The Art of Moroccan Cuisine
A Culture of Eating, Drinking, andBeing Hospitable
History and influences
Moroccan cuisine is considered one of the most importantcuisines in the world. One of the reasons for its importance is its remarkable diversityof influences. In Moroccan dishes, one can trace the country’s long history ofcolonizers and immigrants who have left their mark in more than one way. Thecuisine of the first inhabitants, the Berbers, still exists today in the stapledishes like tagine and couscous. The Arab invasion brought new spices, nuts anddried fruits, and the sweet and sour combinations that we see in dishes liketagine with dates and lamb. The Moors introduced olives, olive juice and citruswhile the Jewish-Moors left behind their sophisticated preserving techniquesthat we see in the frequent use of preserved lemons, pickles, etc. The OttomanEmpire introduced barbeque (kebabs) to Moroccan cuisine. The French colony,although short-lived compared to reign of some of these other empires, leftbehind a culture of cafes, pastries, and even wine. Over time, cooks in thekitchens of the four royal cities (Fez, Marrakesh, Meknes, and Rabat) havedeveloped and perfected the dishes that blend each of these distinct tastes.Every Moroccan dish has its place in society and varies with the market, theseason, and the region.
The Moroccan Spice Cabinet – Moroccan food is marked by themedley of spices found in its dishes. Dried ginger, cumin, salt,black pepper and tumeric is a mixture found in almost everytagine and couscous. Cumin is used in almost every Moroccan dish and isconsidered so important that it is served on the table along with salt andpepper. Cinnamon can be found in tagines, bisteeya, and fruit salads. Paprikaand Sahara chiles are used to spice up some tomato-based dishes,vegetable tagine, and charmoula. The South of Morocco is a source of pure saffronpistils that are used in food, tea and as an herbal medicine. Ras l’hanootmeans “the head of the shop”. This spice is a mix of 20-40 different spicesconcocted by the shop owner. Cardamom is used in cream desserts, likemuhallabiya. Sesame seeds are found on pastries and are very importantduring Ramadan to make special Ramadan desserts like sllou, a sweet and heavy pastemade with sesame seeds. Cloves are sometimes used when making broth.
Herbs– Maadnous and qsbour (parsley and cilantro) are alwaysbought together in the Moroccan souks. They are the most commonly used herbs inMoroccan cuisine and essential to almost every dish. Liqama, or mint isthe second most important herb since it is used to make Moroccan mint tea. Shiba,or absinthe is illegal in some countries because of its stimulative drugproperties. However, in Morocco it is a popular repacement for mint in teaduring the winter when mint is out of season. Louisa (verbena) and marjolaneare also used in tea and are valued for their healing qualities. Aniseis used on pastries and bread. You can find thyme used in desserts, likeroasted figs and apricots.
Oils– Olive oil is the best oil to cook Moroccan food with.Morocco has a rich land for olives, although most of the best olive oil isexported and becoming too expensive for the average Moroccan. Therefore, inmany households nowadays, you see Moroccans cooking with vegetable oil. Arganoil is a strong, nutty flavored oil that is grown in the South of Morocco,between Essaouria and Agadir. It is not a traditional ingredient in Fassikitchens, but it is used in the South as a dressing for salads, in desserts,and as a dermatological product. Because of these dermatological properties,this oil has also become a hot commodity in some of the luxury Europeancosmetic stores as a wrinkle-reducing oil.
Scented Waters – Rosewaterand orange flower water are important ingredients in desserts, likecream pastilla, muhallabiya and fruit salads. They are also used in somedrinks, like fruit juices.