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Quick Overview of Moroccan Cuisine

Updated on February 15, 2018
Jana Louise Smit profile image

Jana believes that the spice of life can be found in the exploration of other cultures.

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What Makes It So Great

Moroccan cuisine ranges from simple dishes to culinary creations bordering on artistry. Some are whipped up by families at home, others born from the hands of a skilled chef. Either way, Moroccan meal times are marked by beauty, effort, presentation and respect for the guests who are encouraged to eat until they can consume no more. It is designed to present as visually pleasing as possible, entice the nose and hearten the sense of taste. Much of this is achieved through the use of spices. Sandalwood, mint and roses, as well as coriander being ever present. But it is not just the food and drink that makes Moroccan cooking a delightful experience. To sit at a low traditional Moroccan table is a thing of beauty. Cushions are provided to sit on, thick brocaded cloth covers the table and flowers are everywhere. A true effort brings together a thickly exotic and unforgettable meal.

The Starter And Main Course

To start off a Moroccan meal at home, whether to one's own family or guests, a starter is a good idea. For this purpose, mini kebabs remain a popular choice. They must be presented on their own little plate and removed as soon as the starter has been eaten. Called Kebab Koutbane, the beef is enriched with a Moorish marinade that makes it tasty and awakens the appetite. Another choice for a starter is what the French call ‘Soupe morocaine,’ a hearty soup made from vegetables, including chick peas and lentils, tomatoes and mutton stock. Besara, a traditional breakfast soup, consists of split peas and olive oil. When it comes to the main course, the possibilities are delightfully endless. One will have to nibble far and wide to reach the end of this country's menu. Considering that a hostess in Morocco can serve a meal that have up to fifty courses, one grasps how truly intricate and advanced the culinary skills are in Morocco. Some of the most popular dishes include the following.

Tajine

Tajine is a tasty stew. Well seasoned, it consists mainly of meat. While it can include other kinds of meat, chicken is the most commonly used. The stew is prepared with care and is left to simmer over a fire for hours. When served, the meal is accompanied by Khubz or flat bread. As a widely used dish in Morocco, the variations are plentiful and inventive. It can swing from normal chicken tajine to prawn with complementary vegetables and spices.

A Chunky Delight

Tajine served with flat bread.
Tajine served with flat bread. | Source

Couscous

This is said to be the one dish guilty of converting more foreigners to Moroccan cuisine than any other main course. It is the nation’s staple food as well as the national dish of the country. Made from semolina grain, it is served with mutton and poultry. Of course, vegetables are also added to the chef's preferences. When correctly prepared, each grain is separate and as a whole, the dish is gratifying and filling. Couscous can be served in a large communal platter or separately, allowing one plate for each guest. There are two ways to consume this delight. In Morocco, Couscous may be rolled up into tiny balls and placed in the mouth with the fingers, an eating habit some Westerners might not be comfortable with. Guests must be allowed to make up their own mind about choosing ‘finger’ or ‘fork’ when it comes to the national dish of Morocco.

The National Dish

Friends enjoying a communal bowl of couscous.
Friends enjoying a communal bowl of couscous. | Source

Kaliya

Also known as kalia, this much loved dish hails from the country's Berber influence. Kaliya consists of a mixture of lamb and veggies such as peppers, onion and tomatoes. The meat is cut into manageable pieces and flavored with spices. It is usually served on couscous or with bread.

The Extras

Most Moroccan dinners are concluded with sweetmeats or desserts. Once again, variety is guaranteed. These 'afters' can range from the simple peeled melon to intricately spiced dates with almonds, walnuts and pistachios. Among the choices that are often served are pastries made with honey as well as honeyed cinnamon oranges. If ice cream is preferred, coffee-cinnamon ice cream can be served on hot days as a treat or dessert.

True to the Moroccan thoroughness with cuisine, salads and side dishes are not the neglected step sisters of the main course, but are in fact so well-matched with ingredients and substance that they can sometimes be eaten as a main dish by themselves. Popular salads include eggplant or chopped tomato salad served as a separate course or in the company of couscous. Side dishes that can also be eaten on their own include the wonderful vegetarian meal of Moroccan chickpeas and sweet potatoes. Dried apricots are sometimes added to this recipe for an exotic taste sensation. Chickpea salad with cumin vinaigrette is another perfect vegan side dish and easy to prepare. Chilled glazed carrot salad and Tunisian carrot salad are other favorites. Sweet potato stew and fruit salad can be prepared to put some color on the table.

Snacks also, are made with an attention to detail perhaps unmatched elsewhere in the world. It requires an entire day just to make Pastilla, a popular delicacy in Morocco. Layers of tissue thin dough is placed between spicy meats. While pigeon meat is preferable, mutton and chicken are more often used as fillings inside this crisp pastry. It is seasoned to achieve a simultaneous sweetness and fire.

For liquid refreshments, mint tea is a must on the Moroccan menu and can be served with honey pastries. Coffee, fruit shakes, juices and even alcohol is allowed in this predominantly Muslim country. Although, alcohol is a matter for home consumption or at restaurants in Morocco and not in open public places.

Try It

Moroccan recipes may require some level of skill and dedication but the rewards are delightful and unforgettable. Nowhere else in the world can cuisine be so artfully played with in order to bring about the exotic atmosphere of the East through taste, smell, ritual and sight. When a person endeavors to create a Moroccan menu, it is important to keep this in mind, that it is an art form - one that shows respect for others through preparation and presentation, down to the last moment of the meal.

© 2018 Jana Louise Smit

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