This was my first attempt at cooking Moroccan food. Ever. I'm glad for this.
Had I tried to cook the dishes before going there, I likely would have found it complicated. I would have certainly misunderstood the food, not to mention the people.
Having visited Moroccan families in their homes, sampled their food and shared great times with friends over steaming communal dishes of chicken, dried fruits and couscous, I have a better understanding of the food, and, of course, the people who lovingly prepare it.
Wander the markets in Meknes and Fez to see vendors selling dried apricots, figs, dates, prunes and raisins. Nuts of all kinds. And spices shaped into mounds so colorful and brilliant they become a piece of art on their own. The food isn't mysterious. Nothing comes in boxes with unpronounceable chemical names. In fact, on your plate it looks very similar to the raw product in the market.
So for Dina's birthday I make a chicken dish cooked with apricots, prunes and almonds. I added saffron and some tagine spice I bought from Abdul's friend Yassin. The spice mix is called "head of the store." Abdul told me this refers to the man who runs the shop. Each man creates his own spice blend. Yassin's was delicious.
Here's the basic way I cooked this meal. I'm not offering amounts because this dish is simple enough. Simply add what you need or what you have available. Don't make it complicated. Enjoy the company and the recipe is a success.
Bone-in chicken (I used thighs)
Saffron (if available)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Create a spice mix by combining red pepper, cumin, turmeric, ginger, pepper, cinnamon and salt. Use about 1/8 to 1/4 tablespoon per serving.
Fill a small dish with about a cup of warm tap water and drop in a few threads of saffron. Set aside. Slice onion, set aside.
Add olive oil to coat a large pan. Heat to medium-high. Add chicken, salting while cooking. Lightly brown one side. Flip and brown the other. Add saffron water and all other ingredients. Stir over medium heat. Add about a cup of additional water and cook down for about five minutes. Remove from heat.
Place chicken pieces in an oven-safe dish. Pour liquid and other ingredients over the top. Cover with foil and bake 40 to 45 minutes, depending on the size of chicken pieces. If you are making this dish for a dinner party, simply leave in a warm oven until ready to serve.
As an appetizer I served this Moroccan salad. I took some to Abdul, who said he approved. I made it with eggplant. And go easy on the red pepper; the amount called for makes it very spicy. The recipe is simple, but I suggest prepping all of the veggies and spices first. That will make cooking the dish very easy. Serve this room temp with some bread for dipping.
I got this recipe from a random Web site, so no credit to me!
ZALOUK - MOROCCAN SALAD (Bensafiddine)
2-3 green peppers (this salad can be made with eggplant instead of green peppers)
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
3-4 small tomatoes, chopped
1 medium onion, minced
2 tsp. red pepper
2-3 Tbs. tomato paste
1 tsp fresh parsley, minced
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. powdered ginger
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. cumin
- Put the green peppers on an open flame or under the broiler until the skin is burned black; put the peppers in a plastic bag rubbing briskly between the hands to remove the burned skin (if you are using eggplant instead of peppers, char them in the same manner, but simply scrape off the burned skin with a fork)
- Sauté the onions and garlic in the olive oil over medium to high heat; when the onions have become soft add the peppers, tomatoes, red pepper and other spices; when the tomatoes are soft add the tomato paste; lower heat, cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes- Allow to cool before serving, sprinkle with minced parsley