The West

Moroccan cuisine a delight for tastebuds
The food is as colourful as it is tasty in Fes' ancient medina. Picture: Craig Tansley

Many consider Moroccan food to be one of the world's greatest cuisines with its blend of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and African ingredients and a generous dose of Asian spices.

Moroccan cuisine represents centuries of cultural and religious differences that have come together in a sort of culinary harmony.

Although much of what makes it great was handed down from wealthy royal courts, the principal ingredient is one of the world's most economical and ordinary: couscous, a tiny pellet-like pasta made from semolina grains and water. Couscous refers not only to the pasta but also to any number of dishes prepared with it.

Lemons (fresh and preserved), red onions, olives, chickpeas, lentils, distilled flower waters, blood oranges, dates and nuts are some of the essentials of the well-stocked Moroccan pantry.

These ingredients are made uniquely North African by the addition of a wide range of aromatic spices and seasonings: sugar, cumin, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, anise, mint, cardamom, turmeric and saffron.

Just like India has its curry and France its herbs de Provence, Morocco has its ras el hanout: a blend of cumin, sweet paprika, nutmeg, mace, ginger, cilantro and cinnamon.

The blend varies from region to region and from house to house. Equally unique is the fiery paste known as harissa (a blend of garlic, chillis, cumin and olive oil), which is not only used as an ingredient in thousands of recipes but also adorns every North African table as a condiment. These ingredients are available on-line or in specialty food stores.

A tagine is an aromatic North African stew named for the conical clay dish in which it is baked and served.

Lamb is a principal stew meat that is cooked until tender enough to be pulled apart and eaten with the fingers.

Moroccan poultry and fish is either grilled, stewed, or cooked in a tagine.

This is your chance to eat with your hands as the Moroccans do - using your right hand (although bread can be taken with the left) to scoop from a communal dish.

The traditional Moroccan seasonings in this dish make an Australian sauvignon blanc the wine of choice.

Two 1kg chickens, whole, split, or quartered
3 spring onions, white part only, chopped
1 garlic clove (optional)
2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh coriander
2 tablespoons roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoons sweet paprika
Pinch of cayenne
1 teaspoons ground cumin, preferably Moroccan
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

Rinse the chicken and pat dry; trim away excess fat. Slide your fingers under the skin to loosen it from the flesh.

Pound the spring onions with the garlic, herbs, salt and spices in a mortar. Blend in the butter to make a paste (or use a food processor). Rub the paste under and over the chicken skin (and into the cavities if left whole). Arrange in a roasting pan and let marinate for at least 1 hour.

Heat an outdoor grill or heat the broiler. Arrange the pieces of chicken skin side up over the coals or skin side down on a broiler pan under the broiler. After five minutes, turn and baste with any extra paste or the juices in the broiler pan. Continue turning and basting every five minutes until the chickens are done; timing will depend on the heat of the coals. Makes four servings.

Source: This recipe is adapted from The Food of Morocco by Paula Wolfert.

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