For us young at hearts, remember the movie “Casablanca” featuring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman? The classic 1942 American film set during World War II took place in the Moroccan city of Casablanca, where the hero must choose between love and principle.
Come along, as we visit this place of mystery and intrigue. Morocco, a country in North Africa, has a population of approximately 32 million and is less than 173,000 square miles. It rests against the Atlantic Ocean and reaches past the Strait of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean Sea, bordering Spain to the north, Algeria to the east and Mauritania to the south. This kingdom is the 57th largest country in the world and the fourth most populous Arab country. They experience a Mediterranean climate in the north, turning very arid toward the lowlands and valleys facing toward the Sahara Desert.
This is an ethnically diverse country with a rich culture and civilization. Moroccan cuisine is one of the most diversified cuisines in the world due to the influences of Berber, Spanish, Corsican, Portuguese, Moorish, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and African cuisines introduced into this area by this ethnic diversity.
Morocco produces a melody of Mediterranean fruits and vegetables, including some tropical ones. There is abundance of sheep, cattle, poultry and seafood, which serve as a basis for their menus, with spices playing an intricate role in the seasoning and fragrance of this cuisine.
Spices were imported into Morocco for thousands of years, yet ingredients like saffron, mint, olives, oranges and lemons are homegrown and are abundant in various areas of the country. Similar to Spanish cuisines, some of the common spices used in cooking are cinnamon, cumin, turmeric, ginger, pepper, paprika, anise seed, sesame seed, coriander, parsley, saffron, and mint.
A typical Moroccan meal begins with a series of hot and cold salads, followed by a “tagine” (an earthenware dish that contains a slow-cooked stew or braised dish and is covered with a conical lid), fresh fruits, nuts and bread served with every meal. To complete this delightful experience, Moroccans enjoy a frothy cup of mint tea. The first task in a Moroccan household, especially in the rural areas, is making the daily bread. As it only has to rise once, it is quick to make. Country bread usually is made with whole wheat flour, but the following version gives lighter loaves:
3 teaspoons active dry yeast
3-1/3 cups all purpose flour
1-1/3 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup lukewarm milk
2 tablespoons yellow cornmeal
1 tablespoon whole anise seed, toasted sesame seeds,
black sesame seeds or coarse salt for toppings
1. Dissolve the yeast in 4 ounces lukewarm water. Sift the flours and 1-1/2 teaspoons salt into a mixing bowl and make a well in the center of flour mixture. Pour the yeast mixture in the well, add one cup lukewarm water and the milk. Stir sufficient flour from the sides of the well, into the liquid to form a thin batter, cover the bowl with a cloth and set aside for 15 minutes until bubbles form.
2. Gradually stir in the remaining flour, then mix with your hands to form a soft dough, adding a little extra water, if necessary. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead the dough mixture for about 10 minutes, or until the consistence of the dough is smooth and elastic. You will know when you have achieved this stage if the dough springs back when an impression is made with a finger. Knead in extra flour only if the dough remains sticky after a few minutes of kneading.
3. Since the dough only requires one rising, divide the dough mixture into three even-sized pieces. Shape each piece into a ball and roll out on a lightly floured surface to approximately 9 inches in diameter, or, if you want a flatter bread, 10-1/2 inches in diameter—similar to the way you would roll out a pizza dough.
4. Sprinkle cornmeal onto baking trays. Put the rounds onto the trays, reshaping if necessary. Brush the tops lightly with water and, if desired, sprinkle with any one of the toppings listed above (i.e. toasted seeds), pressing the topping lightly with your fingers. Cover the loaves with a clean cloth and leave in a warm, draft-free place for about one hour to rise. The loaves have reached their rising peak when a depression remains in the dough after you have pressed lightly with your finger.
5. While the dough is rising, pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees. Just before baking, prick each loaf lightly with a fork around the top of each loaf. Do not go to the bottom of the loaves. Place the breads in the hot oven and bake 12-15 minutes, or until the bread is golden and sounds hollow when the base is tapped. Cool the loaves on a wire rack. Cut each loaf into wedges to serve. Use on the day you baked, because there are no preservatives and the bread can get stale quickly.
(Khodora Bel Barkook)
1/4 cup olive oil
2 red onions, peeled and quartered
3 garlic cloves, unpeeled
2 sliced carrots
1 pound pumpkin or winter squash (butter nut or acorn)
1 pound orange sweet potato
1 red chili, seeded and sliced
1-1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup pitted prunes
1 tablespoon honey
1-1/2 teaspoons ras el hanout* (Moroccan spice blend—recipe below)
*Cooks in Morocco mix together this spice blend and use in their recipes:
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons ground allspice, ground cumin, ground ginger, ground turmeric, ground black pepper and ground cardamom
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon and ground coriander
6 teaspoons ground nutmeg
Combine all spices together and store in a clean glass jar, keep tightly covered when not in use.
1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Pour olive oil in a 12-by-16-inch ovenproof dish and add onions, garlic and carrots. Toss well. Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes.
2. Peel and cut the squash and sweet potatoes into large chunks. Add to the baking dish, along with the “ras el hanout” and red chili. Season and toss well.
3. Bake for 30 minutes. Stir in the light chicken/vegetable stock, prunes and honey. Return to the oven and bake for an additional 30 minutes. This yields about 4 servings.
(Tagine Lahm Bil Batatah Helwa)
2-1/2 pounds stewing beef or chuck roast
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 brown onion, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoon paprika
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
2 tablespoons chopped coriander (cilantro) leaves
1 pound orange sweet potatoes
1. Remove any fat from the beef and cut into 1-inch pieces. Heat half of the oil in a frying pan and start browning the beef, adding more oil as needed. Set aside beef in bowl.
2. Reduce the heat to low, add the onions and the remaining oil to the pan and gently cook the onions until they are opaque, or about 10 minutes. Add the cayenne pepper, cumin, turmeric, ginger and paprika and cook for a few seconds. Add 1 teaspoon salt and a few turns of the pepper grinder. Return the beef to the pan, along with the parsley, coriander and 1 cup water. Cover and simmer over low heat for about 1-1/2 hours, or until the meat is tender.
3. Peel the tomatoes. To do this, score across in the base of each one with a paring knife. Put the tomatoes in a bowl of boiling water for 20 seconds, then plunge into a bowl of ice water to cool. Remove tomatoes from the water and peel the skin away from the cross—the skins should slip off easily. Slice the tomatoes. Peel the sweet potatoes, cut them into 3/4-inch chunks and place them in cold water until required, as this will prevent them from discoloring. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
4. Transfer the meat and its sauce into an ovenproof serving dish (the base of a tagine is ideal). Drain the sweet potatoes and spread them across the top of the dish, over the top of the beef. Top with sliced tomatoes. Cover with foil, or use the top of the tagine, and bake for 40 minutes. Remove the foil and increase the oven temperature to 425 degrees and place the dish to the upper shelf of the oven. Cook until the tomatoes and sweet potatoes are flecked with brown and tender. Serve from this ovenproof dish. This should serve about 4-6 people.
The following rice pudding dessert has been enjoyed by many. In the Moroccan household this is served in a communal dish and eaten with a spoon. The topping can vary—usually dabs of butter are placed on the warm pudding, but chopped toasted almonds, or raisins, and honey can also be used.
(Rozz Bill Hleeb)
1/2 cup short-grain rice
4-1/2 cups milk
2 tablespoons raisins
2 tablespoons orange flower water
1/4 cup superfine sugar
1/2 cup ground almonds
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
2 tablespoons honey
1. Put the rice in a large heavy-based saucepan with 1 cup water and a pinch of salt. Place over medium heat and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the water has been absorbed.
2. Set aside 1/2 cup milk. Stir 1 cup of milk into the rice, bring to a simmer and, when the rice has absorbed the milk, add another cup of milk. Continue to add the remaining milk in this manner, ensuring that each addition of milk has been absorbed by the rice before adding the other. This process will prevent the milk from boiling over. The rice should be very soft in about 30 minutes, with the final addition of milk barely absorbed.
3. Meanwhile, steep the raisins in 2 teaspoons orange flower water for about 15 minutes.
4. Mix the sugar with the ground almonds to break any lumps in the almonds. Stir this mixture into the rice and simmer gently for about 2-3 minutes. Mix the cornstarch with the reserved milk until smooth and stir into the rice. When thickened, simmer for 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the almond extract and the remaining orange flower water (this liquid can be purchased or made from soaking warm water w/orange rind and strained). Stir the pudding occasionally to cool a bit.
5. Pour the pudding into a serving bowl and when a light skin has formed on the top (like scalding milk), sprinkle with the soaked raisins and drizzle with honey. Cool the pudding completely before serving in individual bowls or leaving in the communal bowl.
To finish any Moroccan meal, serve a hot glass of fine mint tea, which is served very hot and a compliment to every dish of this fine dining.
We will be leaving the Mediterranean area and heading toward the continent of Europe. Until next month, blessings from my kitchen to yours, as we continue to add new adventures into our passport of an international cooking journey.
Carole Truesdale, a Ramona resident, has a background in marketing, sales, event planning and wine-food pairing.
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