Eat, eat: “Ish, ish,” in Tamazight (Berber language) or “Kul, kul” in Darija (Moroccan dialect) are some of the first words you will hear when you enter any Moroccan home.
Every Moroccan person I have ever met has used the phrase “you haven’t tasted X, until you’ve tasted my Mum’s,” or “My Mum makes the best….”
As a British woman married to a Moroccan, I am determined that our 10-month-old son will not be the exception to the rule.
Having always loved to cook, I was thrilled when I first met my husband’s family: as anyone who has ever visited a Moroccan home will already know, food is very much at the heart of Morocco’s famous hospitality.
From the day I arrived at their Essaouira home, the table in the salon was never empty. Tagines, couscous, msemen, mint tea, more tagines, tangia…, I could go on.
My mother-in-law’s kitchen was a door to a delicious realm of cupboards full of unknown spices, herbs, preserved olives, and lemons, grains of every shape and size, and a wealth of culinary secrets.
Within a week of staying with my new in-laws, I had already learned the secrets of couscous over a long morning of steaming and separating the grains, under the watchful eyes of my mother-in-law, her two sisters, and my grandmother-in-law.
Now, after three years of kitchen apprenticeship at the elbows of my Moroccan family, I am the one urging guests to tuck into steaming dishes of mouth-watering Moroccan food.
So, here is my foreigners’ guide to cooking like a Moroccan Mum
The first Moroccan dish I ever learned to cook was what my husband calls an “express tagine.”
This is a dish for those evenings when you are tired, too busy, or simply feeling too lazy to cook anything complicated.
It has become a staple in our home and makes the rounds on the family dinner table more often than I care to admit.
As promised, it is very basic but you do need one key piece of equipment: a tagine.
You can buy tagines in most Moroccan souks (markets) for between MAD 30 and MAD 60 depending on the size. If you are travelling without a Moroccan friend or guide who can help with negotiating, do not be afraid to be firm while haggling. It is not an expensive piece of equipment.
If you do buy a new one, remember to soak it in water for at least 12 hours before use to prevent cracking when you use it. You can also use a heat diffuser underneath the tagine if you cook over gas.
I usually make this tagine on a gas hob but, in winter, we sometimes choose to cook it over a wood fire.
Vegetarians can follow the same recipe but skip out the kefta (minced beef) or substitute with lentil balls.
Now it’s time to pop to the shop
The ingredients are also basic, so a quick trip to the corner shop, souk (if you’re in Morocco), or local supermarket will cover everything.
The basic components are:
1 large onion
1 or 2 tomatoes
200g of minced beef
1 tablespoon of olive/vegetable oil or butter (I prefer olive oil)
3 cloves of garlic (I sometimes put in more because my husband is a big garlic fan)
2 teaspoons of ground cumin
A generous pinch of salt
A handful of chopped parsley is a good addition if you can get it. I also sometimes add a generous handful of frozen or fresh peas for extra vitamins!
Now get out your tagine
- Grate or finely chop (my husband insists on the grating, but I am often too lazy!) the tomatoes, onions, and garlic into the tagine with the oil or butter.
- Season and add the cumin.
- Cover the tagine and leave to cook for about five minutes at a medium heat — the onion and tomatoes will disintegrate.
- While you are waiting for the tagine to do its work, form small balls of meat by rolling them in your hand.
- Add the meatballs to the tagine and leave to cook through (about 10 to 15 mins). If you are adding peas or any other green veg, throw it in with the meatballs.
- Crack the eggs over the meatballs and cover again. Here it is your choice how long to cook the eggs for– I prefer them runny so do not leave them for too long.
- Sprinkle the chopped parsley or extra cumin over the eggs and that’s it!
Traditionally, this tagine comes with bread. In Morocco we use the bread as cutlery and all tuck into one tagine in the middle, however, when I serve this in the UK we use dinner plates, knives and forks, and boiled potatoes as a side dish instead of the bread.