Moroccan cooks rely on relatively few implements to create their exquisite dishes. Most women use a simple canoun (small charcoal brazier) as their only source of heat to boil water for mint tea or to slow-cook a savory tagine.
They also have at their disposal an assortment of earthenware platters with distinctive conical lids, called tagine slaoui, for making tagines, as well as several aluminum colander-capped soup pots called keskess, for making couscous. For grinding spices, they have a brass mehraz, or mortar and pestle. A shallow wooden or earthenware platter called a ga'saa is used for kneading dough or rolling the semolina for couscous. Bread, as well as larger dishes like mechoui, or roast lamb, are taken to the public ovens for baking.
Wealthier households maintain two kitchens: one to prepare
traditional dishes for special occasions, and another, more modern one, for everyday use. My friend Ahlam Lemseffer, a busy career woman in Casablanca, insists on cooking tagines and couscous on her charcoal canoun when she entertains. For her more mundane culinary activities, however, she prefers the convenience of a modern gas stove.
You don't have to own traditional implements to prepare good Moroccan food. An enameled casserole with a lid, a small Dutch oven or a crockpot is a perfectly acceptable substitute for the traditional tagine slaoui. If a keskess, or couscoussiere, for making couscous is not available, use a large stockpot or steamer topped with a tight-fitting colander or sieve. Line the bottom of the colander with a clean, fine muslin dishcloth to prevent the couscous granules from slipping through the holes.
Tagine Bil Hoot (Tagine of Fish)
1/4 cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
1/2 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons sweet Hungarian paprika
8 threads Spanish saffron, toasted and crushed (see note)
1 teaspoon ground ginger
4 (6-ounce) boned fish fillets
4 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
salt, freshly ground pepper
2 carrots, peeled and sliced diagonally
1 onion, thinly sliced
thin slices of lemon
12 green or black olives, pitted
fresh parsley or cilantro leaves, for garnish
In large bowl, mix parsley, cilantro, oil, paprika, saffron and ginger. Add juice of half of lemon. Coat fish fillets with mixture and refrigerate 1 to 2 hours, turning over once or twice. Cut other lemon half into very thin slices. Set aside.
Meanwhile, in large saucepan, combine tomatoes, garlic and cumin and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens slightly, 8 to 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.
Place carrots in single layer on bottom of small Dutch oven or enameled casserole. Cover with onion slices. Spoon tomato sauce over onions. Cover and cook over medium heat until carrots are tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from heat.
Set fish on top of vegetables. Top each fillet with one lemon slice. Add marinade. Surround fish with olives. Cover and cook over medium heat until fish is flaky, 10 to 12 minutes. Spoon some sauce over fish. Garnish with parsley. Serve immediately.
Note: To release saffron's intense aroma, place threads in small nonstick skillet and stir constantly over medium-high heat 2 to 3 minutes. Crush threads between fingers or pound them in mortar along with dash salt before using.
Kteffa (Phyllo Pastries With Orange-Flower Custard and Fresh Berries)
1 3/4 cups whole blanched almonds, toasted
1/4 cup powdered sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
8 sheets phyllo dough, thawed
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
2 cups milk
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cinnamon stick
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons orange-flower water (available in specialty food markets)
2 cups fresh raspberries,
blackberries or strawberries
To toast almonds, place nuts on baking sheet in thin layer. Bake at 375 degrees, turning once or twice, 5 to 8 minutes, until nuts turn light brown.
In blender or food processor, coarsely grind almonds. Transfer to medium bowl and combine with powdered sugar and cinnamon. Set aside.
Stack phyllo sheets on work surface. Using sharp knife, with 4-inch-diameter bowl or saucer as template, cut 6 circles out of stacked phyllo. You will have 48 circles or 8 for each pastry. Discard scraps.
On parchment-lined or nonstick baking sheet, stack 2 phyllo leaves, lightly brushing each with melted butter. Sprinkle top leaf evenly with 1 level tablespoon almond mixture. Repeat process twice. Top with 2 final buttered leaves. Repeat process to make remaining 5 pastries.
Bake pastries on center rack at 350 degrees 20 to 25 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven. With metal spatula, transfer each pastry to dessert plate.
In medium saucepan, bring milk, granulated sugar and cinnamon stick to simmer over medium heat. In small bowl, whisk cornstarch into cream. Add to simmering milk, along with orange-flower water, and cook, stirring, until custard mixture coats spoon, 4 to 5 minutes. Discard cinnamon stick.
Pour 1/2 cup warm custard over each pastry. Garnish with berries and serve immediately.
K'seksoo B'kemroon (Couscous Timbales With Shrimp)
2 (4-ounce) jars diced red pimentos, drained, or 1 (7.25-ounce) jar roasted red bell peppers
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 garlic clove, minced
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 garlic cloves, minced
8 ounces medium shrimp, shelled and deveined
1 to 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 cups instant couscous
1 red bell pepper, seeded, deribbed and finely diced
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro
3 inner celery stalks, finely diced
1 teaspoon very finely diced
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
freshly ground black pepper
6 fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish
To prepare coulis, in blender or food processor, process pimentos, broth and garlic to smooth puree. Season with lemon juice. Set aside.
To prepare timbales, in medium skillet over medium-high heat, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add paprika, cumin and garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add shrimp and cook until they turn pink, 3 to 4 minutes. With slotted spoon, transfer shrimp to cutting board and cut into 1/2-inch dice. Set aside.
Transfer pan juices to measuring cup. Add enough chicken broth to make 1 1/2 cups liquid. In medium saucepan, bring liquid to boil with remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Gradually stir in couscous and remove from heat. Cover and let stand 5 minutes. Transfer couscous to bowl and fluff with fork. Let cool. Add half of diced red pepper, cilantro, celery, lemon zest, lemon juice, black pepper and diced shrimp. Set aside.
Pack 2/3-cup portions of couscous mixture into 6 slightly oiled ramekins. Unmold timbales onto plates. Spoon some coulis around base of each. Garnish each with remaining diced red pepper and 1 cilantro leaf.