Although I’ve been to Morocco several times, I’ve never been to the capital Rabat before – it’s a beautiful city right on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean.
Just a mere half a kilometre from the Centreville locals can stroll on the beach and splash and frolic in the sea. I loved wandering through the narrow white and blue washed lanes of the Kasbah des Oudaias in and out of the sunlight; catching little breezes. The colour of the walls, the texture of the plaster, the doorways and doorknockers, all give a clue as to the inhabitants of the house, Muslim, Christian, Andalucían, Portuguese…
Before you leave that area take a stroll through the Andalucían garden reminiscent of the Alambra Palace in Granada then pause at the Moorish Café overlooking the Bouregreg River for a frothy mint tea served in a gold edged glass and the most delicious Moroccan biscuits you will taste in Rabat – the same family have baked them for over a hundred and fifty years – each has a name – cornes de gazzel, doigts the jeune fille bracelet de marriage, macaroon de cocoa, Briouts and triangular filo pastries tossed in honey and sesame seeds…
Inside the thick walls of the medina there is a labyrinth of alleyways with stalls selling clothes, shoes, jewellery, kitchen ware, and of course food. Piles of ground spices, dates, almonds, walnuts, olives, preserved lemons, couscous, sea salt and saffron from Taroudant. Another stall sold soft cheeses in wicker baskets, and for the cook a mesmerising selection of terracotta tagines and soft clay cooking pots are piled high.
The raison d’être for my visit was the International Slow Food Meeting. the Moroccan members were anxious to give us a Taste of Morocco so we had several cooked salads, La Grande couscous and at least five different tagines, the most memorable of which was a chicken with olives, saffron and preserved lemons and lamb with okra and cardamom. We also had plump figs, lots of dates, argan oil and a variety of Moroccan flat breads.
Morocco is still brilliant value for money; a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice of at a street stall will cost you 4 Dirham (about 40 cent).
At another memorable meal, we enjoyed Mechoui, young milk fed lamb, roasted to melting tenderness with thin crispy skin, served simply with salt and freshly ground cumin.
As is the Moroccan tradition a whole lamb was served to each table of eight. After we had feasted we all worried about the delicious remains but The Slow Food Convivia leader of Rabat, Zoubida Charrouf told us about the tradition of cooking more than was needed to share with the poor and homeless after the meal.
How about having a Moroccan feast this weekend, most of the dishes are made for sharing with the family.
Moroccan Grilled Tomato and Pepper Salad
Claudia Roden gave us this delicious recipe.
Choose fleshy peppers. Put them on a baking sheet under the broiler about 3 ½ inches (9cm) from the heat (or grill them on the barbecue). Turn them until their skins are black and blistered all over. Alternatively, roast them in the hottest oven for ½ hour, or until they are soft and their skins begin to blister and blacken – they need to be turned only once. To loosen the skins further, put them in a pan with a tight fitting lid or in a strong polyethylene or brown paper bag and twist it closed. Leave for 10 – 15 minutes. This helps to loosen the skins. When the peppers are cool enough to handle, peel them and remove the stem and seeds. Keep the juice that comes out and strain it to remove the seeds, for it can be used as part of the dressing
3 red or green bell peppers
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1-2 tablespoons wine vinegar
Salt and pepper
Grill or roast the peppers and tomatoes (see above). Take the tomatoes out after about 10 minutes, when the skin is loosened and they are only a little soft. Peel the peppers and tomatoes and cut them into pieces. Dress with oil, vinegar, salt and pepper.
For a flavoursome Moroccan version, add 2-3 chopped garlic cloves, 1-teaspoon cumin, the chopped peel of 1 preserved lemon, and 1-2 hot chilli peppers, seeded and finely chopped. If you have an opportunity to buy the rare argan oil, it is wonderful with this, as well as with most salads.
You may grill or roast a head of garlic at the same time, then peel the cloves. Garlic needs 10 minutes in the oven to become soft.
Tagine of Chicken with Green Olives and Saffron
1 free range and organic chicken, jointed
2 onions chopped
2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons coriander leaves
1 small cinnamon stick
½ preserved lemon, cut into dice (see recipe) (optional, depending on size, leave whole)
175g (6oz) green olives, rinsed and stoned
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Pinch of saffron strands
1/2 teaspoon grated ginger
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground cumin, toasted and ground
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
First prepare the marinade. Mix the garlic, saffron, ginger, cumin, paprika, salt, freshly ground pepper and the olive oil in a bowl. Spread over the chicken, transfer the meat to a shallow dish, cover with Clingfilm and leave overnight to marinate in the fridge.
Next day, transfer the chicken and the marinade to a casserole. Add the onions, parsley, coriander and cinnamon stick and half cover with water. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer gently for about 30 minutes, turning the chicken pieces frequently in the liquid. Add more water if it starts to reduce. Cook for a further 15 minutes, partly covered, until the chicken is tender and almost falls from the bone. Add the preserved lemons and the olives and continue cooking for a further 5-6 minutes so the flavours combine.
Transfer the chicken pieces, lemon and olives to a serving dish and cover to keep warm. Remove and discard the cinnamon stick. Boil the sauce uncovered until it is about 250ml (9fl oz). Add the lemon juice and season to taste with more salt and freshly ground pepper.
Pour the sauce over the chicken and serve immediately with lots of fresh coriander and cous cous.
North African Preserved Lemons
The skins of lemons preserved in salt, also referred to as “pickled”, lend a curious and wonderfully intense flavour to North African dishes.
6 lemons (choose them with thick skins)
6 tablespoons course or fine sea salt
juice of 3 lemons or more
Wash and scrub the lemons. The classic Moroccan way is to cut each lemon in quarters but not right through, so that the pieces are still attached at the stem end, and to stuff each with plenty of salt. Put them in a glass jar, pressing them down so they are squashed together, and close the jar. It is best if they pack the tightly. Leave for 3-4 days, by which time the juice will have been drawn out of the lemons and the skins will have softened. Press them down as much as you can (it is usual to put a clean stone or heavy object on top to keep them down and add fresh lemon juice to cover them entirely. Close the jar and leave in a cool place for at least a month, at which point they should be ready. The longer they are left, the better the flavour.
Before using, wash well to rid of the salt.
Salted water is sometimes poured in instead of the extra lemon juice.
Some people pour a little oil on top as a protective film.
Another Moroccan way is to slice 2lbs (1kg) lemons, sprinkle with 3 tablespoons of salt, and put them in a jar. After about 3 days, when the juice has been drawn out add more lemon juice to cover and about ¼ cup of peanut or olive oil, which acts as a protection.
Cous Cous with Apricots and Pistachio Nuts
12 ozs (340g) Couscous (precooked)
16 fl ozs (450ml) homemade chicken stock or water
2 ozs (50g) dried apricots (soaked in cold water)
2 ozs (50g) pistachio nuts (or toasted almonds) halved
salt and freshly ground pepper
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Put the couscous, apricots and pistachio nuts into a pyrex bowl, cover with boiling water or stock and allow to soak for 15 minutes, stir every now and then. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper and add some olive oil. Cover dish heat through in a moderate oven 180°C/350°F/Reglo 4 for about 10 minutes. We usually put the bowl into a bain-marie.
Instead of apricots and pistachio nuts stir in 2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) of freshly chopped fresh herbs just before serving, eg. mint or coriander, parsley and chives.
A little grated orange rind or lemon rind and freshly squeezed juice is also delicious.
One of the glories of Moroccan confectionery, great for a party. Individual “snakes” can be made with a single sheet of filo.
Serves 10-15 people
1 packet best quality filo pastry
1 lb (450g) ground almonds
12 ozs (350g) castor sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
3-4 fl ozs (75-110ml) orange flower water
3-4 ozs (75-110g) melted butter
Mix all the filling ingredients together in a bowl to form a paste.
Lay one sheet of filo on the work top, brush with melted butter. Take a fist full of the paste and make into a snake about 1 inch (2.5cm) thick. Lay this along the long side of the sheet of filo, about 1 inch (2.5cm) in from the edge. Roll up and bend into an accordion shape and then roll up into a ‘snail’. Put a sheet of tin foil on a baking sheet and lay the snail on top, continue with the rest of the filo and paste. Press the ends together to seal the joining and continue to make the snake. Brush with egg wash and then with melted butter. Bake in a preheated moderate oven 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for approx. 30 minutes or until crisp and golden. Cool.
Dust with icing sugar and perhaps a little sweet cinnamon.
If you would like to source some really great saffron from Morocco contact Safran Maroc, Cooperative Agricole Taliouine, Centre Commune Rurale Tassousfi, 12km De Taliouine Province Taroudant. Email – firstname.lastname@example.org
Apart from the moving statue there’s yet another good reason to visit Ballinspittle near Kinsale. I’ve discovered Diva a lovely little café with lots of little pots of healthy organic herbs growing outside. I bought some crusty potato bread and scanned the delicious sounding menu. The Crab Ravioli with Ginger and Lemongrass sounded really good. Shannen Keane sources many of her ingredients locally; she gets her veggies from Liz and Colum O’Regan from Horizon Farms in Kinsale. John and Mary Cronin of Feirm Ur – from Belgooly supply the organic buttermilk and yoghurt which Shannen uses in the tsatziki she serves with her delicious lamb burgers. In June, Shannen opened Diva Boutique Bakery where they make Ballinspittle seeded sough dough, wheaten loaf, New York style rustic rye… breads for the café. They also make hand rolled croissants. Follow Diva on twitter dvaboutiquebake and on Shannen’s blog www.divaboutiquebakery.blogspot.com – email – diva,email@example.com or phone 021 4778465 for the opening hours.