It took me two years, but today I finally give you the third and last instalment of my Morocco series. In spring 2013 B. and I travelled around the Country for about three weeks; instead of dividing my posts by location, I decided to split them by overarching themes. The first one is dedicated to nature, landscapes, flora and fauna. The related recipe is a very straightforward one for the ubiquitous Moroccan dessert that is orange with cinnamon and honey. The second one brings together images of contemporary life: people, streets, shops and so on. The recipe I gave you then was one I found throughout Morocco, for a chicken tagine with green olives and preserved lemon. This third and last post is my take on the architectural heritage that is so instantly recognisable as Moroccan (or Northern African at least). There’s the medinas, intense clusters of richly decorated and crumbling buildings. Now I remember each medina by the predominant hue of its walls: white, Ocean-lined Rabat, yellow, wood-scented Fez, red and lively Marrakech. There’s the kasbahs of the desert, their knobbly, scorched terracotta red walls. There’s the ornamental plaster decorations, each so different from the next and yet so similar. There’s the wonderful Volubilis, an entire Roman town unearthed and welcoming you to roam its streets and climb its house walls (careful at the guards and their whistles, though). In the South, along the Ocean, salt, wind and time slowly overpower everything a building is made of: paint chips off, plaster crumbles, stone and brick erode away. The poetry of this decay is almost unbearable at times, although it does highlight the lack of resources put towards the preservation for future generations.
This tagine was our last dinner in Fez. We were staying in a small family run riad on the edge of the medina. On the last night we decided to dine in and our host’s wife served us a homemade tagine with tiny meatballs and eggs cooked in the tomato sauce. On the same night, a young French teacher on her way back from France was staying there too, so the three of us ate together in the cool, candle-lit courtyard of the riad. We were surrounded by intricately-decorated walls going up four floors. As I dipped the bread in the rich, eggy sauce of this homely and comforting dish, chatting, our voices echoing in the stillness of the night, I felt the heat and tiredness of the day wash off me. It was a pleasure recreating this tagine back home. I used lamb, but beef or a mixture of the two meats can also be used.
For the sauce, warm the oil in a sautee or sauce pan (you will need a lid) on a low heat, then add chopped onion and salt, and slowly sautee until translucent. In the meantime, mince the garlic cloves, cumin seeds and chilli in a pestle and mortar. Add the paste to the pan and stir. After a minute or two, add the chopped tomatoes and saffron, stir and cover. Cook on a low heat for about 20 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning accordingly. Turn the heat off and set aside. The sauce keeps in the fridge for a few days, or can be frozen once cold. For the kefta, place the lamb mince in a bowl. Grind the garlic and all the spices in the pestle and mortar, then add the paste to the mince. Add the chopped mint and coriander leaves, and mix until even. Using a teaspoon, form walnut-sized meatballs and place them on a plate or tray. Gently place them in the sauce, bring to the boil then simmer on a low heat for 45 minutes. Depending on how thick your sauce is, you may want to use a lid. If you don’t, I suggest you cover the pot with a splatter guard. To serve, crack the eggs open in the tagine (find 4 snug spots among the meatballs), sprinkle with sumac and cook for a further 15 minutes or until the eggs are poached to your preference. Sprinkle with fresh mint and/or coriander leaves and serve.