Like the country itself, Moroccan cuisine is a melting pot of different cultures. Flavours from the Mediterranean, Arabic, Andalusian and Berber merge to create deliciously aromatic food. Moroccan food is brightly coloured, heavily spiced and bursts with flavour. It’s hard not to leave the country without falling in love, or inevitably gaining a few pounds. After my last trip to Marrakech, I was keen to learn more about Moroccan cooking. For those of you who know me well, you’ll know how much I love cooking. But in all honesty it’s never occurred to me to take a cookery class abroad. Unlike other cookery classes, Souk Cuisine aims to give you an authentic Moroccan experience. Its aim is to give you an immersive Moroccan cookery lesson, starting with a trip to the medina. Armed with a shopping list and a bag for my groceries, we headed into the souk to find the ingredients we needed.
Rather than setting all the ingredients out, pre-prepped, Souk Cuisine encourages you to live like a local for the day. Over my last couple of trips, I’ve spent hours navigating the meandering twists and turns of the medina. But I saw a whole new side of it on my visit with Souk Cuisine. Marrakech’s medina is an integral part of the city for its inhabitants. While its maze-like streets make it a popular attraction for tourists, it is a working medina where hundreds of locals ply their trade. Heading deeper into the souk, we sought out butchers, fishmongers and the farmers selling freshly grown vegetables. Berber women sat weighing tomatoes and carrots, offering us sweet pea pods to snack on. Spice merchants showed us how to find the best saffron (always look for yellow tips and the slight tackiness) and we searched for the good jars of citron confit (always pick the ugliest looking lemons), filling our baskets before heading to Souk Cuisine’s riad to start preparing our food.
After a few hours spent exploring the medina and checking off our shopping lists, Souk Cuisine felt like a welcome respite from the chaos. It’s open air, but sheltered from the sun making it the perfect spot for an afternoon of traditional cooking. Accompanied with a small group of Moroccan women, I was shown the Moroccan way to dice an onion (watch this video to see how) and how to prepare a traditional tagine. Aside from strange ways of dicing, what surprised me about my afternoon of Moroccan cooking was how simple most dishes were to prepare. So much so that I’ve included a few of my favourite recipes from the day! There’s a fine art to the combination of flavour and spices, but the majority of dishes are relatively straight forward to make. The secret lies in slow cooking: ingredients are heated over a relatively low heat, allowing them to simmer and release flavour slowly.
Recipe for Chicken Tagine with carrots and chickpeas
1 whole chicken (approx 1.5 kilo) cut into quarters
1 onion, diced finely
1 kilo of carrots peels, cored and cut lengthways
200 grams of chickpeas, soaked overnight and peeled
1/2 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
1/2 tbsp fresh coriander, finely chopped
2/3 tsp ground ginger
2/3 tsp pepper
2/3 tsp salt
1 cinnamon stick
2 garlic cloves, crushed
The rind of 1/2 a preserved lemon
8 tablespoons of olive oil
1/4 litre of water
Place the chicken, onion, parsley, coriander, spice, cinnamon, garlic and preserved lemon rind in the tagine on a low heat, adding olive oil. Put the lid on the tagine and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add water and simmer for a further 15 minutes before adding the carrots and chickpeas. Leave the tagine to simmer until the chicken is cooked, carrots are soft and chickpeas have a slight bite. Serve straight from the tagine with couscous and fresh crusty bread.
Recipe for Ghribas, Moroccan shortbread
100g icing sugar
2 tbsp sesame seeds
1/4 tsp salt
50g softened butter
375ml vegetable oil
3.5g baking powder
2 tbsp orange flower water
Sift the flower and icing sugar. Add sesame seeds, salt, butter, baking powder and orange flower water. Mix all the ingredients and add oil slowly while kneading the mixture into a smooth dough. Roll tablespoons of the dough into small balls and place on the rounded side of a baking tray. Place in a pre-heated oven (180 degrees celsius) and bake until golden brown
Recipe for Ghoribas, Moroccan cookies with semolina and coconut
250 g semolina
200g icing sugar
200ml vegetable oil
7g baking powder
pinch of salt
50g almonds, cut in half
50g icing sugar for decoration
Break the eggs in a bowl and mix well with the oil and sugar. Add coconut, salt, semolina and baking powder until the mixture becomes a smooth dough. Roll tablespoons of the dough into small balls and decorate with icing sugar and an almond. Bake in a preheated oven (180 degrees celsius) until golden.
Thank you to the Moroccan Tourist Office and to Gemma from Souk Cuisine for a brilliant afternoon of Moroccan cooking.