Aliza Green

Chef | Consultant | Author

First Christian Church

Posts tagged: Argan oil

Just back from a fabulous trip to Morocco, a land of mellow delights and warm, kind people

Morocco has been on my culinary radar ever since I first ate couscous in the Paris Jewish neighborhood of the Marais at age 12–it was a revelation. In years since, I had the opportunity to work with several Moroccan and Tunisian chefs, who inspired me to finally plan a trip there. Researching my two books on spices (Field Guide to Herbs & Spices and The Magic of Spice Blends), I became convinced that I needed to make that trip. And, I am very happy to say that my culinary/cultural tour with 13 guests was a delight for all, though not without its challenges–road to the Sahara closed due to snow (!), very slow-going to cross the Tichka Pass over the snow covered peaks of the High Atlas Mountains to Fez, and sleeping bundled up in every piece of clothing I owned including hat and gloves in a tent in the bitter cold of the Sahara night, which was nonetheless a high point of the trip for all.

Steaming chickpeas slow-cooked with gelatin-rich calves feet–one of the most delicious dishes of the entire trip at Dar Naji Restaurant in Rabat.

Vegetable tajine slow-cooked on the fire in terra cotta, garnished with Moroccan pink/purple olives and tender lemon confit at the wonderful Dar Naji Restaurant in Rabat, a placed beloved by the locals for good reason

A plateful of Moroccan pastries most made with locally-grown almonds and often flavored with orange blossom water extracted from the fragrant blossoms of the bitter orange free–one was better than the next, also at Dar Naji in Rabat.

The key to the excellence of the garlic found in most dishes is that it is all locally-grown hard-neck, pink-skinned garlic. We can find this type of garlic in farmer’s markets in season but rarely in any commercial store. Juicy, plump, mild, and sweet.

Fresh cardoons, stalks of a plant closely related to the artichoke, were in season as were small, tender fresh green fava beans in the smell plastic bags on the side of the photo.

Many Moroccans do not want their photo taken and we respected their wishes. Here I was trying to get a photo of the sad-eyed donkey (donkeys are the only mode of transport in the old Medina of Fez) and happened to get a picture of this woman in blue, perhaps the owner of the donkey.

Bowls of fresh-picked herbs to be used in making tea–usually Chinese green gunpowder tea and plenty of spearmint but here, in a small stall in the Fez medina, the proprietor makes his own healthful blend of sage, rose geranium, wormwood (used to make absinthe), and perhaps a few other herbs.

While I’ve been serving the Moroccan celebration dish, Chicken B’Stilla (classically made with pigeon meat), I finally got a chance to sample someone else’s recipe during a cooking class at the Palais Amani in Fez. I wish we could get the crunchy waraka or feuilles de brik pastry they use–it’s similar to fillo but layered with oil and crunchier.

A sampling of the many (I’ve heard anywhere from 36 to 96) spices that make up the spend blend that is the pride of every traditional spice & herb vendor. Here we on the sunny rooftop terrace at Herboriste La Sagesse in the Marrakesh medina. Marrakesh is the center of Morocco’s spice trade.

More spices at La Sagesse–including Sri Lankan cinnamon, pomegranate blossoms (off to the side), fennel seed, fenugreek, wihite peppercorns, coriander seed, dried green basil, dried red basil, anise seed and more.

The legendary Argan oil must be extracted from laboriously shelled, then peeled, then roasted seeds. Only then are they ready to be ground by hand using this heavy stone mill. We stopped at a coop run by a group of women and bought our oil and other Argan products directly from the producers–I always want to support ways for women to gain financial independence.

The colorful; baskets at Herboriste La Sagesse are filled with herbs like bay leaves and dried roses, but also pumice stones, rock salt, dried hibiscus blossoms, and a special plant used as a toothpick. The giant snakeskin is from a boa.

Couscous is always presented in a carefully planned design, with alternating colors of vegetables and a center here of caramelized onions and raisins which cloak the slow-cooked lamb hidden underneath. This was served to us at lunch in the wonderful Marrakesh restaurant, Le Jardin, which combined a delicious French Salade Nicoise with delicious marinated chicken and spicy merguez lamb sausage kebobs, and this couscous followed by the most delicious French Tarte au Citron and Gateau au Chocolat. I only eat desserts if I know they are homemade from scratch and both of these met the test–well worth the calories!

 

When I saw the small bowls of infant radishes at the Domaine de Val d’Argan winery in Ounaga on the way to Essaouria, I knew that there was someone in the kitchen who really cared. And, I was so right–a gorgeous array of fresh, local vegetable salads (no pix, I’ll try to get them on my next visit which is coming up soon), followed by the juiciest and most tender lamb kebobs (definitely made with loin of lamb). The chef is a woman, as are many of the heads of the best kitchens of Morocco, and her name is Rachma. I look forward to greeting her on my next visit. A natural culinary talent with an eye for beauty and a wonderful hand with flavors and textures.

Doing my best to knead the bread dough we made in the small, family-run kitchen at Chez Pierre in the magnificant Dades Gorge region. This delicious bread, called medfouna AKA Berber stuffed flat bread, was to be stuffed with herbs, spices, and onions and baked. I sure loved it!