Ghillie Basan is an internationally acclaimed cookbook author and food writer. Her cookbook Flavors of Morocco has been nominated for the 2010 Le Cordon Bleu World Food Media Awards. Ghillie has written over 20 books including, The Middle Eastern Kitchen which was listed as one of “The Best of the Best” by Food & Wine magazine in New York. She has written 5 books on Moroccan cooking including, Tangine: spicy stews from Morocco. Ghillie has been dubbed “The Original Spice Girl”.
An Introduction to Moroccan Food by Ghillie Basan
Colourful, spicy, sweet and scented – that just about sums up Moroccan food! Wherever you go in Morocco a heady aroma of cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, cumin and coriander (cilantro) wafts through the streets drawing you in to the busy food stalls and restaurants selling deliciously tempting snacks and dishes. From the inspirational fruity salads spiked with chillies and tangy olives to the syrupy, buttery tagines topped with preserved lemon and the light grains of fluffy couscous combined with saffron, nuts and fresh herbs, there is something for everyone.
Regarded by many as the perfumed soul of Moroccan culture, the cuisine is a fascinating reflection of the history of a country whose invaders, such as the ancient Phoenicians and Romans, have come and gone, each leaving a stamp on the culinary landscape. Starting around 1100BC, the culinary history includes the indigenous Berber population, which inhabited the inland fertile plains and the harsh
mountainous terrain where they lived off honey, beans, lentils and wheat and began the lifelong tradition of tagine cooking and couscous; the nomadic Bedouins from the desert who brought dates, milk and grains; the Moors expelled from Spain who relied heavily on olives and olive oil and brought with them the Andalucian flavours of paprika and herbs; the Sephardic Je
ws with their preserving techniques employing salt; the Arabs who introduced the sophisticated cuisine from the Middle East along with Islamic culinary restrictions; the slaves from central Africa with their tribal secrets; the Ottoman influence of kebabs and pastry making; and the French who left a legacy of wine-making, café culture and general culinary finesse.
To absorb the delights and diversity of Morocco’s cuisine it is worth visiting the markets of Marrakech and Fez wherethelabrynthine souks are the centres of all social and culinary activity. From the make-shift barber’s shops and stalls selling cones of raw sugar, shampoo stones, dried lizards and snake skins, and the butchered carcasses of cows and sheep to the mini emporiums displaying carpets, leather good, jewellery, pottery, dried spices and herbs, there is much to buy and admire. In my role as a cookery writer, I also look for the utensils carved from lemon wood and juniper bark; traditional clay tagines; fleshy olives of every colour and size; tiny preserved lemons; and argan oil, the precious pressing of the roasted kernels of the argan nut which is extracted from the excretions of the goats that climb the stout, thorny trees!
Generally, Moroccan meals begin with a selection of little dishes, such as small bowls of dried fava beans, slices of tiny spicy merguez (cured sausage), pickled vegetables, stuffed pastries, and mini meat balls. These dishes are designed to whet the appetite for the ensuing soup or tagine, followed by grilled or roasted meat, and finally a mound of couscous. Fresh fruit usually completes the meal or, on occasion, a sweet milk pudding or pastry scented with rose or orange blossom water. Once everything has been cleared away, glasses of steaming mint tea will be served to aid the digestion while you sit back and reflect on all the wonderful dishes you have consumed!