexpensive cuts of meat that become tender with long cooking and are typically flavoured with fruits, olives, preserved lemons, and spices.
Couscous is considered a gift from Allah and is a staple of North African countries. It is the most common starch used to accompany dishes and is typically cooked with spices, vegetables, nuts and dried fruit. When prepared traditionally, fine semolina is rubbed with super fine semolina to coat until it resembles a grain. When steamed, it becomes light and fluffy.
The essence of Moroccan food is a communal style of eating, with many dishes shared by the family. Mealtimes are very social and eaten at a leisurely pace with much laughter and talking. Hospitality is a very important part of Moroccan culture and making guests welcome is also part of the Islamic teaching. Upon entering a Moroccan home, guests are typically offered food and tea within seconds.
Tea is an important part of socialising and making the popular green tea with mint is considered something of an art form, with the pouring of tea being considered as important as the tea itself.
Fresh fruit is the traditional way to end a meal but Moroccan sweets are delicious and pastries and cookies are frequently enjoyed with afternoon coffee or tea. Among them are dense, rich pastries perfumed with nuts, fruits and spices.
View our Moroccan recipe collection here.
The secret to making the best instant couscous is in the steaming method. The couscous absorbs the fragrant steam from the ingredients being cooked below to become light and fluffy. (Moroccans say that couscous that has been made only by absorbing boiling water is "uncooked" and they marvel that many people have yet to discover the magic of true couscous.) As well as improving the flavour of the couscous, the vegetables in this vegetarian recipe look colourful and delicious together and the whole dish can be on the table in well under an hour. The other secret of great couscous is in the finishing touch. In Morocco this is smen (preserved butter), but here light blue-vein cheese adds the same little kick.
This Moroccan salad is so full of juice, it's served in either tea glasses or bowls with small spoons. The combination of fresh flavours wakes up the tastebuds, making it a great recipe to start to a banquet or between courses.
Although it takes a little while to prepare, all that fades when you bring the tagine to the table, lift off the conical lid and watch as your family and friends take a deep, satisfied breath.
Try this refreshing recipe for mint tea on a hot afternoon, or after a meal instead of coffee. The Moroccan tea ceremony is sacred and there is quite an art form to the pouring of the tea. The higher the pour the better, which takes a bit of practice.
Served warm as part of a mezze selection, bissara is a delicious and mellow dip. With its simple but effective spicing it is a low-cost, high-protein comfort food – and it’s easy to make too. The recipe uses dried, split fava beans (broad beans), which are yellow; dried whole fava beans still have their skins on and are browny-green.
Here is a dead-easy Moroccan marinade recipe for lamb that is full of incredible flavour. The cool taste of mint and the tang of yoghurt team beautifully with the barbecued meat.
Serve this creamy Moroccan accompaniment with lamb backstrap instead of a traditional mint sauce. It's an incredibly easy recipe and makes a tasty addition to lamb dishes, or with grilled vegetables for a vegetarian version.
This is the perfect end to a banquet – sweet, refreshing and warm with the spice of cassia. Use colourful seasonal fruit such as grapes, rockmelon, apple, pear, mandarin and banana and make the dressing in advance if you like as it keeps for at least a week in the refrigerator.