In my last year or two of high school, I seriously considered moving to Morocco as a post-secondary option. I wanted to see the world, and I could think of no place more foreign to a farm kid from Canada, than the north-west coast of Africa. I got books out of the library, studied maps, day-dreamed away entire math classes (I didn’t do so well in math). Something about the country had me hooked.
The summer after high school, while working in tobacco, I befriended an Irishman named John. He had been to most of the countries in Europe, as well as Morocco. It was John who first warned me about the dangers of traveling in North Africa for a naive, blond haired North American. I would stand out like a sore thumb, and be an easy target for thieves. He painted a picture of a much more real and menacing but equally exotic location as the one I had been reading about. I decided to hold off on my Moroccan trek.
Life has a funny way of happening to you when you aren’t paying attention. In my last year of college I was approached by a company who wanted to send me to Morocco for two years. I had a diploma in outdoor adventure and could speak french and English, and they were looking for someone to lead convoys over the Atlas Mountains, to the Berbers in the Sahara. I was thrilled at the prospect, but the deal eventually fell through. To make a long story short, their expectations and my own weren’t exactly compatible.
To this day the Kingdom of Morocco haunts me. The Phoenicians, Romans, Christians and Muslims have each had a turn at ruling, and in spite of a very close proximity to Europe, and ties to the Middle East, the country is still very much African. French, Spanish, and Arabic can be heard on the streets, and this blending of histories and cultures is strongly reflected in the cuisine.
Moroccan cooking relies heavily on saffron, mint, olives, oranges and lemons. Green tea with mint and sugar is a common drink. Chicken, beef and lamb are the most popular meats, and couscous and tajine are the dishes most commonly associated with Morocco.
Berber Spice Paste
This is great to have on hand to make almost anything, from chicken and beef, to fish and vegetables, more flavourful and aromatic. A little goes a long way.
2tsp cracked black pepper,
1tsp coriander seeds,
1tsp cardamom seeds,
1 (1 inch) cinnamon stick,
4 allspice berries,
3 whole cloves,
1 small onion, cut into pieces,
2 cloves chopped garlic,
1 (1 inch) piece of fresh ginger, sliced,
1/3 cup paprika,
1tbsp sea salt,
1-2 tsp red pepper flakes,
1/2 cup olive oil,
3tbsp fresh lemon juice.
Add all the spices to a dry skillet over medium heat, and stir occasionally until toasted (approx. 3 min). Allow spices to cool, then grind into a powder.
place onion, garlic and ginger in a food processor. Finely chop. Add spices and remaining ingredients and blend to a fine paste. Use immediately, or keep covered and refrigerated for up to several weeks.