La Maison Arabe, Marrakech - cooking class

sunnuntai 17. helmikuuta 2019

Spices, herbs, vegetables, fruits, oils, wines, salads, fragrancies, pastries, genuine places and humble people. What an interesting and appealing city! Marrakech actually put a spell on me and I'm determined to go back for more!

 My cooking class took place in La Maison Arabe, which is the oldest restaurant in Marrakech and also the pioneer in arranging cooking classes. It's a beautiful hotel (riad style) with 26 rooms and a swimming-pool. We didn't stay in this hotel but we had a lovely dinner there one night (more about that in a later post) and it was then that I decided to book a 4-hour cooking class. No regrets at all, everything was well structured, the kitchen extremely tidy and the dada's advice easy to follow due to big screens in front of you. A "dada" is the family's guardian angel and kitchen queen, who knows all the traditional recipes and at the right moment passes them on orally to new generations. She is a very highly esteemed and important woman … as you can imagine.

We were 15 participants during this morning's cooking workshop: France, Germany, Italy, USA, Mexico, India, UK and Finland were represented. Mohammed, professor of English, gave us a brief lecture about different Moroccan spices and their use and benefits. Spices in Morocco are largely used as medicine. And when it comes down to cooking: use them freely and combine them to your own liking. Food without spices is bland and dull. Then followed a crash course  in how to make "thé à la menthe marocain". Easy but takes about 10 minutes. National drink I would call this refreshing Moroccan mint tea.

We also visited the block's bakery, quite an interesting and important place. Whoever lives in the block can bring their bread dough prepared at home and the "Baker" bakes it in his big oven. Then you pick up your bread later when it's convenient for you and give the man a few coins in return. Clever system that seems to make everybody happy.

We prepared a menu with two salads, one main and one dessert.
The  chicken tagine we made for the main course contained different spices, herbs, preserved lemons and green olives. It was easy to make and it tasted divine. I haven't been a fan of preserved lemons but this recipe was an eye-opener ... I think I'll have to make a jar the sooner the better. We used the following recipe for the tagine. And if you haven't got a tagine you can use a "Creuset pot" Mohammed told us!

Chicken tajine/tagine (2 persons)

Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes

500 g whole chicken (cut into large chunks), we used two whole breasts per person
1/2 red onion (finely chopped)
1/2 preserved lemon
10 purple or green olives
2 - 3 garlic cloves (finely chopped)
1 tbs parsley (finely chopped)
1 tbs cilantro (finely chopped)
2 tbs olive oil
1 tbs smen/ghee (clarified butter)

1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp ginger powder
1 tsp turmeric powder
a pinch of saffron threads
(harissa powder)

1. Cut the preserved lemon in half and separate the flesh from the peel. Set the peel aside and finely chop the preserved lemon pulp.
2. Place the chopped lemon pulp in a tajine, casserole or large heavy pot. Add the olive oil, clarified butter, garlic, parsley, cilantro, all the spices and a cup of cold water. Mix well.
3. Add the chicken pieces to the tajine and pierce them with a sharp knife so that they absorb the spices. Mix all the ingredients until the chicken pieces are well coated with the marinade.
4. Add the finely chopped onion to the tajine. Mix well.
5. On low heat, sear the chicken pieces for 15 minutes. The tajine lid should be on to keep the moisture in, otherwise the chicken pieces will dry out and stick to the bottom of the pot. Turn each piece of chicken over and add a bit of water if necessary.
6. After 15 minutes, add 1 cup of cold water. Increase the heat to medium, cover the tajine and bring the cooking juices to a boil. Cook, covered, for 30 minutes or until the chicken is done. Check on the chicken from time to time and add water if necessary. There should always be enough sauce at the bottom of the tajine so the meat doesn't burn.
7. Once the chicken is done, taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning.
8. Add the lemon peel and olives to the tajine. Continue cooking, uncovered, for a few minutes, until the sauce slightly thickens. Serve hot with crusty bread.

Tajine/tagine = the name for the North African cooking ware with the conical lid as well as the stew-like food prepared in it.

As I had expressed my wish to buy the famous Argan oil, our guide Ahmed took us the souk, where you can buy anything. Argan oil is sold everywhere but he was precise about where you should go to buy it in order to get the real thing: an Argan oil factory. There we had the chance to see how the women opened the nut kernels and processed the oil by hand. No machines can do this. There are differently scented argan oils for cosmetic purposes (we got to try them all!) and then the roasted argan oil for culinary use. Beware of the cheap fake oils that are sold in supermarkets or elsewhere! 

 Obviously Finnish people don't dare or aren't interested in flying to Marrakech, because the plane was only about half full both ways. Air Norwegian flies from Helsinki to Marrakech every Saturday (at the moment) and the flight only takes about five hours. Budget price. And not once did we hear a word of Finnish in the streets. 

The temperatures during the day (in early February) were between 20 and 28, the nights were quite cold: 2-8 degrees. For the Moroccans it's still winter but for us Nordic people lovely summer weather. I'm not that interested in experiencing their summer with temperatures up to 50 degrees C!

The second language in Morocco is French, but if your French is lousy or non-existing you'll manage in English in a lot of places. We used private guides (not expensive) who showed us places of interest (both walking tours and car excursions).

More Moroccan recipes and restaurants in up-coming posts.

The impressive Atlas mountains in the background.

4 kommenttia:

  1. Wautsi! Varmasti upea elämys osallistua tuollaiselle kurssille.

  2. Vautsi vau, ihana kokemus on sulla ollut ja vieläpä ihan aidossa ympäristössä. Tuon taginepadan sain aikoinaan systeriltä ja sillä jos millä valmistuu ne parhaimmat, aromikkaimmat ja pehmeimmät kana sekä lammas-ateriat. Kiitos muistutuksesta :).

    1. Kyllä, nautin suuresti sekä kokkauksesta että ilmapiiristä ja tuoksuista. Mielenkiintoinen ja hyvällä tavalla erilainen matkakohde.