Moroccan cuisine combines the aromatic flavors of the Mediterranean, Arabia, Andalusia and France. Common proteins include beef, goat, sheep, lamb, chicken and fish. Spices are used regularly such as cumin, coriander, ginger, turmeric, saffron and cinnamon, to name a few. A variety of olives, nuts and dried fruits are used as well but if you ask me, I think the star of the show is the preserved lemon. Not only do these little bitties pack a punch of flavor, they are a unique and indispensable ingredient in Moroccan cuisine. And let us not forget bread! Moroccans eat bread for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert. Let’s face it, if you are gluten free, Morocco might not be your first choice, although it’s certainly possible to avoid or limit bread consumption. Here are some of the first dishes that come to mind when you think Morocco and also some of my personal faves.
Tajine. The heavy-hitter of Moroccan cuisine. A tajine is a clay pot with a conical lid used on an open fire to make a slow roasted stew. There is really no wrong way to make a tajine but there are several standard combinations – traditional chicken with olive and lemon; beef with almond and prune; vegetable tajine; kefta tajine which is made with beef, lamb or chicken meatballs and served with egg. Tajines are served bubbling hot and can be found at nearly every roadside cafe and restaurant in Morocco, low to high end. They are always served with a flat round bread known as khubz. If sharing a large tajine with a group, you are expected to eat democratically in Morocco – that is in, and only in, your tajine territory. Moroccans eat tajine with their right hand, using the bread a scooper.
Couscous. Admittedly not my go-to dish, but couscous is undoubtedly a staple here in Morocco. Made of a fine, hand-rolled semolina pasta, it is steamed over a stew of meat and vegetables and served in giant pyramids, the meat below and the veg pressed to the sides of the pyramid. Often times it is served with a side of sauce and in the Berber tradition, with a cup of buttermilk. Couscous is most commonly eaten on Fridays, the Muslim holy day.
B’stilla (or pastilla). One of my faves. This traditional dish was inherited from Andalusia. It is an elaborate meat pie traditionally made with squab (fledgling pigeon), but more commonly made today with chicken or fish. What I love about it is the combination of savory and sweet flavors. Slow cooked meat is seasoned with cinnamon and sugar, stuffed into crisp layers of werqa dough (similar to phyllo but thinner) and baked to perfection.
Baghrir. Baghrir is an ancient Berber pancake commonly served for breakfast in Algeria and Morocco. They are small, spongy and light with tiny holes covering their surface – perfect for soaking up butter, honey, or jam. I’m a big fan of these. They are not nearly as heavy as traditional American pancakes.
Briouats. They can be made savory or sweet. A briouat is puff pastry filled with chicken or lamb, goat cheese, lemon and pepper. They are wrapped in warqa and typically folded into triangles, then baked or fried and topped with fresh herbs and sometimes powdered sugar. I love a savory briouat! I consider them Moroccan wontons.
Mixed olives. I’m a huge fan of olives and little did I know that Morocco is second only to Greece in olive exports worldwide. Served on their own, with fresh herbs or with a bit of harissa (a spicy North African red sauce), olives are perfect anytime and are served even at breakfast in Morocco.
Moroccan tomato salad. It’s fairly straightforward this one and definitely found in variation across the Mediterranean. Made with tomatoes, onion, parsley, olive oil, lemon, salt, pepper, sometimes cucumber and a pinch of ras el hanout (Moroccan masala). It’s available on every menu, is easy to make, and is light and refreshing.