Wednesday, November 30, 2011

morocco continued & 20 tagine recipes

I'm a cooking teacher and anyone who has taken a class with me will be surprised to know that I relinquished that duty for a whole week when I was in Morocco. Was it intimidation or just a need for a vacation? Maybe a little of both.

When I arrived, Bahija, the chef and cooking teacher at Jnane Tamsna, met me wearing her chef's jacket, white apron and white head scarf . Full of enthusiasm and English words mixed with Berber and French, she apologized again and again for her English. I was the one who should be apologizing. My French is beyond rusty. Just getting off a week of teaching in Spain and my classes last year in Italy and Provence, my French had turned into a combination of languages I call Sfritalian.

Immediately I warmed to Bahija. How could I not? As she and I talked about the week, I knew we would end up being be friends.
"Class #1 will be chicken tagine," she said. The word tagine has two meanings,-- an aromatic stew and the conical terracotta vessel used for cooking the stew. I was excited.

For the next few hours as I unpacked and settled into my room that looked like a harem (and I say that in a good way), taxis stirred up dust in the driveway unloading my students and their luggage.

After everyone was settled into their rooms, we had an early dinner. It was a little different than my classes and the meals that I share with my students in Spain, Provence or Italy which can sometimes turn into a party. In a Muslim country like Morocco, though they make wine, wine and alcohol aren't so much of a focus. And you know, sometimes it's kind of nice to go to bed early and wake up the next day feeling good.

That next morning, after a breakfast of fresh mint tea, luscious fruit, fresh squeezed orange and grapefruit juice, and homemade wheat flatbread called khboz, we headed to the kitchen for our first cooking class.

Bahija was already in the kitchen with everything set out on a big marble table,--cutting boards, tons of spices, vegetables, dried fruit, almonds and a husky knife for everyone. And ofr the next couple hours, we concentrated on tagine basics, everyone making their own.
It was fun and the assortment of tagines, both sweet and savory were amazing. I stood back and let Bahija do the teaching. BTW there were no recipes. I decided the best thing I could do was to hand scratch the recipes with pen and paper and later transfer them to my iPad. Then we could print them for everyone.

It was tough for me though, I wanted to teach. I'm so used to it! A few times I bit my tongue when I wanted to teach a technique or trick. Can't I just show them how to peel ginger with the tip of a spoon or mince garlic with the back of a knife? It was everything I could do to keep my mouth shut. Instead I wrote...

When everyone had finished assembling their tagines, we brought them outside where we cooked them over individual braziers.

They didn't take long to cook. Maybe 30 minutes or so. When we brought them to the table and removed the covers, the aroma was intoxicating. One of my favorites was this one with grapes and raisins. Imagine the sweetness against the ginger, black pepper, saffron and turmeric.

Here is the recipe I wrote for the 20 or so tagines we made. And if you don't have a terracotta tagine, try using a stainless pot with a lid. It won't be same but when you smell the aromas of the tagine cooking in your kitchen, I promise you, the romance will take over and you'll think you're in Morocco.


2 pieces of chicken with the skin
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Pinch of saffron
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 red onion, diced

In the tagine, place the chicken. Sprinkle with ginger, pepper, saffron, turmeric, olive oil and onion. Rub it into the chicken.


1/4 preserved lemon
1 tablespoon cilantro
1 clove garlic

Separate the skin from the flesh of the lemon. Chop the insides and thinly slice the peel. Top the chicken with the chopped flesh.

Mash the garlic and cilantro in a mortar and pestle. Top the chicken with the cilantro and garlic.

Finish with the various optional ingredients. Here are a few options.

Green beans
Cherry tomatoes


1- Fennel and sunchokes

2- Green beans, carrots and oil-cured olives (optional but boil first)

3- Cherry tomatoes and baby zucchini

4-Tomato, quartered, peeled, carrots, green beans and zucchini

5-Artichokes with English peas

6- Fennel, artichokes and cherry tomatoes

7- Green beans, carrots, fennel, peas and cherry tomatoes

8- Carrots and sliced apples

9- Onions and tomatoes

10- Peppers, fennel, artichokes and carrots

Add 1 cup water, cover and cook on medium low heat until the chicken can be easily skewered.

Garnish with preserved lemons before serving.


1 teaspoon ras el hanout
Pinch cinnamon

Optional ingredients;

Dried apricots
Golden raisins
Sliced Red onions
Sliced Dates pitted and stuffed with almonds
1 pear, peeled and quartered
Pineapple, peeled, quartered, 3/4- inch slice

Rub the cinnamon and ras el hanout onto the chicken.

Finish with various optional ingredients. Here are a few options:

1- Dried apricots and sultana raisins, toasted almonds and walnuts

2- Sliced tomatoes and sliced onions

3-Pitted dates stuffed with almonds, soaked sultana raisins, almonds and peeled and quartered pears

4- Pineapple 4 slices and dried apricots

5- Pear and apricot

6- Peeled and quartered apples and almonds

7- Apricots and prunes

8- Apricots and Walnuts

9- Dates stuffed with almonds and raisins

10- (Believe it or not, a Bahija invention) Bananas and dates

11- Raisins and grapes(I love this one)

Drizzle with honey just before serving.

Serves 1

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

moroccan dreams

Magical Morocco is all I can think about, talk about and write about!

I got off the plane mid-October and it was sultry hot. As we rode in the van, first through the old part of Marrakech and past the medina and La Mamounia Hotel, I recalled my last trip here in the early '90's when I stayed at la Mamounia for nearly a week. Had Marrakech changed I thought? But when I saw the camels with the Berber blankets strapped to their backs, I thought, NOPE! Nothing ever really changes... Thank Allah!

Jnane Tamsna, which means the gardens of Tamsna, was to be my oasis for the next couple of weeks. Surrounded by olive and orange trees, blooming jasmine and palms, I once again fell in love. Yes, I'm back in Morocco and it's just as I left it, both physically and in my mind and heart.

The last time I left Marrakech, I promised myself I'd be back and here I was again. I pinched myself a few times to see if (1) I was really here and (2) to make sure it wasn't a dream. Yes, I was really here and it made me smile.

For me Morocco is magical... It's about the sounds, the smells, the flavors, the sights. It brushes with all of my senses and touches my soul.

"A glass of freshly squeezed orange juice?"

"Sure, I'd love that!" I said as I dissolved into an outdoor divan soaking it all up. And just then there was a call to prayer, that eerie music that becomes so familiar 5 times a day. I'm home!

And I hadn't been on the ground for but an hour....

Stay tuned for lots of recipes, cooking classes with Chef Bahija and walks through the old medina with guide Abdoul. You're in for a treat, as was I.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Yup, it's true... Can you believe it?

Big news... Can you believe I am actually going to do this?????
I've been talking about a new restaurant for years. And yes folks, the word on the street is true. I'm excited and nervous!