Here is my friend Stevie’s column in The Telegraph about our trip to Morocco. xx

Moroccan recipes: Sweet meats of Marrakesh

Our new cookery writer Stevie Parle goes to pot for a taste of the Maghreb

Stevie Parle, above prepares ingredients for a 'kind of? Moroccan salad

Stevie Parle, above prepares ingredients for a ‘kind of? Moroccan salad Photo: ANDREW CROWLEY

A few weeks ago I went to Morocco with my family. We stayed in a beautiful house in a quiet neighbourhood in Marrakesh, north of the Medina and close to the extraordinary Jardin Majorelle. The days were warm, the nights were cool, and the food was delicious. I spent much of my time poking around the local food markets and peering into the shops and stalls near our house, then rushing back to try things out.

It’s great to have the use of a kitchen on holiday; I would have hated to miss the chance to buy delicious bunches of wild asparagus or big bulbs of fennel because I had nowhere to cook them

Each neighbourhood of Marrakesh has a hammam or bath house, and the one closest to our house was particularly charming. What I loved was not the massage or mud scrub; not the steam or the beautifully tiled interior; but the huge wood-burning oven used to heat the water for the baths.

This oven also doubled as a community bakery. All morning a steady stream of people of all ages, from young children to grandmothers, brought wooden trays with flat loaves of bread covered with personalised tea towels. The loaves were baked by the hammam oven operator, left on racks with the tea towels on top and retrieved later by their owners.

During the evening, people brought tall ceramic urns called tangias to the hammam. These are filled with beef or lamb, a little water, cumin, olive oil and salt, then buried in the cooling ash of the oven; this gentle cooking creates a beautiful dish, delicately flavoured and enjoyed with plain steamed couscous. I bought a tangia to experiment with in the ash of my tandoor oven at The Dock Kitchen.
We shared our house with my friend Claire Ptak and her husband. Claire is an excellent pastry chef, and the owner of Violet (www.violetcakes.com) in Hackney, one of the loveliest bakeries around. So we had an eye for the pies with which Moroccan cuisine abounds.

French colonialism has left Morocco with a surprising number of bakeries, but one I was most fascinated by made warka pastry. It is an amazing feat of patience, not so much a pastry as a wet-yeasted dough, dubbed and spread onto a hotplate very thinly, and cooked briefly. It is then whipped off, creating a thinner-than-paper pastry, a little like filo, that forms the basis for the classic pastilla: pigeon and almond pie. In this bakery they used warka to make delicious baklava-like pastries, stuffed with mixtures of nuts, honey and orange flower water – they are really sweet but tasty with a bittersweet Moroccan tea.

In fact, Moroccan cooking is often on the sweet side. Meat is frequently cooked with dried fruit or preserved lemons, and the meze, such as Moroccan salads, are often seasoned with sugar and orange flower water. Pigeon pastilla is dusted with cinnamon and icing sugar. Main courses are generally slow-cooked meat and vegetables, usually in the famous conical tagine. It took time to get used to, but I soon started to love this delicate, fragrant, savoury-sweet cuisine.

3 Responses to “More Morocco Memories”

  1. From one plug for a friend to another.

    Food writer Tara Stevens has produced a wonderful new Moroccan cookbook, Clock Book, in association with the famous Fez bar/cafe/restaurant, Cafe Clock.

    The recipes are far from the run-of-the-mill tagine, including things like camel hump pasty. But there are also much more accessible and, perhaps, tasty dishes such as a recipe for the traditional slow-cooked tangia. This is cooked in smouldering hammam coals in Morocco. But you can chuck it in a low oven, forget about it for 5 hours then indulge in the stickiest, most flavourful stew you’ve ever tasted.

    The recipes all come with lovely back stories and beautiful photos and the writing is evocative without being sickly.

    Tara’s a friend but I would never risk my reputation with a fake recommendation, so please do pick up this book if you love Moroccan food, or especially if you think you don’t! Sadly, it’s only available on Amazon.

    Apologies if this plug contravenes any policy, but it’s genuinely intended as a helpful comment!

  2. Phoebe says:

    Wonderful! My sister does a version of this Moroccan salad with beets. But she puts it in the pickling crock and lets it ferment for two weeks! Yum.

  3. paul tsang says:

    Hi Claire, love the blog
    P

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