In the United States in 2018, culinary experts from all over America were hyping Moroccan food as the next “up-and-coming cuisine”. Four out of 10 consumers had an interest in the kingdom’s savory dishes. However, what Western chefs were touting as the latest fad in food was really nothing new to Moroccans. They had already been “trending” the blend of irresistible flavors and beautifully textured dishes for centuries.
Traditional Moroccan cooking is a melting pot of cultures and cuisine from around the world. Thanks mostly to the country’s location on the northeastern tip of Africa coupled with the fact that both Atlantic and Mediterranean coastlines flank the kingdom. So, no doubt there is an influence of flavors from not only its European and Mediterranean neighbors, but also from traditional African, Middle Eastern and even South American flavors as well.
If any of this has piqued your curiosity and you’d like to try the multifaceted, full-bodied flavors of Moroccan cooking, you can start here. We will introduce you to all of the spices and other ingredients. Let’s not forget the cooking styles that give this cuisine its uniquely irresistible flavor that’s enjoyed around the world.
The Main Spices
One of the first questions we’re always asked about Moroccan food is whether or not it’s spicy.
We couldn’t talk about Moroccan cuisine without first talking about the spices that go into cooking it. We’d have to say that the answer is, yes, it can be spicy. As we mentioned before, Morocco has a very prestigious location in the world. It’s actually on the ancient spice route. This means spices from all over the world also found their way into local markets. In turn, they reached into the kitchens throughout the kingdom. They’re what gives Moroccan dishes their sometimes sweet, sometimes spicy, sometimes both flavors that are layered throughout its cuisine. Even today, you can still walk through aromatic markets with their piles and piles of spices like cumin, saffron, turmeric, ground ginger, cardamom, paprika, hot red peppers, cardamom, white or black pepper, and cinnamon. All of these are essential spices in Moroccan cooking.
You can also save yourself some time and money by looking for ras el hanou (roughly – “top of the shop”). It contains a blend of spices including the essential ground spices, like cumin, cinnamon, ginger, peppers and turmeric.
The Main Ingredients
Alright, so now you know how important spices are in giving Moroccan food its one-of-a-kind layered flavors. However, there are a few other ingredients that are the staples of most Moroccan main dishes. Some of them are couscous, garlic, parsley, preserved lemons, olives, meats (mostly chicken and lamb), sesame seeds, cilantro, onions, almonds, honey, orange flower water, dried fruits, and harissa (a deep red paste with a nice, spicy kick)
The Main Courses
The spices and ingredients above come together to make the most cherished, authentically Moroccan dishes that you’ll find in kitchens of Moroccan homes and the menu of any Moroccan restaurant. You’ll taste the flavors as they blend between multifaceted layers that divulge their sweetness, spiciness, richness and earthiness that will make every other cuisine you’ve ever tried seem bland in comparison. Below are just some of the most delicious classic Moroccan dishes:
Moroccan food’s most famous ingredient, these very tiny balls of wheat semolina are steamed until they’re soft and fluffy. You’ll find them cooked with vegetables, spices and dried fruit and in every dish from salads to main dishes. So delicious, it’s no wonder it’s often called the national dish of Morocco. It’s Moroccan food vegetarians can even love.
Probably the most iconic of all Moroccan food. Tagine is a stew made of chicken or lamb vegetables, dried fruits, nuts and spices. All of these ingredients will be slow-cooked in a tagine. It’s the conical clay pot from whence this beloved dish gets its name. The meat comes out tender, the vegetables soft, both infused with rich, succulent flavor. Pairing it with oh-so-chewy and warm flatbread, eating doesn’t get any better than this.
A hearty tomato-based soup filled with meat, vegetables, lentils and chickpeas. Harira is much more than one of those Moroccan starter recipes, but rather it’s a recipe for a full meal by itself. It is, however, also often the first thing Moroccans eat in Ramadan to break the day’s fast.
Not really a main course. This sweet and savory pie is kind of a “post-appetizer” appetizer. It is often served between salad and the tagine-cooked main course at special dinners. Formerly from shredded pigeon, today most Moroccans eat it made with chicken mixed with beaten eggs and spices, topped with fried, crushed almonds. All of this wrapped with an incredibly light, flaky, phyllo-like pastry shell. For an extra touch of sweetness, the top of the pie is often dusted with powdered sugar and cinnamon.
Lemon chicken is another one of those meals you’ll often see slow-cooked in a tagine. Kudos to the first person who included tangy preserved lemons in this dish! It provides a little bit of a flavor punch and salty kick from the olives added to this mouth-watering dish. Don’t forget to soak up all of that tangy sauce with some fluffed couscous or flatbread.
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