Authentic Moroccan Cuisine

Authentic Moroccan cuisine begins and ends with one item: the tajine – a dish in which Moroccan meals are prepared, cooked and served.

“Any food you fancy, you [can] put it in [the] tajine,” said Chakib Benkhraba, 53, a Moroccan who now resides in London and has worked for several restaurants that cook with tajines.

Tajine

Maybe more essential to a Moroccan home than the crockpot is to an American home, the tajine is also often found in Moroccan households, surrounded by a lively family like Benkhraba’s. Each member uses their fingers to scoop out what they want. Tajine cooking is not just for Moroccans, however, it can be a great addition to any kitchen.

Historically used by the Amazigh people, native to North Africa,  the two-part clay dish is comprised of a cone-shaped lid and a round bottom with raised edges. The bottom usually measures about a foot in diameter. The food cooked inside the dish is commonly referred to as “tajine” as well.

“I used to learn from my mom and my dad, my father was a very good cook as well; he used to cook for us when we were young, or my mom would, they’d change,” Benkhraba said.

He has used what he learned to prepare delicious tajine recipes for others as well as himself.  Now that he lives abroad, he keeps a personal tajine in his kitchen so that he can prepare the tastes of home while he is away.

Fish, lamb, beef, chicken and assorted vegetables are all tajine options. Benkhraba’s favorite recipe is lamb shank tajine.

“It is very, very tasty. When you eat it, it’s like butter,” he said. “It’s very tender and very juicy.”

Tajine cooking differs from other methods because of the shape of its lid. It is effective at making meat and vegetables succulent and savory because the cone-shaped lid catches the hot rising moisture that comes from the food, and the slanted sides of the lid allow that moisture to run back down into the food.

This slow-cooking method creates the perfect blend of flavors as well as tenderness that is mumtaz, Arabic for excellent.

Many modern tajines are made of aluminum and are readily available at any Moroccan “souk,” or market. Those intended to be used as artistic pieces are made with colorful designs and patterns. However, for cooking, unpainted clay tajines work best.

Benkhraba says that tajine-style cooking can be done over a stovetop – even with the convenient aluminum tajines. But the best tajine cooking is done over charcoal with a clay tajine. Sharing his coveted recipe for lamb tajine, he emphasized the importance of using the correct spices and ingredients.

Benkhraba’s Lamb Tajine 

1 kilo (or 2 lbs.) of lamb shoulder

2 tbsp olive oil

4 to 5 garlic cloves, chopped

Pinch of salt

Pinch of pepper

Pinch of ginger powder

Pinch of turmeric

2 onions, diced

Fresh coriander, chopped

5 whole or halfed artichoke hearts

1 ½ cups green peas

Start by heating the lamb with olive oil and stir until brown. Then add garlic. Heat on low for 25 minutes in the tajine and continue stirring. Add in a little water as necessary to prevent burning and create a sauce. Next, stir in all spices, onion and coriander. Add the artichoke hearts and peas, close the lid, and cook for 30 minutes on medium heat. (Potatoes, carrots and other vegetables can be used also or instead of). Add spice to taste and, using a fork, check for the lamb to be done when it’s soft and easily breaks apart. Serve directly from dish. (Recipe courtesy of http://morocco.roundearthmedia.org)

Things I consider before choosing the best pots and pans

I believe choosing the best pots and pans in my kitchen every time I cook is like choosing the best life partner, or choosing the right dress in my closet for a specific occasion. Before turning on my source of heat, choosing the right pan or pot is the first and the most important step. I know it is a key determinant of how my food will taste at the end of the day. Choosing the best cookware for the job is therefore is a decision I never compromise.

best cookware

In my career, I have come to learn that professional cooking is a calling. It is not a career for a chosen few but for a few who have chosen. You can have the best ingredients, and an internationally recognized recipe, but with a bad choice of cookware, your food will not stand a chance of being termed as anything near delicious. Every minute of my life, I think of either cooking, or write about cooking. Today, I share with you a top guarded secret. A secret that will give you a new title. One that made me one of the best chefs around, and will surely make you way much better than I am.

Here are the things I consider before choosing the best pots and pans in my kitchen

I consider the scale of my ingredients

By taking a quick glance at my recipe, I am able to know the volume of my ingredients hence I am able to select the right pot or pan for the right job. Common sense is very important in this factor. If I have a recipe that calls for 10 cups of chopped carrots, I will definitely need a large cookware. I have transferred ingredients to another pan in after heating them in a smaller pan and I can tell you for free, it is one hell of a process and one that really affects the outcome of your cooking. Scaling has been one of my most important tool when it comes to selecting the most appropriate pot or pan for my kitchen needs.

I consider the material; do I need a non-stick or stick material?

I have a variety of pots and pans made from stainless steel, cast iron and copper. I also have non-stick ones made of metal with non-stick surface coating. In my case, I consider both user-friendly. As much as it may seem awkward, both materials offer may with an array of advantages. Whenever I want to cook a meal, and clean that pan or pot immediately for another meal, I opt for a non-stick cookware. It is also of great essence each time I intend to cook eggs, delicate greens, chicken breasts (wait a minute, I am blushing), and delicious scallops.

I use stick pans when I need to build up and retain flavor in my meals. They are ideal whenever I want to prepare charming braised dishes and those with pan sauces. Do you see now? No material is bad material for your pan or pot, it all depends with what you are cooking.

Lastly, I never compromise success

For any chef, the success of a meal brings ultimate joy and happiness. A cookware is like car, we know what it can do and what it can’t. I always do away with pots and pans I believe won’t serve me best, and work with those I believe will bring the best value for my ingredients and hard work. What is the end result? The most appetizing meals anyone has tasted in a while.

If you are want to cook a meal that will bring back your husband who left you for another woman because of your pathetic cooking skills, why not consider the above tips when selecting the best pots and pans? He might be the next person knocking at your door.