It was a pleasure to discover that Marocco is so much more than narrow streets of ancient cities and endless dunes of the desert. What I loved most, was the in-between: sleepy villages in the Atlas Mountains, biblical landscapes, parking lots for donkeys, palm orchards and breathtaking mountain views. My plan is to come back for a few weeks and travel on a donkey!
Deserts are fun! Moroccan Erg Chebbi turned out to be exactly how I have always imagined a desert: a lot of open space, a lot of sand and sky and some camels. The fear of getting lost, drinking all my water, wandering around for hours, taking a fata morgana for an oasis and eventually dying of thirst never left me. Oh, it's not like I went to the desert alone or anything - I just happen to have a graphic imagination. I was there with a group of quick-witted friends and, probably more importantly, a group of equally quick-witted Bedouins, who know the desert like the back of their hands (at least I thought they did).
Your geography classes didn't lie: it does get cold at night (and it really is hot during the day, but that's just a less revolutionary discovery). On the bright side, Bedoiun tent is a pleasant place to sleep, a tagine made in the camp was by far the best one I've had in Morocco and the sky full of stars - according to our guides, a local version of TV - is a nice reward for any inconvenience.
Tagine is one of Morocco's most famous dishes. I had it at least once a day during my trip, which could have been a bit monotonous, had it not been for the fact that there are tons of different varieties.
The name 'tagine' refers to both the dish and the earthenware pot in which it's cooked. The conical shape of the lid is designed to promote the return of all condensation to the bottom. When the water is turned into vapour during cooking, it condenses on the inside of the lid and runs down to the edges of the bottom, and not dripping on the ingredients. Because of that, they bake and brown instead of being cooked in liquid.
If you don't have a tagine, you can still make this recipe in any ovenproof dish with a lid. The effect won't be exactly the same, but it will be delicious. Tagine is traditionally cooked over hot charcoal, but we can use a stovetop or an oven. We'll cook it over low heat - slow cooking allows the tomato sauce to caramelize and reach a full flavour.
Recipe: Lemon tagine with eggplantServes: 2
- 2 tbsp coconut oil
- one onion
- 2 garlic clove
- 2 tsp freshly grated ginger
- 3-4 hot peppers
- 2 tso ras el hanout
- 2 tsp harrisa
- one piece cinnamon
- 5-6 cardamom seeds
- one eggplant
- 3-4 preserved lemons
- juice of one lemon
- tbsp honey
- 250 ml tomato passata
- Preheat the oven to 160C.
- Slice onion and garlic, cut the eggplant into large chunks.
- Heat one tbsp of coconut oil in your tagging (or, if you don’t have one, any other ovenproof dish).
- Brown the eggplant chunks so that they’re golden on all sides, but not yet soft in the middle. Set aside.
- Heat another spoon of coconut oil.
- Brown onion and garlic over medium heat.
- Add ras el hanout, harissa and whole chilli peppers.
- Fry for 1-2 minutes, stirring.
- Add remaining ingredients: browned eggplant, tomato passata, preserved onions (cut into halves or quarters), lemon juice, honey, cinnamon and cardamom.
- Cover and place in the oven.
- Cook in the oven for 2 - 2,5 hours, gently stirring every 45 minutes.
- Serve with bread or couscous.
Colours, shapes, textures, shadows and light - visual inspirations from Moroccan Fez.
I will bet you 30 dirhams that you cant's spend one day in Marrakech and not have at least three cups of sweet mint tea. Moroccans drink hot tea all year round and all day long. Bars and cafes are always filled with tea-sipping crowd, souq merchants offer tea to the toughest negotiators and a pot of tea prepared and served by the man of the house is a display of Moroccan hospitality.
If offered tea, it is polite to have at least three cups. The drink is poured from high above glasses to make tea nice and frothy. And to show off a little bit, too.
The drink is made with Moroccan mint and Chinese gunpowder tea. The tea-drinking tradition is younger than it might seem. Moroccans were first introduced to Chinese green tea in 1854. British merchants, frustrated with blockades resulting from Crimean War and unable to transport the wares of tea to the Baltic region, decided to start selling their chests of tea in ports of Morocco. It turned out to be a marketing success, as Moroccans had fallen in love with the tea, creating a new market for tea from the Far East.
Traditionally, the tea is served three times. Since the tea leaves are left in the pot, the taste evolves and each glass has its unique flavour. According to a Moroccan proverb, the first glass is as gentle as life, the second one is as strong as love, the third - as bitter as death.
Recipe: Moroccan mint teaMakes 6 small glasses
- 3 tsp green tea
- 3 tsp brown sugar
- 10 springs fresh mint
- 4 cups water
- Place the tea in a pot. Boil the water and pour the water to the pot. Set aside for 2 minutes.
- Stir in sugar and add mint. Set aside for 3-4 minutes.
- Pour with the teapot a high distance above the glasses. Garnish with fresh mint.