Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Two Tagine Family

I’ve decided to make several posts for Morocco and I have the feeling that I will do the same for some other ports as well.  I’ll make a separate food post and the other(s) will relate amusing or interesting anecdotes – nothing will be encompass the visit as that would require me to write way more than I’d like and than you’d like to read.
On our first night in Fes, we ate at a restaurant (Fes Et Gestes) run by a French woman, Cecile, who came to Morocco 4 years ago and decided to stay.  We ate in a beautiful courtyard and had a lamb and quince tagine.  Quince were in season in Morocco so they were frequently on the menu.  The onions had carmelized in the bottom of the tagine and we ate just about every speck of food.  A flat bread (actually an inch or so thick) is served with every meal and is used as an implement for delivering food to the mouth.  Olives and several cooked vegetable salads – enough to form a meal on their own - are also usually served. 
Our dining companion was a tiny kitten – she wolfed down any bit of lamb we threw her way.  At the end of the meal, I asked Cecile what the kitten’s name was and she said “ubbs”.  I said “ubbs?” and she replied “yes, ubbs”.  I must’ve had a puzzled look on my face because she squatted down beside the table to explain that her son is just learning to read and that some friends had given him a comic book named Calvin and “Ubbs” (light bulb goes on in Pam’s head). She thought her son was like Calvin and from the brief sighting of a large-headed, blond-haired boy running by the table making a wild face, I’d say she was right!  The kitten had followed her home 4 days prior to our visit and she thought it was a sign so she decided to name her “Hobbes”.   
The cooking class at Café Clock in Fes was interesting and the food turned out well.  Two lifelong learners aboard the ship participated in the class and the café allowed our husbands to join us in eating the meal for about $10.  I had had my heart set on preparing a tagine of chicken with preserved lemon and olives, but I really didn't get the chance to cast my vote on what the choice was.  I hadn’t even tried it yet and as it turns out the trip would end with me never trying it.  In any case, we made a lovely tagine of lamb with prunes, an eggplant salad and a dessert with layers of a sweetened cheese, phyllo-like pastry sheets and fruit.
The class began with us heading into the markets of the medina right outside the café’s door.  Of course, this meant we bought lamb, vegetables and fruits right out amongst local shoppers, passing donkeys, live poultry and assorted livestock and many flies.  I wasn’t too concerned as I knew we’d be cooking all the dishes.  The instructor filled us in on all sorts of cultural and culinary insights while in the market.  Once we had our ingredients we headed to the kitchen for some cooking.  The interesting thing about the way modern Moroccans cook tagine is that they do not usually use a clay tagine – instead they use a pressure cooker to save time!  They consider it a modern marvel and are amazed to hear that our grandmothers and mothers have been using them for many, many years.  The problem with the pressure cooker is that the wonderful carmelization of the onions that comes along with the old-fashioned method is lost.  I understand why the busier women make this choice - they simply don't have time to use the tagines - but I do wish we could've had that option in the class.
The onions were mixed with some water in the pressure cooker and put over a medium flame.  As they softened, we mixed cumin, ginger, turmeric (the Moroccans have beautiful turmeric), black pepper, and salt along with chopped cilantro and garlic in some water.  The lamb pieces were coated with this mixture and the entire lot placed on top of the onions in the cooker.  A few tablespoons of olive oil were drizzled over the lamb.  We stewed some prunes with sugar and cinnamon and added them to the dish late in the game.  It was a bit sweeter than I would’ve liked, but still a very nice combination of flavors.  I am now the proud owner of two tagines (who can pass up $5 tagines?!) and will try the recipe at home over a charcoal grill.  I now know how to preserve lemons and will attempt the chicken tagine as well.
Tagine cooking in pressure cooker
Mostly eaten lamb and prune tagine
Eating the fruits of our labor

To make the eggplant salad, we roasted them over a gas flame until they were charred and very soft.  We peeled off the skin and chopped the eggplant well.  We placed it in a frying pan and added garlic, cilantro, cumin, paprika, hot chile powder, black pepper and salt.  Several tablespoons of olive oil were stirred in and we cooked it over a low flame.  When all the flavors came together we added a bit of lemon juice. 
Eggplant salad ready to be mixed and warmed in pan

The dessert was okay.  It isn’t great to assemble something with toasted phyllo dough an hour before you eat!  It did look pretty and had good flavor though.  The cheese filling consisted of plain yogurt, a ricotta-like fresh cow’s milk cheese, orange-blossom water and sugar. 
On our last day in Morocco, we took a wonderful day trip with some other folks and had another fine seafood meal at a beachfront restaurant.  Most of us had a kebab of shark that had been coated with cumin and turmeric.  It had fantastic flavor and it was a great last meal in Morocco.  The setting and company was just right and a needed follow-up to the sensory overload of Fes.
Shark kebabs at Le Requin Bleu in Sidi Bouzid

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