Finally, I managed to find the time/will to go through my pictures from Morocco and bring you instalment 2 of 3 of the Morocco in trasferta* series. As mentioned in the first post of the series, there were too many pictures I wanted to share, that doing only one Morocco post was out of the question. Likewise, in the 20 or so days that we were travelling around the Country, I had so many great meals that recreating one recipe alone wouldn’t have done my memories justice. The collection of photos in this post is devoted to the people, places and things that I saw and experienced which meant contemporary Morocco to me.
Spending next to 3 weeks in the Country meant we met quite a few people. We travelled by train during the first part of the holiday, and visited the imperial cities in the North. We met families travelling between Marrakesh, Casablanca, Rabat and Fez. As the train cut across the vast dry land between Marrakesh and Casablanca, boys herding goats looked at us passing by; the contrast between them and the Moroccans we saw in the capital Rabat, strolling along the handsome streets lined with ministerial buildings in the cool evening, was particularly striking. I saw lots of children (boys, mainly) playing outside: on makeshift football pitches on the beach in Rabat, or climbing up and jumping off the Roman remains in Volubilis (only to be reprimanded by the quick and loud whistle coming from a security guard). The way the medina (the old Medieval walled town) has developed to accomodate modern needs – mainly those of tourists, who co-exist with the lives of those with very, very little money who live there – is bewildering at times. I saw a lot of poverty, and it was a reality check. The smells of the medina alone (butchered meat in the stifling heat, spices, donkey excrement, sweat) immediately stripped the exotic glamour that the Western world attributes to it. Medinas are a true maze that repelled and attracted me in equal measure. Leaving them behind and driving to the Atlas mountains southeast of Marrakesh was bliss. Nature is definitely king there, with lunar landscapes and strong winds. We descended towards the Sahara, then turned back up and westwards, towards the Atlantic ocean, via Taliouine, Taroudant and the Sous Valley. Poverty was still there, in front of us, but the harsh contrast between hardship and wealth was less apparent, perhaps because there were less tourists around.
We flew in and out of the Country via Marrakesh airport. We also stopped there halfway through the holiday to collect the hire car and drive towards the Atlas mountains. By then, we were both worn out by the medina life we’d experienced in the imperial cities. The temperatures hovered over the 35°C mark (atypically hot for late April, according to our guidebook and to a taxi driver we spoke to), there was no breeze and the only respite from the heat was the air-conditioned Cafè du Livre, in the Ville Nouvelle (the modern part of the city). In the evenings, we wandered amongst the waves of old and young Marrakeshi roaming the wide streets of the Ville Nouvelle, lined with bars, cafès and restaurants. Twice we ended up at an unassuming restaurant called Chez Lamine, twice I ordered a tagine of chicken, green olives and preserved lemon. Hands down, one of the best meals I’ve had there. I’m not a big fan of chicken (I’ve had one too many dry and stringy chicken breasts) and I prefer black olives to green, but I was eager to try preserved lemon. I’m so glad I did. Real Moroccan food, as opposed to ‘Moroccan’ food available to us here in the UK in restaurants, cafès, cookbooks and websites, has a lot less spice (both heat and actual spices) than I thoughts. What it does not lack, however, is a lot of wonderful flavours and depth.
*Trasferta is the away game in sport, take a look at the previous posts in this category!
Chicken tagine with green olives and preserved lemon
I prepared this tagine twice, and the first time I used way too much flavourings: too much ginger, too much pepper, too many mint leaves, too much garlic and way, way too much saffron (if there can be such a thing! Signed, saffronlover87). The second time round I scaled everything down to the bare minimum, and it worked a treat. The juice left at the bottom of the pot is out-of-this-world good. Good job there’s a lot of it. The recipe draws from the ingredients listed in a recipe from a booklet called Cuisine Marocaine I picked up in a supermarket in Marrakesh. The method, on the other hand, was adapted from Tagine by Ghillie Basan. I made my own preserved lemon back in January, using sweet lemons and this recipe as a guide.
Ingredients for the marinade
2 big garlic cloves
1/2 tsp minced fresh ginger
5/6 fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
juice of half a lemon
salt + ground black pepper
800 gr chicken, cut in large pieces and skin and bone on (I used 1 breast, 1 wing, 1 thigh and 1 drumstick)
Ingredients for the chicken
knob of butter + olive il
small pinch of saffron strands
200 gr green olives
1/4 preserved lemon (rind only)
Place the ingredients for the marinade in a glass bowl and add the chicken pieces in. Rub it in, then cover with some clingfilm and leave to rest for an hour or two. Heat butter and olive oil in a heavy pot or casserole dish on high heat on the hob. When hot, take each chicken piece, using your hands take as much of the marinade off as you can (but don’t throw it), and put it in the pot to brown. Turn the pieces on the other side and brown there too. Then add the remaining marinade, add enough water to cover the chicken halfway through, cover with a lid and leave to cook on medium heat (turn it on low as soon as it starts simmering). In total, the tagine will cook for an hour. After 20 minutes, add a small pinch of saffron strands. Cover and keep cooking. After another 20 minutes, add the green olives. When the hour has finished, turn the heat off and add the preserved lemon rind, cut into thin strips. Serve, or keep it for the next day – it tastes even better.