Moroccan food is spiced up but not necessarily spicy. Flavourful without overwhelming your senses? This colourful North-African cuisine is earthy, fragrant, comforting and delicate at the same time
Over the past few years, Indian restaurants have been simmering with new tastes from across the world. After the familiarity of Chinese, Thai, Japanese and Vietnamese, Moroccan food is now having its moment in India. And not without reason. “Indian spices such as cinnamon, cumin, turmeric, ginger, pepper, anise seed, sesame seeds and coriander are used in Moroccan food too. So it’s very close to the Indian palate,” explains Sudhir Pai, executive chef, Holiday Inn. Moroccan specialities like Couscous, Lamb Tagine, Harira soup, Chicken Tagine and Muhalabiyya is a part of the dinner menu at Saptami the multi cuisine restaurant at Holiday Inn. “The good thing about Indian diners is their openness to try new cuisines. This explains why restaurants that offer a variety of food do really well,” feels Chef Liton Bhakta of The Daily. The Moroccan lamb here happens to be one of the most popular dishes on the menu.
LET’S DIG DEEPER
Moroccan dishes have a beautiful blend of Arabic, Berber and Mediterranean influences. The food is flavourful even if it doesn’t make you sweat or surprise you the next morning. Spices are used subtly to enhance, rather than mask, the flavour and fragrance of the dishes. Like our own ghati masala or bottle masala, Moroccan dishes use a blend of saffron, chillies, cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, cumin, paprika and black pepper to
create the ras el hanout (meaning top of the shop or the best the seller has on offer). It’s usually a mixture of 10 to 30 different spices. Each household in Morocco has its own unique and secret recipe for ras el hanout. Fresh herbs particularly garlic, coriander, parsley, and mint are used generously to impart fragrance and taste. “One of the reasons why Moroccan food is finding resonance with Indians is the spices. But unlike Indian food, Moroccan cuisine isn’t spicy,” explains famous restaurateur Zorawar Kalra of Made in Punjab and Masala Library fame. Above all else, perhaps the defining characteristic of Moroccan cuisine is the blending of savoury with sweet, most commonly witnessed by the addition of fruit to meat dishes. According to Manu Chandra, executive chef, Olive Beach, Bengaluru, the great flavour and
complexity of the dishes is generating quite a lot of excitement among Indian diners. “It’s familiar yet different,” says Chandra.
Why not explore the land of Casablanca with Couscous? Made of semolina the grains plump up when simmered in boiling water. Served with stewed vegetables, meats and rehydrated raisins it makes for a warm and delicious entree. Tagine is another popular Moroccan dish. You could call it the national dish. Tagine is vegetables, chicken or meat in a spicy stew which has been simmered for many hours, and served with a flat bread called Khubz. The dish gets its name from the two-piece, cone-shape, earthenware vessel it’s cooked in. If you like eggplant then try Zaalouk, which is much like our own Baingan ka Bharta. Have it like a dip with warm pitta or just a good loaf of crusty bread. Harira, the traditional Moroccan soup made with chickpeas, tomatoes and fresh herbs is both comforting and filling. “It’s the perfect soul food and my favourite,” says Chandra.
If you are looking to devour a unique Moroccan dish, then Pastilla (pronounced Bastilla) is a must try. It’s a pie with a crusty top and a filling of fish, chicken or meat. If you want to spice things up then Harissa is your best bet. Good on sausage or stirred into soups, Harissa is also delicious when tossed with olives for a salty and spicy combination.
Desserts consist of irresistible and calorie inducing goodies like Briwat (deep fried filo pastry triangles stuffed with almonds) and Shebakia (fried sesame cookies).
WHERE TO FIND IT
If all that lowdown on Moroccan food has got you salivating, let’s tell you where to get it. There are very few dedicated Moroccan restaurants. It mostly finds its place in restaurants serving Mediterranean and Lebanese fare. Like, Moshe’s and Basilico in Mumbai. The Lamb Tagine at Basilico is a good way to start. The lamb is slow cooked in Moroccan spiced pomegranate juice, prunes, chickpeas, carrots and basil. It’s served in a traditional tagine pot. The couscous salad here is good too. Tossed in extra virgin oil, tomatoes, cucumbers and roasted peanuts it’s a meal in itself. Bangaloreans can head to Olive Beach for the best
Bastilla in town. Slow stewed vegetables cooked in an orange tomato sauce, wrapped in layers of filo and baked to a golden crisp transports you to gastronomic heaven. It’s served with fresh salad and toasted almonds.
If you are in Ahemdabad drop by at Souq–The Restaurant, for an authentic Moroccan experience. And, if in Pune, Casero Restaurant and Euriska, are a must-visit.
So you no longer have to travel to Casablanca to experience the allure of Moroccan cooking. It’s all here.
Moroccan Lamb and Chickpea Tagine with Couscous
Manu Chandra, executive chef, Olive Beach, Bengaluru
Ingredients : 1kg Baby Lamb Leg Boneless, 1 each diced Onion, 8 Garlic Cloves smashed, 1 inch piece Ginger peeled and chopped, 2 cups Tomatoes chopped, 1 cup Tomato Juice, 2 cups Stock, 3tbs Olive Oil, 2 cups Chickpeas boiled, 1tsp Orange Zest, 4 pcs Apricot deseeded, 2tbsp Prunes pitted and chopped, 1/3 cup Fresh Mint (roughly chopped), 1/3 cup Fresh Parsley (chopped), 2tsp Chili powder or cayenne pepper, Salt to taste, 1tsp Allspice Berries, 1 tsp Clove, 2tbsp Coriander Seeds, 1 tbsp Cumin seeds, 1tbsp Black peppercorns, 1 inch piece Cinnamon, 1 large Bay Leaf For Cous Cous, 500g Instant Couscous, 1-heaped tbsp Butter, 2 ltr Boiling water, Salt to taste
• First prepare the spice mixing by lightly dry roasting all the spices except the bay leaf in a low oven or a pan. Roast till the aromas emerge and the coriander turns golden. Cool completely and then using a dry grinder powder the spices. Reserve.
• For the couscous, turn the instant cous cous into a large steel bowl. Bring the water to boil and add enough salt to just season correctly and the butter. Pour over the cous cous and cover with a lid or foil at once. Let it sit for 15 minutes.
• In a heavy based saucepan heat the olive oil. Gently add the cubes of lamb and spread them out and let them turn nice and brown on one side; turn over and repeat the same on a medium heat on the other side. If the lamb sticks slightly, gently nudge the pieces with a spatula to dislodge them. In 3-4 minutes the
pieces will be nicely browned. Add the diced onions, garlic, ginger at this point and stir well. Cook them till they begin to caramelise.
• Add the orange zest and spice powder at this point and stir well again. The lamb will look coated and dry. Add the chopped tomatoes and tomato juice and cook stirring for 5 minutes on medium heat till the tomatoes soften.
• Finally add the apricot, prunes, chickpeas, mint, parsley, red chili powder and stock. Stir well, season with salt and lower heat to a simmer. Put a lid on the pan and simmer for 45 minutes or till the lamb is tender. The tagine should be thick and rich
• Fluff the couscous with a fork and plate a cupful in a plate. Ladle the hot tagine on top of the couscous and garnish with slivered almonds and fresh parsley. Serve hot.
Tip: Like all good stews, the tagine tastes better the following day.
Chef Liton Bhakta at The Daily, Mumbai
Ingredients: Carrot, Long beans Red, Yellow and Green capsicum, Roast lamb, Tomato sauce, Chicken jus, Homemade Moroccan powder
Method: Place the all ingredient into the fry pan and toss for a minute, add some red wine, tomato sauce, chicken jus and Moroccan powder. Add salt & black pepper and served with herb rice.
Sudhir Pai, executive chef, Holiday Inn, Mumbai
Ingredients: 1kg chicken, 1tsp ground cinnamon, 1 tsp ground ginger, 1/2tsp turmeric, 1/2tsp black pepper, 1 1/4tsp salt, 3tbsp plus 1/4 cup olive oil, 1tbsp unsalted butter, 1 medium red onion, halved, then sliced 1/4 inch thick, 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped, 5 fresh cilantro, 5 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley, 1 1/2 cups water, 2tbs mild honey, 1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick, 1/2 cup dried Turkish apricots separated into halves, 1/3 cup whole blanched almonds, Special equipment: a 10 to 12 inch tagine or heavy skillet; kitchen string
• Stir together ground cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, pepper, 1 teaspoon salt, and 2 tablespoons oil in a large bowl. Add chicken and turn to coat well.
• Heat butter and 1 tablespoon oil in base of tagine (or in skillet), uncovered, over moderate heat until
hot but not smoking, then brown half of chicken, skin sides down, turning over once, 8 to 12 minutes.
Transfer to a plate. Brown remaining chicken in same manner, adding any spice mixture left in bowl.
• Add onion and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt to tagine and cook, uncovered, stirring frequently, until soft, about 8 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, 3 minutes.
• Tie cilantro and parsley into a bundle with kitchen string and add to tagine along with 1/2 cup water, chicken, and any juices accumulated on plate. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, 30 minutes.
• While chicken cooks, bring honey, remaining cup water, cinnamon stick, and apricots to a boil in a small heavy saucepan, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until apricots are very tender (add more water if necessary). Once apricots are tender, simmer until liquid is reduced to a glaze, 10 to 15 minutes.
• While apricots cook, heat remaining 1/4 cup oil in a small skillet over moderate heat and cook almonds, stirring occasionally, until just golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain.
• Ten minutes before chicken is done, add apricot mixture to tagine. Discard herbs and cinnamon stick, then serve chicken sprinkled with almonds on top.