I have always been fascinated with the culture spanning the entire landmass which used to be called Persia. It is colourful, beautiful and very glamorous. I have dreamed about visiting the Arabian lands, ever since my days of a little girl reading about Lawrence of Arabia and other legends from that part of the world. One of the weird and wonderful things my parents made me read as a child, all in a bid to culture my mind. Having a mum who read English Literature did not help at all, but it makes for good conversation plus I appear smart and cultured when I am among snooty intellectuals. Note to parents, if you want your children to develop weird social skills as adults, stick them in the house with their noses firmly buried in a book.
When I choose a holiday destination, food ranks high on the list of what I want to experience. That is why you probably won’t catch me visiting Scandinavian countries (no offence) because I wouldn’t know the first thing to order. Moroccan cuisine is absolutely fabulous. Their use of spices turns out gorgeous aromatic food. As part of my birthday tradition of picking up and upping sticks out of here, I called on my fellow ‘Johnny Walker’, my boss on all things travel and said Dayo, let’s go somewhere in Arabian Peninsula or Persian Gulf. Doha came up since he lives there, he said nothing to experience. Same with Dubai. It may be in the middle east but it is as western as it comes.
Map of the Persian Gulf and North Africa at hand, we started looking through countries. He’s very adventurous like myself, but a tad OTT. He said let’s do Azerbaijan. Azer what, errrr no. Batzra, What!!!!. Okay, let’s do Iran. My response was are you okay at all? My father is in his 70’s do you want me to give him a heart attack? I can just imagine the phone conversation. Daddy, I’m going to Iran on a holiday. My mum would probably scream so loud I will hear it all the way from Lagos. After lots of back and forth banter, with each suggestion he made more ridiculous than the next, we finally settled on Amman, Jordan, with a day trip to Petra. I was so psyched only to look through the visa regulations and my face fell. The application process will take 8 – 10 weeks. Perils of holding a Nigerian Passport. Back to the drawing board, lets start ticking. Egypt (too unsettling), Oman (visa headache), Istanbul (weather not as warm at this time of the year), Tunis (a bomb went off there recently), Algeria (not interesting enough), then we finally settled on Morocco and the obvious choice was Marrakech. In the Marrakech vs Casablanca argument, Marrakech wins hands down and we are doing day trips to Essaouira (the windy city of Africa) and Ouarzazarte (the door of the dessert). You can’t truly explore Morocco in one trip, so I am definitely going back. Fes, Agadir, Tangiers, me and my tiny legs must reach there.
Morocco is a bundle of historical and cultural influences because of its history of being conquered by the French and Spaniards. It is still traditionally Arabian but very cosmopolitan at the same time, which is why it is fascinating to Westerners. Unlike Dubai which is all flash and probably no substance culture wise, Morocco has been able to find a happy balance of being traditional, and cultural as well as modern, which ticks all my boxes travel wise. I like to soak in the culture, and explore with comfy shoes, and camera in hand. I am planning to unleash my EOS 100d on the sights of Morocco. I also can’t wait to buy ornaments, garments, fragrances and of course spices. I am coming back with a box full of goodies. Ahead of my trip, I wanted to make a Tagine, because the last time I made it something went awry. A Tagine is simply a stew, very similar to our Nigerian stew but packed with more spices and dried fruit (sultanas, raisins, dates, apricots, prunes) and nuts (almonds, pine nuts etc). I intend to grill the cooks to the fullest, wherever I eat, and it will be easier to understand their recipes if I have cooked it before. Thankfully this turned out absolutely beautiful and I can already feel the sights, sounds and smells of Morocco. Look out for my many pictures and posts from my trip.
You will need
Paprika – substitute with dry pepper/cayenne pepper
1 can of chopped tomatoes – substitute with 3 large tomatoes
Sunflower oil – any oil of your choice
Ground black pepper
Harissa paste – substitute with tomato paste
Sultanas or raisins
flaked almonds/pine nuts
dried dates – if you wish
dried apricot – if you wish
1 – 2 pieces of ata rodo – scotch bonnet/habanero pepper
Moroccan spice powder – you can substitute with turmeric, ground coriander, ground cinnamon
1 cup of Couscous
1 teaspoon of butter
1. Grate/blend the onions with the garlic, ginger and ata rodo. Pour it over the lamb with the powdery spices and a tablespoon of oil to combine properly. Leave in the fridge for 45mins to 1 hour. With the Lamb marinating, chop the onions, blend the tomatoes and set aside.
I wanted to go traditional here and used a Tagine pot. I got it cheaply on eBay. You can use a crock pot, dutch oven, regular pot or even a slow cooker or casserole dish which you place in the oven. With a slow cooker or casserole dish though, brown the meats in a pan first.
2. When the meats have marinated, add a little oil to the pot, let it heat up, shake off any excess spices off the meat and add to the pan. Allow it to brown on each side for 2 minutes.
flip the meats over to allow the other side to brown and caramelise.
3. Then you add the chopped onions, and stir around to sweat it down.
once the onions have softened, add the blended tomatoes, the remaining portion of the marinade, seasoning cubes, salt and a little water. Cover the pot and set the heat to the lowest and let it cook. Dooney’s Kitchen Tip: you need to set the heat to low, as traditionally a tagine is cooked this way to allow the spices permeate the meats slowly. A tagine is a stew, but like i said above, an intensely flavoured stew.
While the pot is bubbling away, cold steep your saffron. Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world. This tiny little container cost a pretty penny. Lucky thing is you don’t need that much. You only need a few strands of Saffron. Just a little goes a long way. It is a precious spice that evokes luxury, some form of specialness to a dish. If my husband will agree with me to name at least one of our daughters after something food inspired, Saffron is definitely top of the list. Hehehehe.
you only need a few strands of it – some will even say this is too much
and a little water to the bowl and leave the saffron strands to steep. Gradually you will see the water change to a pale shade of orange with a lemony green tint. Saffron is also used in Paella dishes to give colour and flavour.
4. After about 30 minutes, open the pot and you should have a bubbly pot of ‘stew’ glaring back at you. Add the saffron and your choice of dried fruits, stir and cover the pot again. I don’t like dates, I did not have apricots at home, so I used just sultanas and raisins.
if the stew is too thick, add a little water to dilute, and leave it to cook. You want a fluid stew-like look but not watery. See below. Taste for salt and seasoning and re-adjust if necessary. It would already smell amazing by now.
keep checking the tagine every 10 minutes or so. When the stew has thickened and fried considerably, turn off the heat, and simply leave it sitting. Don’t open the pot.
5. Then proceed to making the couscous. This is easy peasy. Chop a little onion add to the pot. Add the butter/oil, pour in 1 and a half cups of water and bring to the boil.
add the couscous, turn the heat to the lowest, and allow the couscous absorb all the water
you will know it is ready when the grains have plumped up. Fluff with a fork. Some people like their couscous grainy and crunchy, some like it fluffy. Taste it, if you feel it is not soft enough, add just a little water, leave it to absorb and fluff again. For a little colour, I added tiny pieces of chopped ata rodo. There’s my cooked Couscous
now, back to the gorgeous tagine which you have left to rest for a bit. See, it looks just like stew doesn’t it
Sprinkle over chopped coriander, basil or parsley and serve with the pot.
Serve with Couscous in bowls. This dish is a very good option for entertaining or family dinner
Let everyone serve themselves and tuck in…………………..
see how gorgeous and thick the Tagine is? This was personal preference though, you can make yours slightly more fluid
with the raisins popping out, all plump, juicy and filled with spices
Morocco beckons. I hope you guys in the US had a wonderful Thanksgiving.