As most of you know, I wasn’t terribly well-versed in international cuisine before I started traveling. Before traveling the world, I had never tried Thai food, Indian food, not even Mexican food! So it’s been a whirlwind experience trying all sorts of new foods that I never even knew about. Sometimes it’s a pleasant discovery, and other times I’m reminded why certain dishes haven’t gained traction in the States. And so, coming to Morocco was a chance to delve into a whole new world of foods and foreign delicacies. Not wanting to do anything halfway, I jumped at the chance to take a cooking class and really learn about Moroccan cuisine. And that’s how I found myself in a kitchen in Fez, learning to cook Moroccan tajine from a woman who had learnt all her cooking skills from her mother years ago.
Keeping with tradition, the house is the woman’s domain, while the man’s is the street, and the kitchen is especially the woman’s. And so from a young age, my teacher for the day, Samira, learned to cook by her mother’s side in the kitchen. This did go on to serve her quite well as she’s made a career of her skills and has been featured on the international television program Bizarre Foods (wherein she gives show host Andrew Zimmern some homegrown sass about trying to invade her kitchen!). And I get to learn from this woman today!
We start the morning with a trip to the market where we select the fresh produce that we’ll need, barter with the merchants, and chat with her local acquaintances. Going to market is more a social outing than an errand, especially in a small community. Then back in the kitchen, the preparation begins with washing and chopping the vegetables. The tajine would take a full day to cook in the traditional style of roasting over a fire so we use a pressure cooker to reduce the cooking time to just a few hours. This will take the longest of the three-course meal to cook so we start with it first. Into the pressure cooker goes finely chopped onions, the chunks of lamb meat we picked up at the butcher, and a handful of spices including ginger, black pepper, turmeric, salt, cinnamon, and the highly coveted safran. It smells great already! After that cooks together for awhile we add in quinces, which fall somewhere between apples and pears, with a hardy quality that make them great for cooking. These will sweeten the meat and round out the spectrum of flavors in the dish.
Preparation moves on now to the first course, an aubergine salad, and the desert, a dish of cream with orange. The eggplants are cooked together with garlic, tomato and coriander, into a spread that will be perfect on Moroccan bread. And for desert, the cream is cooked into a custard, topped with an orange gelatin, and refrigerated until the evening. After chopping and stirring and standing over the stove all morning in the stifling Moroccan heat, we sit for a rest with cold water and Samira tells me more about Moroccan cooking and her experiences in the kitchen. If I had more time here in in Fez, I would like to take an entire semester’s course with her. She’s an excellent cook, and the proof is revealed at dinner time when I can sit and enjoy the fruits of our labor. Each dish brings a delightful surprise of how the simple ingredients we combined just a few hours before could yield such a delicious treat. The tajine is especially lovely, the tender meat balanced by the quinces, and I’m so glad that I had a hand in this dish. Learning to cook Moroccan tajine makes me appreciate all the more the final product. By the end of the meal I’m entirely full, but would eat more if I could! The entire day was a treat, learning about Moroccan cooking from an expert, chatting with Samira about our lives and families, and then enjoying a lovely meal. I would do it again for sure!
You too can learn the secrets of Moroccan cooking alongside star chef Samira when you visit Fez. Book your cooking class through Riad Anata, and get all the details you need for visiting Fez in this visitor’s guide!
Watch our process in the kitchen right here:
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