Moroccan food has to be homecooked. For the most part, and tajine joints aside, restaurants around here just don’t do it right, which explains the fact that Moroccans rarely order their own national food when dining out. Instead they seem to have picked Italian food, or a version of it, as the national eat-out food. Pizzas, paninis, pasta are standard fare in many popular eateries. It makes sense, most people want a break from what they eat at home, something that is not spiced with cumin, ginger and paprika for a change, something you don’t sop up with bread.
Visitors to Morocco may surmise, from eating at restaurants that serve Moroccan food, that we Moroccans survive on a steady rotation of three different meals: Chicken Tajine with Preserved Lemons, Beef Tajine with Prunes, and Couscous (on Friday). I don’t know how those three dishes became our national culinary representatives and ambassadors, given the variety of other superlative candidates.
Take for example, in no particular order:
This dish has it all, chicken stewed in saffron and spices then cleaned off the bone, eggs, almonds that have been peeled, deep fried and ground with cinnamon, sugar and rosewater, all wrapped in crunchy, buttery paper thin layered dough. It’s sweet, it’s savory, it’s soft, it’s crunchy. I could eat this every day. Realistically Moroccans will only eat this on a special occasion.
The downside is that it’s pricey and time-consuming. Not to mention the calories.
For a long time I was a Chicken Bastila purist, until I finally got over my seafood phobia (someone once told me to be really careful when eating sardines, or the little bones would get stuck in my throat. I did not eat fish again til I was an adult). Even so this bastila is not super fishy tasting, it’s stuffed with shrimp, calamar and cubed white fish cooked with vermicelli and mushrooms.
3-Herbel: it’s like oatmeal, only good. Moroccans eat this on Eid morning as a special breakfast. It’s cracked wheat boiled for hours until it softens, then you add condensed milk and butter. Some take it salty and others add honey. It’s very satisfying and addictive. Carbalicious.
After: creamy and delicious. Even the Gerber baby approves.
4-My go-to Chicken and Rice recipe
You’re not likely to have this dish in anyone’s home, much less a restaurant. The reason? I got this recipe from my sister, who I believe got it from the Moroccan TV chef Choumisha. Since then it’s always come through for me (although I have a tendency to forget about it for months on end, and I feel a great sense of accomplishment every time I remember that I know how to make this). It’s distinctly Moroccan, yet the rice sets it apart from most Moroccan dishes. No bread! I don’t even know if my sister still makes this (do you sis?). If not I may be the only person in Morocco who presents this on a regular basis. And now I humbly pass it on to you.
You start with some old old North African standbys: garlic and onion, parsley and coriander, preserved lemon and sliced olives, turmeric, paprika, ginger and yellow stuff. A tea glass full of half olive oil, half regular. It makes this kind of salad that looks pretty remarkable as is.
But then you mix it with cooked rice, and use it a stuffing for chicken. The juice from the chicken runs down and cooks into the rice. I make plenty of the rice because that’s usually the best part. There’s crunchy part. If you come over to my house, I will probably serve you this (if I remember that I know how to make it).
5-The Big Salad
Every Moroccan family has their own version of the big salad. It’s great especially in this weather (guess how hot it is here). You just keep piling stuff on until voila, it’s a meal. My favorite versions include corn, boiled eggs, cheese, avocado.
You know, I am also writing a post about homeschooling. It’s a lot of work (the writing that is. The homeschooling is a whole other ball of wax). I don’t exactly know what I think about it, but writing is helping me sort that out. Some blog topics are a lot of work, so we end up with post after post about food and pictures. Fun, light, safe. To do it justice I’m going to have to write about homeschooling in installments, complete with flashbacks to my own school days, psychological forays into what motherhood means to me, issues of identity and belonging (mine and my kids’), and how my husband saved me from near breakdown. There’s a good book’s worth of material right there. Stay tuned…