Exotic, crazy, colourful Marrakesh, so many intriguing cultural experiences but for the cook it’s a brave new world of tagines, cous cous, pastilla, meschoi, briouts, tangia, rfusa……
At first, the experience is virtually overwhelming. The souks and medina cover an area of approximately 19km and are not for the fainthearted. Acres of stalls selling everything you can imagine and much that you can’t. I armed myself with a map and the phone number of the manger of the Riad where I was staying so they could come and rescue me if and when I got hopelessly lost.
Before you venture into the Medina, sit down with a glass of frothy mint tea and a plate of Moroccan pastries and plan your adventure. I only had five days but I was determined to make the most of every moment.
I’d chosen to stay at a beautiful chic riad owned by Jasper Conran, with just five elegant bedrooms surrounding an inner courtyard garden with orange and banana trees, a date palm and a trickling fountain in the centre even a 10 metre lap pool for those who might like a refreshing dip even in Winter. The food was delicious – breakfast, lunch and dinner –Bouchra is the cook (dada) here. The elegant dining room has tall metal windows, huge mirrors and portraits of Indian maharajah. Billie Halliday crooned and the candles flickered as I enjoyed my first dinner at a low round table by the fireside. Three little Moroccan salads, zaalouk (aubergine), taktouta (red and yellow pepper), cooked carrot and cumin and then a superb lamb tagine with artichoke hearts, fennel and cooked to melting tenderness so all the flavours melded together. The dessert was layers of flaky warka with pastry cream and a chocolate caramel sauce. We’d hit the jackpot. ….
Breakfast was another little feast, four different Moroccan breads and lacy Beghrir, the tender Moroccan pancakes. I was determined to learn how to make at least these light lacy pancakes. I cheekily knocked on the kitchen door; Bouchra welcomed me into her kitchen and over the next few days showed me how to make a whole range of breads. Many, ingenious variations on the well-known Moroccan flat bread – M-semen. Some were cooked on the griddle others, shallow fried then drizzled with honey and sprinkled with coconut. Some were savoury to enjoy with eggs or B-Sara (buttara), the thick lentil and bean soup often eaten for breakfast. Others were light, flaky and slathered with honey butter. Then there are all the tagines which take their name from the earthenware pot with the conical lid in which they are served and if you are lucky also cooked. These can be vegetarian or made from seafood, chicken, beef, lamb or rabbit with seasonal fresh vegetables and fresh or dried fruit, olives and maybe nuts.
Tagine Royale with dates or prunes, almonds and apricots, is one of the best loved of all. But there’s also chicken with preserved lemon and green olives or with caramelised onion and raisins or with caramelised onion and tomato. I ate superb versions of these at Al Fassia on 55 Boulevard Mohamed Zerktouni in the Ville Nouvelle, owned by the Marraskhi sisters and almost entirely run by women. The food is superb but you must book ahead. I managed to do it on the internet from Ireland and confirmed when I arrived in Marrakech. Don’t miss the pasilla with pigeon and the mezze made up of fifteen Moroccan salads, I had both lunch and dinner, sounds beyond greedy but I simply couldn’t taste as many dishes are I wanted in one sitting.
Cardoons were in season during my visit and they too make a wonderful addition to a tagine.
Close to the L-hotel Marrakesh riad on Derb Sidi L’ahcen St there were lots of little shops and stalls piled high with freshly harvested vegetables and fruit, others offered an enormous variety of spices, olives of every hue and preserved lemons, an essential flavouring in so many Moroccan dishes.
Lots of little butcher shops too. Everything was very fresh– there doesn’t seem to be a tradition of hanging meat and every scrap of the animal is sold and used, heads, feet and all the offal and entrails. Street food of every hue, apart from M-semen, round or square, flat bread, cooked on a griddle and served with butter and honey. One stall just sold goats feet to add to tangia, a stew cooked in an earthenware pot in the underground woodfired ovens that heat the water for the famous hamman (baths).
The flavour and texture of the slow cooked meat that emerges from the earthenware pots is rich and delicious and continues a long tradition.
You’ll find a little cluster of cafes that serve tangia and meschoi, meltingly delicious slow roasted lamb falling off the bones served with cumin and salt on Meschoi alley on the East side of Djemaa El Fna just around the corner from the olive and pickled lemon souk.
For Harira and Bsara head for Djemaa El Fna, Marrakesh’s central square, a crazy open theatre. There are snake charmers, henna tattoo artistis, colourful water sellers in fringed hats that make more money from having photos taken than they do from selling water. At night the square ramps up several notches, over 100 chefs arrive with their grills, utensils and set up their stalls. Musicians tune their instruments and the fun begins in earnest. Everywhere vendors are trying to entice you to try their specialities. The adventurous shouldn’t miss the snails and sheep’s head and other miscellaneous parts. Slide onto a bench beside a stall and enjoy every second of the spectacle and the food – unlikely to be a gastronomic experience but the atmosphere is unforgettable. www.l-hotelmarrakech.com
Here are a few recipes to give you a flavour of Morocco.
For Moroccan ingredients and lots of other good things seek out Mr Bell’s stall in the English Market. Tel: 021 4318655
Masterclass in Wild Fowl with Slow Food Galway
On Sunday February 5th 2017, at the Cait Curran Siol Centre, Moycullen, Eoin Warner will give a short talk and slide show as well as bringing a selection of wild birds. There will be hands on experience in plucking and preparing the wild fowl, followed by lunch of game casserole and other dishes.
Phone Kate 087 931 2333 or www.slowfoodireland.com for further information.
Pizza, Calzone, Panzerotti, Piadina…..
Sadly, this wonderful dish has had its reputation besmirched by fast and frozen food manufacturers. However, in the space of a single morning (including a pizza-orientated light lunch) you will learn how to prepare indescribably delicious, melt-in-the-mouth pizza! We shall cover everything from different sorts of pizza bases to innovative toppings, how to cook first class pizza in a domestic oven or a wood burning oven to the importance of using the right olive oil. Plus, we will look at all the other exciting things you can make with the same dough including a Calzone, Piadini, Sfinciuni, Foccacia with Maldon Sea Salt and Rosemary, Carta Musica as well as Dough balls with garlic butter. Friday February 17th, 2017 www.cookingisfun.ie
Moroccan Mint Tea
How this frothy mint tea transports one straight to Morocco – seek out little decorative Moroccan glasses, so pretty.
2 teaspoons Chinese green tea
4 tablespoons chopped mint, preferably spearmint
sugar, to taste
4 lemon slices, (optional)
4 small mint sprigs
Heat a teapot with boiling water. Add the tea and mint to the pot. Fill with boiling water. Allow to infuse and stand for 5 minutes.
Pour the tea from a height into Moroccan glasses edged with gold. Add sugar to taste (remember, in Morocco tea is supposed to be very sweet).
Variation: Iced Mint Tea
Add the sugar to the pot with the tea and mint. After steeping, pour the tea through a strainer over cracked ice, so it cools quickly. Serve in cold glasses with ice cubes, decorated in the same way.
Claudia Roden’s Preserved Lemons.
There are several methods. These come from ‘Tamarind and Saffron’ published by Penguin Books in 1999.
Claudia Roden’s Lemons preserved in salt and lemon juice
In this method, considered most prestigious, no water is used. 65g(2 ½ ozs) of salt is required for 500g(1lb) of lemons. This works out at about 75g(3ozs) or 4 tablespoons of salt for 4 lemons.
4 tablespoons sea salt
juice of 4 more 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 into a glass jar, pressing them down so that they are squashed together, and close the jar. Leave for 3-4 days, by which time the lemons will have released some of their juices and the skins will have softened a little. Press them down as much as you can and add fresh lemon juice to cover them entirely. Close the jar and leave in a cool place for at least a month, by which time the lemons should be ready. The longer they are left the better the flavour. (If a piece of lemon is not covered it develops a white mould which is harmless and just needs to be washed off.)
Before using, rinse to get rid of salt.
Lemons boiled in brine and preserved in oil.
This is a brilliant stand by recipe which yields tender preserved lemon almost immediately
With a sharp knife make 8 fine-superficial, not deep-incisions into the lemon skin from one end of the lemon to the other. Put the lemons in a large pan with salted water (the same proportion of salt as above-for instance 8 tablespoons for 8 lemons) to cover. Put a smaller lid on top of them to keep them down as they float, and boil for about 25 minutes or until the peels are very soft. When cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh, pack the skins into a glass jar and cover with sunflower or light vegetable oil.
Tagine of Chicken with Green Olives
1 free range and organic chicken, jointed
2 onions chopped
2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons coriander leaves
1 small cinnamon stick
1/2 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 cling-film 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/generous 1 cup). 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 couscous.
Brother Hubbard’s Semolina Pancakes (Beghrir)
Makes about 8 pancakes
10g dried fast action yeast
½ tsp salt
250g fine semolina (the finest grade, almost flour-like)
sunflower or Irish rapeseed oil, for cooking
Put the milk and water into a pot set over a medium heat. Heat this for a few minutes, stirring – you want to get it to the point that it should be just a little warmer than your body temperature. Remove from the heat and pour into a large bowl.
Crack the eggs into the bowl, then add the yeast and salt. Whisk well. Still using the whisk, whisk in the semolina – a good energetic go will do it. The mix will get a little thicker. Cover the bowl with cling film and set aside to rest in a warm place, such as beside your oven or in a cosy corner of your kitchen. After a while, you will see the batter bubble up as the yeast works its magic. The batter should be ready after 20–30 minutes, once it’s good and frothy with lots of bubbles.
Place a non-stick medium frying pan (ideally 15–18cm diameter) on a medium-high heat and let it get fully heated. When it’s hot, add a tiny splash of oil and swirl it around the pan, then turn the heat down to medium.
Gently stir the pancake batter with a medium ladle, then add one
ladleful to the pan or enough of the batter to cover the pan with 3–4mm depth of batter, swirling gently so the surface is fully covered. Cook for 1–2 minutes. You will see bubbles form in the batter and then it will set as the wet texture on the surface gradually disappears towards the centre of the pancake. When it’s set, lift it up and flip it over to sear for a few moments – this side should almost be undercooked. Give the pan a shake so the pancake moves from side to side. Take off the heat and remove the pancake onto a plate. Keep covered with a cloth while you cook the remaining pancakes, stacking the cooked ones together under the cloth so they stay warm.
Brother Hubbard’s Sweet Beghrir Pancakes with Rose Mascarpone, Berry and Rose Compote and Fresh Mint
A real delight on the plate – the tang of the mascarpone works beautifully against the sweet burst of the berries!
1 batch of beghrir pancakes (see master recipe)
½ batch of berry and rose compote (see recipe)
1–2 sprigs of fresh mint
a few tablespoons of praline (optional) or toasted chopped nuts
Rose Mascarpone Cream
1 x 250g tub of mascarpone
approx. 2 dessertspoons honey
½–1 tsp rosewater or orange blossom water or the seeds from 1 vanilla pod
Make the pancakes as per the master recipe and warm up the berry compote.
To make the mascarpone cream, put the mascarpone into a bowl and gently stir in enough honey to give the mix a light sweetness and ½ teaspoon of rosewater. Stir well and taste, adding more of either ingredient if desired. However, this should not be overly sweet, as you want the creaminess and acidity of the mascarpone to cut through the warm berry compote.
When ready to build the plates, place the warm pancakes on a warm plate, overlapping in the middle (like a Venn diagram). Divide the mascarpone across the plates, placing a dollop on the centre of each pancake (2 dollops per plate). Divide the compote across the plates, placing a large spoonful of the warm compote around the mascarpone. Tear some mint leaves over and serve immediately with some praline sprinkled over, if using, or even just some toasted chopped nuts.
Brother Hubbard’s Berry and Rose Compote
A very easy and versatile recipe, this compote will hold in the fridge for up to 1 month.
Makes 1 large jar
500 g mixed berries
200 g caster sugar
1 teaspoon rosewater
Put the berries and sugar into a large pot. Put on a medium heat and slowly cook, stirring regularly until the sugar has dissolved and the compote has slightly thickened.
Remove from the heat and leave to cool.
Stir in the rosewater, then taste and add a little more if you feel it needs it. However, please note that whenever you use rosewater, it should not be overpowering – a little goes along way, as you all you ever want is a hint of rose. Brother Hubbard, Garrett Fitzgerald
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
11oz (325g) castor sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
3-4 fl oz (75-110ml) orange flower water
3-4oz (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 accordian 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.