antipasti, Arabic cuisine, Barley, Christmas time, citrus, couscous, couscous belboula, dried fruit, El Cantara, eucalyptus, healthy eating, Honey, Moroccan Cuisine, Moroccan ingredients, Moroccan restaurants, Mourad Lahlou, Mourad: New Moroccan, New Year, nuts, olives, orange blossom, Ottoman Empire, Ras el hanout, Roquito, spices, SunBlush, tagine, The Moors, za'atar
This might seem like an off-piste blog entry for Christmas time, however, as a closing thought for the year I’m looking forward, thinking about healthy eating in the New Year. But not just the usual boring salads, I’m looking at the rising trend in Moroccan food, using this cuisine and its ingredients for healthy recipe inspiration.
For hundreds of years, Arabic cuisine was the most cultured and progressive, with its heritage and origins shaping the way the world cooks. The Arab world has a lot to draw from in terms of identity-based cooking and Moroccan cuisine is considered one of the most important, due to its vast diversity of influencer’s including colonizers and migrants that shaped how Moroccan food has developed. First inhibitors, the Berbers, introduced the tagine and couscous which is still around today. The Arab invasion bought new spices, nuts and dried fruit, combining sweet with sour. The Moors bought olives, citrus and the art of preserving to the table, whereas the Ottoman Empire introduced barbecuing, which now can be seen in almost every culture around the world.
Working in a business that focusses on antipasti, oils and sauces and is renowned for its ancient grains and pulses, I always find myself looking to Moroccan cuisine for recipe inspiration when showcasing our ingredients. Really exciting for me is that chefs in Morocco are becoming more aware of their food heritage and cuisine is now a huge focus in the country. This is translating in London with the rise of Moroccan restaurants such as El Cantara.
Here’s a breakdown of some of my favourite popular Moroccan ingredients and how I use them:
In Morocco, olives are not just an antipasti ingredient; olive vendors will sell three different colours: red, green and black. The red and green are used in many tagine recipes and the black are stuffed. Personally I enjoy adding olives to couscous dishes for extra flavour.
Ras el hanout
This means “the head of the shop” and is a combination of 20-40 different spices concocted by the shop owner, so every recipe is slightly different. Sauté lamb and vegetables in this decedent flavour for an amazing braised lamb and beluga lentil stew.
Honey is a popular sweetener in Morocco, where it is used as a condiment as well as a cooking ingredient with healing properties. Moroccans have a variety of flavoured honey according to the type of flowers it is pollinated from, including za’atar, eucalyptus and orange blossom.
Barley – a common grain that is used in cooking and baking in Morocco, from couscous belboula (barley) and barley soup to barley bread.
Couscous – regarded as a national dish and once the staple that bread replaced. I like to use the freshness of lemon and coriander to enhance the taste of Pollock, mixed with SunBlush® tomatoes and Roquito® peppers.
If you’re interested in reading further into Moroccan cuisine, American based chef Mourad Lahlou’s book ‘Mourad: New Moroccan’ uses the tools of the modern chef to rethink Moroccan food’s using techniques like sous vide to take Moroccan into a whole new direction.