My Moroccan Food-alogue – Part 4 Marrakech and Essaouira

Welcome back, folks.  This is the last instalment of my Moroccan food travels.  It is not, however, the end of trying to replicate all the foods that I sampled while traveling.  Just to keep my thoughts in chronological order, I must tell you that three days of touring and photographing are missing from this food diary. The bad news was, I took a tumble backwards down a flight of stairs and broke my collarbone and needed quite a few staples in my scalp.  The good news was I needed no surgery, everything was healable and Morocco Expert Tours were wonderful and re-arranged our final three days to facilitate my needs to stay in the country and continue to experience all of Morocco possible for me.

This is the second last photo of chicken pastilla that I will show you from my first dinner in Marrakech. I just love the plating with mint sprigs, pastilla design of cinnamon and powdered sugar and even the beautiful plate. The last photo of pastilla at the end of this blog will be from our cooking class at a riad in the souk of Marrakech.  IMG_1321 (1024x861)

I would not have included the divided dish below of mixed salads below if it were not for the pinwheel serving dish..I did not have a steady hand, with my broken collarbone…..but I have been looking for a similar serving platter to this day.

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We stayed in Marrakech for three nights and had day outings.

Our first day was a tour of the magnificent souk.  On the recommendation of our tour guide, we enjoyed a meal of street food.  Outdoor grills are up and down the streets.  The aroma of grilling chicken and kefta skewers wafting through the air.

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Little spice dishes are set on each table, one with a ground chili and the other interesting duo of ground cumin and salt.

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This is how you put extra seasoning on the grilled skewers. You roll the skewer in the salt and cumin blend and then roll again in the chili pepper.

We put in our order at the grill and sat down at the table.  As usual, a basket of local bread and a dish of olives were placed before us.  We order a couple tomato/chopped onion duo salads.  Note that there is no cutlery.

The chicken and kefta skewers finally arrive.  We are ready to start our meal.  Break off a piece of bread and scoop up some of the salads first.  Dip the meat on the skewers in the cumin and salt blend first, then the chili pepper.  Then rip off another piece of bread and pull the meat off the skewer.  Repeat until finished.

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Lunch is done.  We are happy.  Time to move on and do some shopping and more touring around the souk.

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Happy and full and ready to move on.

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Essaouira was our next day trip.  It was approximately a 2 1/2 hour car trip.  But our stop along the way was the most surprising of all sights.  Goats in argan trees eating the argan nuts!  In times past, the undigested argan pits were collected from the waste of these goats who ate the nuts.  Today,  the argan oil is pressed from the nut kernels harvested directly from the trees and the oil is processed for cooking and cosmetic products.

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You have to see it to believe it: goats in argan trees!

We took a tour of the local establishment where the women gather the nuts, crack the kernels and grind them into pastes and oils in a production line.

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Of course, I had to buy some argan oil for cooking, organic and pure, to take  home.  I have found argan oil locally, at Loblaws and at our mid-east supermarket.  I have prepared  my version of Amlou (see my post), a traditional almond paste, like a Moroccan Peanut Butter, but more exotic.

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Organic, pure argan oil. Notice my purple decorated tagine in the background that I also brought home from Morocco.

And on to Essauoira.  It was a breezy, warm day and it was wonderful to walk the coast and look at all the fishing boats bringing in their catch of the day.

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Fresh fish being sold right at the waterfront.

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 Vendors set up their grills to eat right at the dock.

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Youssef and Mohammed has a special little restaurant and invited us to join them for lunch, but first we needed to walk through the souk.  Given the choice, I would have bought every bowl and platter at the stall below — just loved all the colours and patterns.

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And look at the pyramids of spices and spice blends.

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We ended up in this little hidden gem of fish stands — choose what you want for lunch and it is sent upstairs to the restaurant to be grilled on the premises.  Can’t get much fresher than that.

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Cleaning and filleting our lunch.

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Our chosen stall had a variety of sardines and other fish; better not to have too much to choose from.

Grilled sardines, our standard bread basket and french fries.  And of course, mint tea.

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Sardines were simply seasoned with salt and pepper and a little oil.

Some tomato salad and extra hot sauce.

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Happy with our local feast. For a treat, we shared the meal with Youssef, our tour guide, and Mohammed, our driver.

Lunch is great.  This is our main meal of the day, followed by a restful drive back to Marrakech.

Last day was the cooking class.  It was just for the two of us.  We were invited to a remote riad in the middle of the souk.  We were met in the main square by the staff of that riad, who escorted us to their establishment.

‘Here is the menu.’ she said,  ‘Pick what you want to make.’

‘Chicken pastilla, of course.’  we said.

‘Do you have the time?  she asked,  ‘It takes a longer time.’

‘We have all day.’  we answered.

This began at 11 o’clock in the morning.

First we had to buy the chicken.  A ‘live’ chicken.  We left the premises to buy the rest of the ingredients for the pastilla, spices, and a tomato salad and returned a short time later — the chicken was slaughtered,  all prepared and ready to take home to cook.  ‘Best way to buy chicken,’  she said, ‘Very fresh.’

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Poultry Shop

We bought almonds, spices, the ‘pastry’ which is very close to our phyllo dough.

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I just wanted a photo of the shelf of Amlou, the almond paste that I wrote about earlier.

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I will not show you every step of the preparation but it was fun to work with the riad cook and the two staff in their kitchen for hours.  Almonds had to be boiled and blanched.  The chicken pieces were seasoned with spices and onions and cooked for 20 minutes in a pressure cooker.  Three cups of almonds were peeled by hand (hand on the left is my husband’s).

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The almonds were then fried in oil until toasty brown, drained, and ground in a food processor.

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There were many steps.   The staff took over and I photographed what I could and took notes.  The cooked chicken has to be cooled, removed from the bones and shredded and more seasoning added.  The broth remaining had to be reduced to intensify the flavour and beaten eggs were added slowly. The almonds were mixed with cinnamon and sugar.  The dough sheets were roughly round and overlapped and placed in a 10-inch springform pan.  We were going to make one giant pastilla.  The filling was layered with chicken, then ground almonds and then the thickened broth.

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That is me taking notes in the bottom right hand corner while the cook prepares the final ingredients.

The pastry sheets are folded over the filling and a final top couple of sheets were put on top and smoothed down the sides.  This is how it was put in the oven to crisp up the pastry until golden brown.

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Our table by the pool in the courtyard was set with the tomato cucumber salad we prepared plus the standard bread basket.

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Our chicken pastilla was decorated for us and served.  It is now 3:30 p.m.  It has taken 4 1/2 hours to shop and prepare and sit down for our meal.  But it was worth the experience of preparation and for the delicious flavour.   There are many recipes for pastilla and I will research some  that don’t require buying the live chicken!

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We could not eat the whole thing for lunch.  The staff packed it up the rest for our dinner!

Tomorrow morning, we leave for Casablanca to catch our plane back home.  I will have only the fondest memories of our new friends, new food and fun times.

Happy travels.

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13 comments

  1. Marcia cantor · · Reply

    You outdid yourself this time! I could smell the meat bbqing, the goats in the tree….I think you must have photo-shopped. How did they stay up there? I am very gullible. Is that a real picture? I tend to believe everything. The colored plates, the spices!!! I can’t wait to get to Turkey. Remind me what you wanted. I won’t be able to come close to you with words or pictures. Simply breathtaking!! I have enjoyed reading everything and trying your recipes. Thanks so much!!!

    1. Hi Marcia,
      You are going to have a fabulous experience in Turkey, I’m sure! There is a local pepper called Urfa Pepper — if you could bring me back some, I would be thrilled. Thanks so much for offering! And believe me, those goats climbed into that tree — absolutely no photoshopping — I was right on the ground in front of them taking the photo!

  2. beryl ben-reuven · · Reply

    I find the spice selection amazing; how they present it and what to chose is the question and then put them all together. Since I am not a spice girl, it would be hard to chose what I could tolerate. Too spicy maybe or just so different. It would require time and trials. Love your presentations and wish I could be so adventurous. Keep them coming. Thanks. Now when will you have the cooking class????

    1. Hi Beryl, I would be happy to go over the spice selection with you and show you which ones are mild but flavourful. We’ll have to have a private cooking lesson! Shelley

  3. sheryl lipton · · Reply

    Shelley, you look as great as you did when we were in Israel in 1972!! Shmattas on our heads–back in style now!!

    1. Hi Sheryl, I learned to wrap those scarves again when I was in Israel a few years ago!

  4. Shelley, the photos are wonderful; I can almost smell the food! The platters and bowls are gorgeous. What a terrific experience. Thanks for sharing.

    1. My pleasure to share my travels. There are more recipes to share too!

  5. Wow, what an amazing blog post! I feel like I have just been on an exotic trip! Thank-you so much for the great photographs and narrative!

  6. Ellen Gelman · · Reply

    Shelley this was such a delightful culinary escapade that you have shared with us. So glad that you included the pinwheel display of appetizers. it is an excellent example of the artistry of Turkish plating. We do eat with our eyes first and that Chicken Pastilla certainly got my pupils dilated.The criss crossed cinnamon and icing sugar pattern is gorgeous. I am certain that the four and a half hour wait was worth it. Besides the amazing goat tree, the next photo which captivated me was the spice pyramids, steady hands and no wind required to create these marvels. I recognize your gorgeous purple tagine, I can see why you had difficulty in choosing just one there are so many beautiful designs.Thanks for this delicious treat

    1. I am honoured to be able to entice such an artistic person as yourself. Thank you for writing!

  7. cherylkl@clvgroup.com · · Reply

    Who needs to watch TV when we have your priceless blog sharing each experience with us!
    i loved following your amazing trip and culinary delights Shelley…you had an incredible trip dispite your setback. Keep entertaining us with your new adventures….xoxo

    1. My pleasure to invite you to join me on my journey…xox

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