A Girls’ Trip for The Ages
Morocco had long been on my bucket list, so I jumped at the chance to go on a girls trip to Marrakesh a few weeks ago, designed by my friend, Nurit Kahane Haase, from Journeycorp/Tzell.
Ready to flirt with North African Flavors!
We toured many of the major sights, the souk and the Medina and enjoyed the belly dancing at each restaurant–we even took our own belly dancing class!
My belly dancing teacher!
But, I knew I couldn’t leave Marrakesh without taking a cooking class.
My friends outside the cooking school
Moroccan Cooking Class
First of all, the school is beautiful and is located in a riad which is a small hotel. The class was taught by a dada or traditional Moroccan cook and translated in English and French.
The star pupil with her teacher!
We began by receiving a lesson on the cuisine itself, introducing us to the typical Moroccan spices they use. Their four basics are salt, pepper, ginger and turmeric. In addition, they often use saffron, paprika, cumin, cinnamon, and white pepper as well as Ras El Hanout, which is a mixture of ground spices that usually includes: cardamom, nutmeg, anise, mace, cinnamon, ginger, various peppers, and turmeric.
A selection of commonly used spices
We were then given a lesson in making their traditional mint tea, which is a lot more involved than just putting mint in hot water.
Makings of a beautiful mint tea
They also explained how to make their preserved lemons which are another prominent ingredient in many of their dishes. They add an intense lemon umami flavor that you will find hard to re-create in a dish without them. You can make your own preserved lemons with this recipe from Serious Eats, or you can purchase some from Amazon. They won’t go bad–so feel free to stock up!
Preserved lemons, a Moroccan staple
When we went upstairs into the cooking class, we made 2 Moroccan Salads: Eggplant and Tomato, and Salade Taktouka with Bell Pepper and Tomato and a Chicken Tagine. Tagine is a Moroccan stew named after the special conical shaped pottery it’s cooked in. It makes a moist hot cooking environment and also gives a very dramatic presentation.
Even though I couldn’t cut and chop because I fractured my wrist (which is another story altogether), the teachers did it for me, and I loved the entire experience at La Maison Arabe. They give cooking classes almost every day, and I highly recommend it as a great way to experience their culture through learning about their cuisine.
I’ve included the recipe here for the Chicken Tagine from La Maison Arabe and you can get the full experience by purchasing your own tagine, or you can easily replicate it in a Le creuset or a very heavy stock pot.
- 1/2 preserved lemon
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon smen/ghee (clarified butter)
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon parsley, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon cilantro, finely chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1 teaspoon ginger powder
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 pinch saffron threads
- 2 water
- 1 lb whole chicken, cut into large chunks
- 1/2 red onion, finely chopped
- 10 purple or green olives
- Cut the preserved lemon in half and separate the flesh from the peel. Set the peel aside and finely chop the lemon pulp.
- Place the chopped lemon pulp in a bowl, casserole or large heavy pot. Add the olive oil, smen, garlic, parsley, cilantro, spices, and a cup of cold water. Mix well.
- Add the chicken pieces to the tagine and pierce them with a sharp knife so that they absorb the spices. Mix all the combined ingredients with the chicken pieces until they're well coated with the marinade.
- Add the finely chopped onion to the tagine. Mix well.
- On low heat, sear the chicken pieces for 15 minutes. The tagine lid should be on to keep the moisture in, otherwise the chicken pieces will dry out and stick to the bottom of the pot. Turn each piece of chicken over and add a bit of water if necessary.
- After 15 mintues, add 1 cup of cold water. Increase the heat to medium, cover the tagine and bring the cooking juices to a boil. Cook, covered, for 30 minutes or until chicken is done. Check on the chicken from time to time and add water if necessary. There should always be enough sauce at the bottom of the tagine so the meat doesn't burn.
- Once the chicken is done, taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning.
- Add the lemon peel and olives to the tagine. Continue cooking, uncovered, for a few minutes, until the sauce slightly thickens.
- Serve the tagine hot with crusty bread.
La Maison Arabe gave us a tagine to take home with us, so I will be testing the recipe back in New York very soon! Let me know if you make it and how it turned out.