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Favorites of Moroccan Cuisine

by Elaine Sosa

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You are probably quite likely to find the following items at a Moroccan diffa, or banquet. If so, consider yourself lucky, for you'll be eating some of the most delicious food around. If invitations are in short supply, you can always prepare them yourself at home.

A fresh, cool salad is often served at the start of a meal. Among the most commonly served are a tomato and green pepper salad (similar to the Spanish gazpacho), a mixed herb salad, eggplant salad or a salad redolent with oranges, which the Moroccans grow in large quantity.

This traditional savory pastry is made in three layers: a layer of shredded chicken is topped with eggs which are curdled in a lemony onion sauce and further topped with a dusting of sweetened almonds. The whole is enclosed in tissue-thin pastry called warka and topped by a layer of cinnamon and sugar. It is believed that this fine pastry (similar to the pastry used for Chinese spring rolls) came from the Persians, who likely learned to prepare it from the Chinese.

These are fine semolina grains which are plumped by steaming them over a simmering stew. The grains are then piled on a large platter, with the stew heaped on top. This is a classic Berber dish which has seen many interpretations. Traditionally, couscous is served for Friday lunch or for special occasions. It is never a main dish, rather it is served as the last dish at the end of a meal. A "couscous of seven vegetables" is common in Fez, where seven is considered a lucky number. The seven "lucky" vegetables are onions, pumpkin, zucchini, turnips, chili peppers, carrots and tomatoes.

Both fresh and salt water fish grace the Moroccan table. While it is commonly prepared as a stew, it is sometimes fried and often stuffed. A popular fish tagine, which is prepared with potatoes, tomatoes and green peppers, shows a strong Andalusian influence. The Moroccans believe that in a tagine, the sauce is everything!

Some of the tastiest dishes in Moroccan cookery involve chicken, which can be steamed, broiled or fried and is often accompanied with vegetables. Chicken with lemon and olives is the classic preparation, while a chicken tagine cooked with butter, onions, pepper, saffron, chick-peas, almonds and lemon is also popular. Chickens are also prepared stuffed with raisins, almonds, rice or eggs, but when you consider the experimental nature of Moroccan cooks, perhaps it's all of the above!

Lamb is king on the Moroccan table, especially roasted lamb, which is as tender and flavorful as you will find. It can also be braised, browned, steamed or served on skewers, the latter commonly known as shish kebab. Kefta is lamb or beef which has been generously spiced, then rolled into the shape of a sausage, placed on a skewer and broiled; when it is rolled into meatballs, it is used in tagines. Lamb tagines are prepared with a cornucopia of vegetables and some even use fruit.

Sweets aren't always served at the end of a Moroccan meal, but when they are, it might well be one of the following: "gazelle's horns" are a croissant-like pastry which is stuffed with almond paste and topped with sugar, while honey cakes are pretzel-shaped pieces of dough which are deep-fried, dipped into a piping-hot pot of honey and then sprinkled with sesame seeds.

Moroccan tea may be the main reason why desserts are an uncommon treat after a meal: this tea IS dessert! Green tea is steeped and then laced with sugar and fresh spearmint. The resulting brew is a minty, syrupy-sweet taste which isn't for everyone.

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