The cuisine of Morocco is rated among the best in the world, and rightly so. There are few places where food is more carefully and artistically prepared, more delightfully served, and more enjoyed than in this country.
Cooking in Morocco falls into two specific categories. The first, intended for important guests, is the work of skilled chefs. It requires such intensive supervision that the host does not participate. He merely oversees the banquet with his sons and servants. No women are present. The men squat on mattresses or pillows around low, beautifully inlaid tables. A silver ewer of perfumed water is taken around and poured over three fingers of the right hand of each guest.
The host claps his hands and the meal begins. One course after another- each delicacy is served until Chban- complete satiation- is achieved. Again the silver ewer filled with warm water is presented to clean the mouth, lips, and hands. The meal is a feast for the gods and indeed it begins and ends with Bsmillah--God's blessing.
In the second category of cookery are the wonderful dishes prepared with loving care by the mistresses- Dadas- of the homes. Here, where time does not seem to count, she spends hours with her glazed earthenware and copper cooking dishes and her kanoun, the movable clay brazier. Her kitchen is austere, and the charcoal which perfumes the kebabs and allows the sauces to simmer is the only source of heat. There are no chairs. A folded carpet serves as a seat. The Dada is dressed in a long colorful robe tucked up in front and her wide sleeves are held in place with a twisted cord.
The scents of coriander, cumin, saffron, marjoram, and onion mingle with the pungency of olive oil and the sweetness of sandalwood, mint, and roses, delighting the senses.
A hostess in Morocco might take a week to prepare a suitable dinner for her honored guests. The meal often consists of as many as fifty courses. It would take a full day just to make Bstilla- a crisp pastry, rolled as thin as tissue paper, filled with chicken in a mixture "sweet and peppery, soft and violent."
The dinner starts with Bstilla, followed by the typical brochette or kebab flavored with bits of beef or lamb fat. Next comes the Tajine, chicken or meat in a spicy stew which has been simmered for many hours, and it is served with a flat bread called Khubz.
In Morocco, as in most Arab lands, every household makes its own bread. It is made from semolina flour without shortening or milk. An invocation to God is made before commencing the sacred act of kneading. When the bread has been properly shaped, each family puts its own mark or stamp on it before sending it via the children to a common bakery oven. After the Tajine, a Batinjaan- eggplant salad or chopped tomato salad- is served as a separate course. Then comes Couscous, that marvelous Moroccan national dish made of semolina, cooked to perfection, each grain separate from the other. The dinner is completed with slices or wedges of peeled melon, pastries made with honey and almond like the Middle Eastern Baklava, and finally a small glass of mint tea. The dinner following is a very much simplified version, but it is delicious and will give you the "feel" of Morocco. Once you have made the Couscous, it may very well become one of your favorite dishes. This is a delightful dinner to prepare and serve.
If feasible, use a low table with cushions on the floor. (Be sure to advise your guests to dress comfortably.) Cover the low table with a bright brocaded cloth and provide your guests with thick towels to cover their knees. You might want to place floral bouquets around the room, but do not have a centerpiece on the table.
Before serving the dinner, walk around the table with an attractive pitcher (silver if possible) filled with warm water which has been scented with cologne or a few drops of perfume. Carry a Turkish towel over your left arm and a small basin in your left hand. Pour a little water over the fingers of each guest, catching the water in the small basin.
Serve tiny kebabs first (with or without a fork) on small plates. As soon as the kebabs have been eaten, remove the plates. The salad may be served as a separate course or may accompany the Couscous. If you serve it separately place the salad (with a fork) in front of each guest. In Morocco, the Couscous is served in a large platter and each guest eats directly from it with a large spoon or he may roll the Couscous up in little balls and pop them into his mouth, but don't expect your guests to do this. You may prefer to place extra plates in front of your guests and ask them to serve themselves.
Slices of melon, watermelon, or cantaloupe speared with toothpicks (no plates) are served in a platter right after the Couscous. You might also serve the mint tea at this time, or wait until later to serve it with the honey pastries.
Again the hostess pours water over the fingers of her guests. This is a mark of graciousness and hospitality. At the end of the meal, after tea has been served, bring in a tiny incense burner and light it on the table.
Meat and Poultry
Fruits and Vegetables
This typically Moroccan dish is an excellent hors d'oeuvre to serve at any time. It is amazing how the small cubes of suet improve the flavor of the kebab after some of the fat has burned off. The use of suet is particularly effective when cooking kebabs over a charcoal fire and may be successfully substituted in recipes calling for bacon.
Cut 1 Ib. FILLET OF BEEF OR STEAK into 3/4-inch cubes (approximately 32 cubes).
Cut 1/2 Ib. BEEF SUET into 1/2-inch cubes.
In an 8 x 10-inch shallow baking dish, prepare the Moorish Marinade:
Combine: 1/4 cup ONION, finely chopped and
Blend: 1/2 cup OLIVE or SALAD OIL
Blend the beef and suet cubes with the marinade and allow the mixture to marinate for several hours.
Thread four pieces of beef alternately with three pieces of suet (start and end with beef) on a 6-inch metal or bamboo skewer.
Grill or Broil using a hot fire, basting occasionally with the marinade.
Arrange 1 KEBAB KOUTBANE on a small plate.
Garnish with TOMATO SLICES and PARSLEY SPRIGS at the side of the plate.
A couscousiere is a large double boiler with holes in the bottom of the upper pot allowing its contents to steam. A couscousiere may be improvised by lining a metal colander with cheese cloth and placing the colander in a 6- or 8-quart pot so that the handles rest on the rim. A piece of heavy- duty foil can serve as a lid.
Moisten: 1 Ib. COUSCOUS in a 3 quart bowl with
Stir up with a fork and allow to stand 10 minutes to swell.
Spread the Couscous out in a colander lined with cheese cloth (or in the top of a couscousiere).
Place the colander over a pan which fits it and is half filled with water.
Cover with aluminum foil and allow to steam for 10 minutes.
In a 6-quart kettle (or bottom of couscousiere):
Saute: 1 cup ONIONS coarsely chopped with
Add: 2 1/2 Ibs. BONELESS LAMB cut in 2 inch chunks and
Fit the colander (or top of couscousiere) with the Couscous over the meat, cover it with foil, and allow mixture to simmer gently for 30 minutes.
Add 1 3-lb. CHICKEN cut into 8 pieces to the stew and continue cooking for 30 minutes longer.
Stir the Couscous from time to time to make sure the grains are separated.
Add to Stew: 1 Ib. CARROTS, scraped and cut in 1-inch chunks
Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper.
Cook for about 15 minutes or until vegetables are soft but still slightly crisp.
Pour the Couscous into a large (15- to 18 inch) round serving platter.
Make a large hole in the center, pushing the Couscous to the edge of platter.
Arrange meat and vegetables attractively in center, pouring the sauce over all.
Garnish with PARSLEY SPRIGS.
This Eggplant Salad may also be served as an appetizer. It is an excellent accompaniment to a Couscous, as it is to any of the great entrees of Morocco. Be sure that the salad is very cold when served.
Peel 1 or 2 large EGGPLANTS (approx. 2 Ibs.).
Cut into 1-inch slices.
In a 10-inch skillet:
Fry in 1/2 cup OLIVE or SALAD OIL until soft.
Mash the eggplant.
Add: 1/4 cup ONION finely chopped
Chill in refrigerator.
Heap 1/2 cup EGGPLANT MIXTURE on a 6- to 7-inch plate.
Mash it down to form a circle within 1 inch of edge of plate.
Dribble with 1/2 tsp. OLIVE OIL (if mixture appears dry).
Garnish with PARSLEY SPRIGS.
Into a 6 cup glass or china teapot:
Pour boiling water, rinse and throw the water away.
Put in: 3 heaping Tbs. OOLONG TEA (do not use teabags)
Fill the teapot to the brim with BOILING WATER.
Allow to steep covered for 5 minutes.
Stir up the infusion and taste the liquid to see if it is sweet enough.
Strain into juice glasses (5 to 6 oz.).
Note: Prepare second infusion while the guests are enjoying the first. Add 1 tsp. tea, 1 tsp. mint and 2 Tbs. sugar to the pot. Add boiling water to allow to steep for 5 minutes. Stir again. Taste for sweetness. Strain to serve.
You may want to make Moroccan Coconut Cakes, a delicious sweetmeat much like coconut fudge. They are easy to make and ideal to serve later in the evening after the Moroccan dinner.
In a 2-quart saucepan:
Combine: 2 cups GRATED COCONUT (moist, canned or fresh)
Simmer gently to 238' or until a soft ball is formed in cold water.
Add: 1 oz. BUTTER and
Cool to room temperature in the pan.
Beat as you would fudge until thick and glossy.
Pour into a square (8 x 8-inch) pan lined with wax paper.
Chill and cut into 1-inch squares.
Purchase small honey pastries in any Middle Eastern food shop. Ask for Baklava. In Morocco it is called Kab El Ghzal.
Allow one or two pastries per guest.
Place them on a platter lined with a paper doily.
Serve them on dessert plates with forks.
Use any melon in season or watermelon but be certain that it is very ripe.
Cut the melon into 1/2-inch slices and remove the rind.
Cut again into 3 inch pieces and arrange them attractively on a platter.
Garnish the platter with sprigs of fresh mint or parsley.
Spear the melon pieces with colored toothpicks.
Pass the platter to your guests. No dishes are used with this course.
Here's another outstanding sweet of Morocco which you might want to serve instead of the honey pastries.
In a 1-pint bowl:
Cut 4 BANANAS (peeled) in 1/2 inch slices.
Add 1/2 cup APRICOT LIQUEUR and marinate for 1/2 hour.
In a 1-quart bowl:
Place 1 cup PANCAKE MIX following package directions to make a thick pancake batter using the above liqueur drained from the bananas as part of the liquid.
Add bananas to the batter and stir thoroughly.
In a 9-inch skillet:
Heat 1/4 inch COOKING OIL.
Drop the mixture by tablespoonfuls (2 or 3 pieces of banana in each spoon) into the hot fat until golden brown on both sides.
In a 1-pint bowl:
Combine: 1/2 cup SOFT BREAD CRUMBS made by grating fresh bread
Place 3 or 4 PEASANT PANCAKES on dessert plates.
Sprinkle 1 to 2 Tbs. CRUMB MIXTURE over the pancakes.
Note: Crystallized ginger may be used instead of ground ginger, in which case use 2 Tbs. sugar and 2 Tbs. crystallized ginger, minced finely.
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