Meal 116: Morocco

I love spices. I love meats cooked with sweet flavors. I love Moroccan food.

This was one of our very most anticipated meals, and I went pretty overboard with all the dishes and condiments. But with all the meats and flavors, how could I have cut back? The house smelled fantastic, we all got super full, and there was so much food going on that I even left one whole dish uncooked to be enjoyed later. Thank goodness for mint tea that helped our digestion.


Our guests for a lovely summer evening were Andrew, Laura, Craig, Laura, Tennessee, Alley, Amos, Nik, Deena, Bengt, Tim, Kristine, Haley and Mary.

Baghrir | Pancakes | Recipe

A semolina-heavy pancake that puffs up quite similarly to an American-style pancake, but this one you don’t flip over. We had it with two toppings: goat cheese with honey (yumm) and fermented butter (yumm to some).

Smen | Fermented butter | Article

I’ve read that in some families, it’s tradition to bury a container of smen when a daughter is born, to be unearthed and eaten for her wedding. By comparison, the version I made hung out in my cupboard for about a month. Even still, it had a distinctive, but not unpleasant, funkiness, which made for a really intense sensation in combination with all that butterfat. If you’re intrigued, read the article! And if you make some, enjoy it with those pancakes.

Harira | Lentil stew | Recipe

This stew is classically made with lamb, but I went the vegan route due to some guests’ dietary needs, as well as the abundance of meat on offer in other dishes. We hardly missed the meat, as it was plenty rich in terms of flavor, heft, and mouthfeel, but also bright with fresh herbs and a squeeze of lemon. A great simple, healthy dish for a cold evening.

Seafood bisteeya | Savory seafood pie | Recipe

Bisteeya is Morocco’s contribution to that great list of foods that includes empanadas, pierogi, bao, and börek best summarized as savory pies. The crust is fillo dough, the filling is typically based around poultry, and it’s topped off with powdered sugar. Sugar with chicken? You bet.

Anyway, as with the harira, to make the meal more accessible to more people I went with this seafood-based version. I made the rookie mistake of not defrosting the fillo overnight, and my rushed method led to the sheets breaking in half. Worry not, because I just made two smaller ones.

In the rush of all the cooking and the huge excess of food, I didn’t end up baking off these pies for the dinner. But my goodness, they were so delicious later! Also, they freeze really well, just throw them straight into the oven without defrosting.

Couscous | Preparation

That little pasta’s really easy to cook, right? Just a bit of boiling water, a few minutes, and ready to go? Sure, but how about adding a lot more effort and an hour more for a moderately improved texture? If you want to do it right, which involves three separate rounds of steaming interspersed with breaking up clumps by hand, then follow the link above. The cool thing is that this is efficient with energy and stovetop space: you do it right on top of the tagine!

I suppose if I were from the region and grew up with couscous made this way, I’d appreciate it being done right. But frankly, I didn’t feel like the improvement was worth all the effort. Unless somehow we messed up.

Lamb with prunes Recipe

As far as I’m concerned, this is the Platonic ideal of Moroccan food. Rich meat, sweet fruit, haunting spices, and a long slow simmer combine to make the sort of food that you just can’t stop eating. I’m practically smelling the dish as I type. You should cook it so you can smell it too. Make a lot, freeze the leftovers, and enjoy them many times.

Chicken tagine with preserved lemon and olives | Recipe

This dish covers the other direction of Moroccan meats: brighter and tangy. The meal will still be great if you make it with fresh lemons, but it just won’t convey the appropriate depth and intrigue unless you use preserved lemons. (I anticipated the meal several months prior, and made them myself from Meyer lemons from my parents’ tree. It takes like five minutes to make them, but you do have to wait at least a few weeks for them to mature.)

Vegetable tagine with tfaya | Stewed vegetables with caramelized onion and raisins | Recipes: Tagine and sauce

We made this the vegetarian way, and it was still quite tasty. Make sure to cut the veggies big enough that they hold up, both for presentation and texture.

The real star of the dish was the topping. It has nearly as much of that rich savory-sweet-aromatic as the lamb tagine, but to me the real high point is the floral note from the sprinkle of orange blossom water at the end. I’d really better make this tfaya again.

Khobs kesra | Bread | Recipe

It looks pretty, but was kind of disappointing, just not very flavorful and a weak crumb. I’m going to assume it was our own failure, but all the same I’d maybe seek out a different recipe, or just buy the fluffiest pita you can find.

Harissa | Spicy paste | Recipe

There are many harissa recipes in English, but it’s worth running this obnoxious all-caps Courier-font French one through Google Translate for this one. The secret is the mint, which adds a lovely second sort of tingle to the predominant fiery chili one. (Also, consider cutting this recipe in half or even a quarter, unless you plan on going through a lot of it in a month or two.

Ghoriba | Almond cookies cake | Recipe

An accident that turned out great! These are intended to be cookies, but when we put everything together the batter was just too slack. So instead of dolloping

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