Archives for category: Morocco

It was my dad’s birthday last month and my mom and sister organized a fabulous cocktail party for him.  It’s almost a month later and I’m still thinking about the spread they put together.  I wasn’t even there to taste anything, but the pictures of the food I saw have left a lasting impression. My sister and I brainstormed a menu together.  I think I can attribute that session of feeding off each other and coming up with ideas to my push to be more active on my blog again.  While we were discussing I became inspired,  I came up with some pretty good appetizer ideas if I say so myself!

While my sister went shopping for the ingredients I would be on Whatsapp receiving pictures of everything and giving my feedback.  If was a lot of fun and it would have been even more enjoyable if we could have done it together.  See, my whole family is obsessed with food and eating.  We always have been and always will be.  We take pride in having people over and entertaining them.  It’s our goal that people remember the food, ambiance and company.  I’m not being a hater, but I’ve been to way too many gatherings where food is just plopped into foil trays with no thought and no presentation.  I would rather curl up and retire in a cave than serve anything in such a manner.

I think it might have something to do with my upbringing.  If somebody comes over at the last-minute I get super stressed out if I don’t have fresh flowers in the house, if I don’t have anything to feed them.  I will go into panic mode and clean my already clean place and get everything I need as quickly as I can.  I’m sure my guest wouldn’t have noticed, but when I have people over I like to entertain in a certain way .  I also wish more people were into it, but when I see all these beautiful blogs and websites I get really happy inside to find people who think the same way as me. 🙂

As I was saying, my sister and mom did a fabulous job at arranging the birthday party.  One of the appetizers we all came up with was  Moroccan meatballs.  My sister and I made a variation together when I visited my family over the summer and they were delicious.  So I suggested she make a cocktail party style meatball.  Apparently they were a hit and everyone loved them.  I have been thinking about making them since the birthday party, but I made a dinner version with a tomato-based sauce.  My husband being my husband (not one to pick up on details!), thought they were Italian-style meatballs at first, but when he tasted them he said that they were just like the ones we had on our trip to Marrakesh.  Score.  🙂

These meatballs are lovely with some crusty Moroccan bread, couscous, or rice.  Enjoy!

Lamb and Harissa Meatballs

Serves 4

Ingredients

for the tomato sauce:

2 tablespoons olive oil

28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes

1/2 onion chopped

4 cloves garlic, chopped

2 tablespoons of harissa paste

1/4 teaspoon crushed red chilies, optional

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

salt and pepper, to taste

for the meatballs:

oil for frying

1 pound ground lamb

1/2 a red onion, finely chopped

2 gloves garlic, minced finely

fresh parsley and cilantro, about 1/2 cup, chopped

1 Serrano chili, chopped and deseeded, if you like

1/4 cup dried golden raisins and dried cranberries

1 egg

1/4 cup plain breadcrumbs

1/4 cup harissa paste (you can find it in most grocery stores or Middle Eastern markets, if you want to make your own you can use my friend Sara’s recipe)

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

salt and black pepper, to taste

for garnishing:

fresh parsley, scallions, cilantro (or whatever you like)

toasted almonds

lemon wedges

olive oil, for drizzling

Method

To make the tomato sauce:

Heat the olive oil in a pot on medium heat and add the onions and allow them to get translucent, about 5-7 minutes.  Add in the garlic and let it cook for 2 minutes.  Add in the harissa, ground coriander, ground cumin, and crushed red chilies (optional) and let them cook for a minute.  Add in the crushed tomatoes and stir so that everything is combined.  Season with salt and pepper and after 10 minutes turn the heat down to low and leave the sauce to cook for about an hour.

To make the meatballs:

Combine all the ingredients for the meatballs in a large bowl and mix together with your hands.  Shape the meat mixture into balls (not too big and not too small) and let them marinate in the refrigerator for an hour or two.

After they have marinated, heat a large frying pan with a good amount (about 4-5 tablespoons) of oil (I used olive oil) and fry until the meatballs are golden on all sides and mostly cooked through.  Using a slotted spoon, remove the meatballs from the pan and add into the tomato sauce.  Make sure you drain most of the grease from the meatballs.

Let the meatballs simmer in the sauce for about 10-15 minutes.  Garnish with parsley, cilantro, scallions, toasted almonds, lemon wedges and finish with a drizzle of olive oil.

Serve with crusty bread, couscous, or rice.

My dad’s birthday spread prepared my my mom and sister!

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Marrakech personified

My husband and I recently returned from a vacation to Morocco.  We spent most of our time in Marrakech.  Morocco is somewhere I’ve wanted to go for ages and when the opportunity arose I was set on traveling there.  Marrakech, in some ways reminded me of Pakistan–the haggling shopkeepers, the crowds, the homes, and the hospitality.  We were lucky enough to do a great deal of exploring despite the rainy weather boooooo!  The few days when the sun was out were amazing!  But, more than anything we ate and ate and then ate some more.  I have fallen off the healthy eating boat and am going to get back on it now that I’m back *fingers crossed.*

Moroccan Salads at Le Tanjia

Chicken Tagine with Citrons Confits

The Djemaa el Fna or the central square in the old city of Marrakech is bustling with food stalls serving up traditional Moroccan fare such as cous cous, sujok, tagines, and pastilla.  If you enter one of the many alleys you are led to different quarters; one for spices, meats, vegetables, fruits, seafood.  It is like manipulating a maze.  My husband and I had no idea where we were going exactly but without fail stumbled upon a multitude of food “destinations.”

Djemaa el Fna

I loved the spices available there.  Sacks full of spices topped off in a pyramid shape were at every corner perfuming the air.  The fragrant aromas of cumin, saffron, ginger, and ras el hanout permeated the city.  Vibrant colors always catch my eyes and Marrakech was definitely bliss for my senses.

Bright, vibrant colored lemons and oranges were a daily staple for me.  I have never loved eating oranges on their own but being served fresh tree picked clementines and oranges daily can change a person’s perspectives.  The citrons confits or preserved salted lemons also utterly transformed my food journey.  The flavors exploded in my mouth– mellow yet tangy, bright and pungent.  Oh and the olives!  How can I forget the olives.  I have never consumed so many olives on a daily basis in my life.  Let me tell you, the olives in Morocco taste so much better than any other olive I have ever tasted.  My husband who *detests* olives was chowing them down like they were bon bons.  They were mild and not as vinegar laden as many other olives you find in North America.  Often times, they were marinated in lemon, thyme, garlic and other spices I could not quite discern.

Mint tea was another thing I consumed in enormous quantities.  Making mint tea is a real art.  Holding the teapot then raising your arm in an acrobatic motion and pouring just so the right amount of froth can cover the tea and then discarding the first glass so that all the impurities are taken out of the tea is almost scientific.  Huge bunches of mint were used in this tea creating such a pronounced yet delicate flavor.  Another thing that tasted like a completely different thing was honey.  Mind you, I only buy local and organic honey but this honey in Morocco beats any other honey I have ever tasted.  The bread was also another highlight of the trip.  Carb counters beware!  This bread is thick, dense, and chewy.  There is also a little honey added to it, creating a phenomenal taste.  Absolute heaven!

One thing I must say is that my perception of Moroccan food was a little off.  My husband and I took a cooking class with Lala Nazha, a famous cooking instructor in Marrakech.  I was speaking with her about how I would prepare cous cous.  First of all it would probably be instant whereas in Morocco they use a couscoussiere and is about a three hour process of steaming, and fluffing with olive oil and water.  Also, stewed meat is served on top and nothing is mixed in with the cous cous itself.  When I make cous cous I stir in nuts, dried fruits, herbs, vegetables and so on.  I told Lala Nazha this and she labeled my version “false cous cous.”  (Truth be told, I think I prefer my version of cous cous better, this could be because I felt the cous cous needed more flavor and texture.)  But, other than that the food in Morocco was truly memorable and I most certainly wish to return at some point because I only dipped my toe into the ocean that is Morocco and Moroccan cuisine.

Oh yes!  Before I forget, if anyone is traveling to Marrakech you must stay at Riad Dar One.   It was an absolute delight.  The owner, Jean Peres, and his staff are so friendly and helpful.  I have never had such a pleasant stay at a hotel.  The Riad itself is gorgeous and the rooms are modern yet have a distinct Moroccan flair.  I have nothing but praise for this establishment!

Here are  more pictures of the trip.  Enjoy!

Delicious honey, butter, and marmalade

Tagines

Eggplant and Tomato Dip

Cafe Arabe


Saffron growing in Ourika

Fresh Salt harvested outside Ourika by a Berber family