June 10, 2016
Vol. VIII No. 12
Moroccan earthenware from Oldways' 2008 Morocco Culinaria.
Spotlight on Morocco
This week marked the beginning of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim year. Islam is the state religion in Morocco, and Ramadan is a special time there. During this period, Muslims fast from dawn until dusk, to facilitate patience, modesty, and spirituality. They eat only two meals a day, one before dawn and the other after dusk, often in solidarity with family and friends, in true Mediterranean style. 
When cannons fire at sunset to mark the end of each day's fast, Moroccan city streets fill with the scents of fragrant spices and traditional Moroccan flavors. Many mosques in Morocco even put out tables of food and vats of soup to share with their hungry communities after evening prayers. This evening meal to break the fast is called ftour, and typically includes bowls of velvety, tomato-based harira soup, hard-boiled eggs, dates, figs, and semolina cakes. Harira symbolizes the unification of the Moroccan people during Ramadan, and every region has its own version. 

Moroccan food is colorful, vibrant, and draws from the many populations that have occupied and traveled there through the centuries - Phoenicians, Romans, Ottomans, Arabs, Spanish Muslims, French and others. Geography explains the diversity of Moroccan cuisine: the coastlines of Spain and Morocco, broken by the strait of Gibraltar, form the western edge of the Mediterranean Sea, and create an avenue for trade and cultural exchange between Europe and North Africa. 

The two staples of Moroccan cooking, tagines and couscous, however, come from the indigenous culture of the Berbers. Much of Moroccan food is prepared in tagines, earthenware pots designed by the native Berbers more than 2,000 years ago (pictured above). Tagines have shallow, wide bases and funnel-like lids, allowing for the circulation of steam and even cooking of the ingredients inside. The stews cooked in these pots are also called tagines, and can be made with fish, poultry (usually chicken), meats (usually lamb), beans and/or vegetables.  

Couscous, the national dish of Morocco, is most often made from steamed fluffy kernels of semolina wheat, tossed with olive oil and garnished with flavorful sauce, fish, meat, fruit or vegetables. It's traditionally served for lunch on Fridays, when most of the family is home from work and school. Couscous can also be made with barley (the original Berber grain), barley sprouts, millet, or corn. 

Over the years, with the introduction of foreign ingredients, Moroccan cuisine has refined its sweet-and-sour flavors: raisins, dates, and fresh fruit are often incorporated into savory dishes to balance flavors of acidic ingredients like preserved lemons and olives. These dishes also wouldn't be complete without sophisticated spice blends, such as ras el hanout, or "head of the shop," a special blend of spices made up by grocers that typically includes ground cumin, cardamom, allspice, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, pepper and a handful of other spices. Bowls of seasoned olives, bread, and olive-oil based vegetable salads often accompany Moroccan mains, consistent with tables around the Mediterranean.

Check out the Moroccan-inspired recipes below to try your hand with Moroccan flavors. Don't worry if you don't have all of the spices these recipes call for. You'll still get delicious results making do with what you have on hand.

Click on a title or photo below to go to the recipe.

This hearty vegetarian stew calls for Kabocha squash, a sweet winter squash of Japanese origin. In the summer, substitute thin-skinned summer squash like zucchini, chopped, and add it at the end with the lentils. Serve the stew over a bed of fluffy couscous.

Recipe and photo courtesy of the American Pulse Association

The twists and spirals of cellentani pasta capture and hold all of the delicious elements of this Moroccan-inspired sauce, flavored with lamb shoulder, turmeric, cinnamon, and ground ginger. Enjoy with a green salad or roasted vegetables. 

Recipe and photo courtesy of Barilla

This recipe is for a traditional meat tagine, which requires marinating the meat overnight. If you don't own a tagine, substitute the widest, shallowest Dutch oven or heavy skillet you have (something good for low, slow cooking). Use a tight-fitting lid or tin foil in place of the conical tagine top. Serve it with couscous or with bread.  

Recipe and photo courtesy of Al Wadi Al Akhdar.

Books We Recommend
Food of Morocco
by Ghillie Basan
This comprehensive cookbook is a collection of classic Moroccan tagine and couscous recipes from prolific food and travel writer Ghillie Basan. 

by Paula Wolfert
In this definitive guide, Paula Wolfert, the undisputed queen of Mediterranean cooking, provides food lovers with the recipes and preparation techniques to make Moroccan food at home. 
by Jeff Koehler
Morocco includes 80 recipes with Spanish influences, rustic Berber styles, complex, palace-worthy plates, spicy tagines, and surprisingly easy-to-make street food. 

Fresh Fridays is a bi-weekly celebration of Mediterranean eating and living. We hope our Friday recipes will remind you just how easy and delicious eating the Mediterranean way can be.   

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