1 GEOGRAPHIC SETTING AND ENVIRONMENT
Morocco is located in the northwestern corner of Africa. Morocco is
slightly larger in area than California, and its territory has three
different regions. The northern coast along the Mediterranean Sea is made
up of fertile land that rises to elevations of about 8,000 feet (2,400
meters). The Atlas Mountains run between the Atlantic coast in the
southwest to the Mediterranean Sea in the northeast. Finally, the semiarid
area in the south and east known as the Western Sahara connects Morocco
with the vast African Sahara Desert.
Morocco faces a problem with
Desertification is the process where fertile land becomes barren and
desert-like. Desertification may be caused by forces of nature, such as
lack of rainfall or drought. Humans contribute to desertification when
they clear away all the trees or allow their livestock to graze too much
so that they eat away all plants. These practices leave no plants to hold
the soil in place, so wind and rain can carry away the fertile topsoil.
Morocco also has a problem with water pollution from oil spills, poor
sewage treatment practices, and the use of strong pesticides.
In the northwest, agriculture in Morocco thrives. Except in years when
there is severe drought, Moroccan farmers are able to supply the country
with enough food.
2 HISTORY AND FOOD
Nomads called Berbers were the first inhabitants of Morocco over two
thousand years ago. They used local ingredients, such as olives, figs, and
dates, to prepare lamb and poultry stews. Over time, traders and
conquering nations introduced new food customs. Among them were the
Phoenicians, Carthaginians, and Romans. However, the strongest influence
on native cooking was the Arab invasion in the seventh century
The Arabs brought with them new breads and other foods made from grains.
introduced spices including cinnamon, ginger, saffron, cumin, and
caraway. They also introduced sweet-and-sour cooking, which they had
learned from the Persians. Moors from Andalusia in southern Spain also
influenced Moroccan cooking. The
a popular pigeon pie in Morocco, was originally a Moorish dish. In modern
times, the French and the British made contributions to Moroccan cuisine.
3 FOODS OF THE MOROCCANS
Morocco, unlike most other African countries, produces all the food it
needs to feed its people. Its many home-grown fruits and vegetables
include oranges, melons, tomatoes, sweet and hot peppers, and potatoes.
Five more native products that are especially important in Moroccan
cooking are lemons, olives, figs, dates, and almonds. Located on the coast
of the Mediterranean Sea, the country is rich in fish and seafood. Beef is
not plentiful, so meals are usually built around lamb or poultry.
Flat, round Moroccan bread is eaten at every meal. The Moroccan national
dish is the tajine, a lamb or poultry stew. Other common ingredients may
include almonds, hard-boiled eggs, prunes, lemons, tomatoes, and other
vegetables. The tajine, like other Moroccan dishes, is known for its
distinctive flavoring, which comes from spices including saffron, cumin,
coriander, cinnamon, ginger, and ground red pepper. The tajine's
name is taken from the distinctive earthenware dish with a cone-shaped top
in which it is cooked and served. Another Moroccan dietary staple is
couscous, made from fine grains of a wheat product called semolina. It is
served many different ways, with vegetables, meat, or seafood.
Sweets play a very important role in the Moroccan diet. Every household
has a supply of homemade sweet desserts made from almonds, honey, and
other ingredients. Mint tea is served with every meal in Morocco. It is
sweetened while it is still in the pot.
Chicken Tajine with Almonds and Prunes
- 6 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon powdered cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon powdered ginger
- ½ teaspoon powdered saffron (optional)
- 3 short cinnamon sticks
- 4 ounces butter
- 2 large onions
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 strip lemon peel
- 1 pound dried prunes
- Blanched almonds
- Fresh watercress or mint
- Combine the oil and ground spices in a large bowl.
- Cut the chicken into cubes and chop the onion finely. Put the chicken
and onion into the bowl with the oil and spices. Combine well and let
stand for 30 minutes.
- Melt the butter in a large skillet. Add the chicken, searing (browning)
them lightly on all sides.
- Add any remaining marinade and enough water to cover. Simmer until
chicken is tender (about 30 minutes).
- While the chicken is cooking, put the prunes in a small saucepan, cover
with water and bring the water to a bowl. Remove the pan from the heat
and let them stand for 20 minutes.
- Drain the prunes, return them to the pan, and ladle a little liquid from
the meat pan over the prunes. Simmer the prunes for 5 minutes.
- Add the lemon peel, cinnamon sticks, and half the sugar to the prunes.
- Stir the remaining sugar into the meat.
- Arrange the meat on a serving platter. Add the prunes to the meat, and
pour the sauce from the prunes over the meat and prunes.
- Boil the remaining liquid from the meat rapidly to reduce it by half and
pour over the meat and prunes.
- Melt a small amount of butter in a saucepan and brown the almonds
lightly. Garnish the tajine with the almonds and watercress or mint.
- Serve with rice or couscous.
Serves 10 to 12.
In Morocco, tajine is the name of both the stew and the covered clay
pot it is baked in. The tajine may be called the "Moroccan
crockpot" because it is used to slow-cook meat dishes.
Moroccan Mint Tea
- 1½ Tablespoons green tea (or 2 teabags of green tea)
- Boiling water
- 3 Tablespoons sugar (or to taste)
- Handful (about 2 Tablespoons) of fresh or dried spearmint leaves
- Put the tea in a 2-pint teapot and fill it with boiling water.
- Let the tea steep (soak) for 2 minutes.
- Add mint leaves and sugar to taste.
4 FOOD FOR RELIGIOUS AND HOLIDAY CELEBRATIONS
Muslim dietary restrictions prohibit the consumption of pork and alcohol.
During the holy season of Ramadan, when Muslims fast during the day, a
thick soup called
is served at night. A bowl of
which is made with beans and lamb, is served with fresh dates. It is
served both at home and in cafes. For the holiday Eid al-Fitr, which marks
the end of Ramadan, a holiday feast is prepared. A popular dish at this
made with pigeon meat wrapped in pastry dough. More than 100 layers of
pastry dough may be used.
The Muslim feast day of Eid el Kebir takes place seventy days after
Ramadan. For this holiday, a sheep is roasted on a spit and served whole
at the table. Each person cuts off a piece and dips it into a dish of
cumin. Rich date bars called
are a popular dessert at many festive occasions.
Cashew bisteeya (pie made with phyllo dough)
Couscous with fennel
Fresh seasonal fruit and dates
Assortment of salads
Tajine of potatoes, peas, and artichoke hearts
Dates stuffed with almond paste
Fresh seasonal fruit
Mescouta (Date Cookies)
- 6 eggs, well beaten
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ cup (1 stick) melted butter or margarine
- ¾ cup flour
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- 1 cup pitted dates, chopped
- ½ cup walnuts or almonds, finely chopped
- ⅓ cup raisins, seedless
- 3 Tablespoons confectioners' sugar
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- In large mixing bowl, mix eggs, sugar, vanilla, and melted butter or
margarine by hand (or with an electric mixer) until well-blended (mix
for about 3 minutes).
- Gradually stir in flour and baking powder, a little at a time, stirring
with a wooden spoon to blend.
- Add dates, nuts, and raisins, and mix well.
- Pour mixture into greased 8- or 9-inch square cake pan.
- Bake for about 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center
comes out clean.
- While still warm, cut into rectangular bars about an inch wide.
- Put 3 Tablespoons confectioners' sugar into a small dish.
- Roll each bar in confectioners' sugar.
- Store bars in a box with wax paper between layers.
Makes 24 to 30 bars.
After baking, Mescouta (Date Cookies) are rolled in
- 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
- 3 cloves garlic, crushed, or 1 teaspoon garlic granules
- 2 large onions, grated
- ½ cup almonds, sliced
- 1 cup fresh parsley, finely-chopped or ½ cup dried parsley flakes
- 2 teaspoons ginger, ground
- 3 teaspoons cinnamon, ground, or more as needed
- 5 cups boneless, skinless chicken, cooked and cut into bite-size chunks
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 cup butter or margarine, more or less as needed
- 5 eggs, beaten until frothy
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1 pound package frozen phyllo dough (available in freezer section of
most supermarkets), thawed according to directions on package
- 2 teaspoons confectioners' sugar, more or less as needed
A shopper selects lemons from the stock at an open-air market.
Moroccan cooking uses ingredients common to North Africa, such as
lemons, olives, figs, dates, and almonds.
- In large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat.
- Add garlic, onions, almonds, parsley, ginger, and 2 teaspoons cinnamon.
Stirring constantly, fry until onions are soft, about 3 minutes.
- Remove from heat, add cooked chicken and salt and pepper to taste, and
stir well. Set aside.
- Melt 2 Tablespoons butter or margarine in medium skillet over medium
- Add eggs, sugar, and 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, and stir well.
- Adding more butter or margarine if necessary to prevent sticking, stir
constantly until eggs are soft scrambled, about 5 minutes.
- Add to chicken mixture and lightly toss together.
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Melt ½ cup butter or margarine in small saucepan.
- Brush bottom and sides of pie pan with melted butter or margarine.
- Remove sheets of phyllo from package and unfold; keep covered with
clean, dampened paper towel.
- Center one phyllo sheet in buttered pie pan and gently press into the
pan, leaving a generous overhang all around the top edge.
- Brush the first sheet with plenty of melted butter or margarine.
- Layer 5 more sheets of phyllo dough, brushing each one with melted
butter or margarine.
- Fill crust with chicken mixture and cover with 3 more layers of phyllo,
brushing each with butter or margarine.
- Roll overhanging edges together and tuck inside of pie pan rim.
- Brush top and edges with the remaining melted butter or margarine.
- Using fork, poke about 8 steam vents into top of crust.
- Bake in oven for about 20 minutes or until golden brown.
- Remove from oven and sprinkle top with confectioners' sugar and
Serves 6 to 8.
- 4 Tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 teaspoon ginger, ground
- 1 teaspoon cumin, ground
- 3 cans (approximately 6 cups) chicken or vegetable broth
- 8 ounces (1¼ cups) green lentils, washed
- 1 14-ounce can chopped tomatoes
- 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained
- 3 Tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
- 3 Tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
- Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
- Lemon juice (optional)
- In a large saucepan, heat half the oil. Add the onion and cook 10
minutes, until soft.
- Add the garlic, turmeric, ginger, and cumin and cook a few more minutes.
- Stir in the stock and add the lentils and tomatoes.
- Bring to a boil, cover and simmer 20 minutes or until the lentils are
- Stir in the chickpeas, remaining olive oil, cilantro, parsley, salt,
pepper and lemon juice (if using), and simmer 5 more minutes.
Serves 8 to 10.
Fried Baby Carrots
- 1 pound baby carrots
- 3 Tablespoons olive oil
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- Grated rind of 1 lemon
- Juice of ½ lemon
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 Tablespoons fresh mint, roughly chopped
- Sprigs of mint, to garnish
- Heat the oil in a skillet large enough to hold the carrots in a single
- Add the carrots and cook gently 15 minutes, shaking frequently.
- Add the garlic and cook 10 minutes more until the carrots are tender and
spotted with brown.
- Add the sugar and cook 2 minutes.
- Stir in the lemon rind and juice and season with salt and pepper.
- Stir in the chopped mint and transfer to a serving dish.
- Garnish with sprigs of mint.
Makes 4 servings.
5 MEALTIME CUSTOMS
Moroccans eat their meals at low round tables, sitting on cushions on the
floor. They eat with their hands instead of silverware, using the thumb
and first two fingers of their right hands. They also use pieces of bread
to soak up sauces and carry food to the mouth. Small warmed, damp towels
are passed around before the meal to make sure everyone's hands are
clean. Most meals consist of a single main dish, often a stew, a couscous
dish, or a hearty soup. It is served with bread, salad, cold vegetables,
and couscous or rice on the side. A typical breakfast might include
(dried fava beans stewed with cumin and paprika),
(pancakes), and bread. Two breakfast favorites that may sound exotic to
Westerners are lambs' heads and calves' feet
Although Moroccans love sweets, they are usually saved for special
occasions. With everyday meals, the most common dessert is fresh fruit.
The sweetened mint tea that comes with every meal is served a special way.
It is brewed in a silver teapot and served in small glasses. When the tea
is poured, the pot is held high above the glasses to let air mix with the
tea. Tea is served not only at home but also in public places. In stores,
merchants often offer tea to their customers.
Morocco is famous for the wide range of delicious foods sold by its many
street vendors. These include soup, shish kebab, roasted chickpeas, and
salads. Both full meals and light snacks are sold. A favorite purchase is
sugared doughnuts tied together on a string to carry home.
Chickpea, Feta, and Olive Salad
Ingredients for salad
- 2 cans (15-ounce each) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 5 ounces feta cheese, cut into cubes
- 8 ounces cherry or grape tomatoes
- 2 ounces pitted black olives
- 4 Tablespoons flat leaf parsley
- Lettuce or other salad greens
Ingredients for dressing
- 5 Tablespoons olive oil
- 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- Salt, to taste
- Place the chickpeas in a bowl and add the feta cheese cubes.
- Cut the tomatoes in half if necessary, to make them bite-sized.
- Add tomatoes to the chickpeas and feta cheese mixture. Add the black
olives, parsley, and lettuce.
- Combine dressing ingredients in a small bowl.
- Pour over chickpea mixture, toss gently, and chill.
- Serve chilled or at room temperature.
Moroccan "String of Doughnuts"
- One box doughnuts (may be regular or "mini" size)
- Clean heavy string (such as kitchen twine)
- Large safety pin
- Cut several 2-foot pieces of string.
- Tie the safety pin to the end of the string.
- Using the safety pin as a "needle," thread the string
through the center holes of 3 or 4 doughnuts.
- Remove the safety pin and tie the ends of the string together.
- Repeat, making several strings of donuts to share as a snack with
- ⅓ cup cornstarch
- 3 cups milk
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1 cinnamon stick
- ½ cup almond, finely chopped
- 2 Tablespoons orange flower water (optional)
- In a small bowl, dilute the cornstarch with ½ cup of the milk. Set
- In a heavy, medium saucepan, bring the remaining 2½ cups milk,
sugar, and cinnamon stick to a boil.
- Add the cornstarch mixture.
- Whisk continuously until the mixture thickens, about 5 minutes.
- Remove from the heat and remove the cinnamon stick.
- Optional: stir in the orange flower water. Pour into 5 dessert bowls and
- Sprinkle with the chopped almonds. Serve chilled or at room temperature.
Sweet Grated Carrot Salad
- 4 to 6 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon, ground
- 1½ teaspoons confectioners' sugar
- Juice of 2 oranges
- 1¾ pounds carrots, grated
- Mix the chopped parsley with the cinnamon, sugar, and orange juice in a
- Add the grated carrots and mix well.
- Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Serve slightly chilled.
Serves 10 to 12.
6 POLITICS, ECONOMICS, AND NUTRITION
According to a report by the World Bank, about 5 percent of the total
population of Morocco are undernourished, and 58 percent of the total
population have access to adequate sanitation (clean, sanitary toilet
facilities). Some Moroccan children do not receive adequate nutrition. Ten
percent of children under five are underweight for their age, while 24
percent are short for their age.
Both of these statistics reflect poor nutrition for the youngest children
7 FURTHER STUDY
The Oxford Companion to Food.
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Chicago: Contemporary Books. 1999.
The Book of North African Cooking.
New York: HP Books, 1998.
North Africa: The Vegetarian Table.
San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1996.
Cultures of the World: Morocco.
New York: Marshall Cavendish, 1995.
North African Cooking.
Edison, N.J.: Chartwell, 1995.
Webb, Lois Sinaiko.
Holidays of the World Cookbook for Students.
Phoenix: Oryx Press, 1995.
Epicurious. [Online] Available
(accessed February 7, 2001).
Happy Menu. [Online] Available
(accessed February 12, 2001).
Moroccan Gateway. [Online] Available
(accessed February 12, 2001).
SOAR (online recipe archive). [Online] Available
(accessed February 7, 2001).