On the north-west corner of Africa, looking across the Alboran Sea to Spain, Morocco is part of the Maghreb region, which it shares with nations such as Tunisia, Algeria and Libya. Not surprisingly, its cooking influences are profuse and diverse – and date back many centuries.
Those influences come from the Berber, Egyptian, Spanish, French and Jewish cultures, and incorporate a history that includes its African neighbours and both Arab and European invasions. It is no wonder, then, that Moroccan cuisine is renowned for its complex mixture of tangy, aromatic, sweet and salty flavours.
Like many North African cuisines, spices are an important element, as are condiments and pungent herbs, and saffron, cumin, black pepper, dried ginger, preserved lemons, olives and mint can be found in many dishes, drinks and even desserts.The impact of the Spanish and French as one-time colonial masters is seen far and wide with dates, lamb, pastries and wine regularly placed on the dinner table.
When it comes to dishes, tagines, whether salted and sweet, or spiced and fragrant, are intrinsic to Morocco. Couscous is also common and is usually prepared with one kind of meat and a large selection of vegetables. The hearty harira soup is considered an everyday Moroccan meal, combining meat, chicken or fish, and vegetables. And during the month of Ramadan, it is not uncommon to find it accompanied by fresh dates, warm milk and beghrir (traditional Moroccan pancakes) to break the daily fast.
The highly spiced pastilla, thought to be an Andalusian recipe brought to Morocco by the Moors, is now considered a classic dish and is often served on special occasions. It can also be served as a dessert, made with milk and almonds.
Hot and very sweet mint tea is enjoyed all day long, after every meal and with every conversation.
1. Preserved lemons
Preserved lemons are made by pickling lemon wedges in a solution of lemon juice, water and salt. The peel is used in dishes such as tagines, while the flesh is often discarded.
A North African staple, couscous is made from semolina, flour, salt and water. It is often served with tagines, and sometimes, as a dessert with sugar, almonds and cinnamon.
One kilogram of flowers is needed to produce 12g of saffron threads, making saffron the world’s most expensive spice. Fortunately, a little goes a long way to produce its earthy flavour and vivid gold tint.
4. Other spices
Turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, paprika and cumin are some of the other common Moroccan spices that are used to create rich, aromatic dishes.
5. Brik pastry
Brik pastry, which is similar to filo pastry, is sold as ready-made sheets at specialist food shops. It is used for both sweet and savoury dishes.
The highly spiced pastilla, thought to be an Andalusian recipe brought to Morocco by the Moors, is now considered a classic dish and is often served on special occasions with sweet mint tea. It can also be served as a dessert, made with milk and almonds.
Harira is a soup traditionally eaten during the holy month of Ramadan to break the daily fast, which begins at dawn and ends at sunset. It’s also served on special occasions, such as the morning after a wedding. Rice and noodles are commonly added to harira to bulk it up and make it suitable for an everyday meal. Soak chickpeas overnight.
Photography by Anson Smart.
As seen in Feast magazine, October 2011, Issue 2. For more recipes and articles, pick up a copy of this month's Feast magazine or check out our great subscriptions offers here.