I've just updated this review, as we are coming to the end of our trip in Morocco. My husband and I totally enjoyed this amazing cultural experience, not only the food, but interacting with a family who lives in the old Fez medina. We booked the cooking with the Local Family tour at the beginning of our trip, to really immerse ourselves in Morocco and Fez and it was the right thing to do. We didn't really know what to expect, and this totally exceeded our expectations in every way.
We were picked up by Siham and Zineb (our local cook), we decided on the menu - a lamb tagine with beans and artichoke hearts which are in season now, and then off to the market. We also making a few classic side dishes - eggplant and tomatoes, and green chili peppers and tomatoes. Zineb guided us in selecting the veggies and fruits ( don't pick the really round big eggplant). We also shopped at the butcher, and herbs, and spice shop for yeast as well as the traditional spices. Siham translated. Loaded down with sacks of fresh food, back to the dar where we met up Zineb's sister and mom. We all assisted in the preparation, making and escorting the loaves to the local oven. Then preparing the tagine and sides and dessert, and later pickup up the bread after baking. We had a lot of fun watching my husband make the bread- it was a bit of a sorry mess, but Zineb saved it. More experience needed!
I have often tried to create tasty Moroccan food -- but it never had the deep and complex flavors that I read about in cookbooks. Now I know why -- We prepared everything in the "old fashioned" way, chopping the herbs and spices and rubbing in, layering in the flavors into the tagine. Smoking the pepper over a flame prior to skinning ( I always had trouble with that but it seems because I didn't let them sweat enough in the bag). It's now clear to me the deep flavors have to do with amounts of herbs ( parsley, cilantro, garlic), and spices (cumin, hot red pepper, paprika) to use. Fresh herbs are difficult to measure, and learning by doing, I expect I have a better understanding the quantities and proportions needed. The same goes for the side dishes and preserved lemon. I've always way over-salted my lemons (and wondered how in gods name anyone could eat it, even after a lot of rinsing). Zineb's preserved lemon were just perfect - you could eat the peel straight from the jar and it had a nice lip- smacking slightly fermented flavor, not too salty. Zineb showed us the spices used and quantities ( a pinch is a four finger pinch). My husband went a little heavy on the hot pepper for the pepper and tomato dish but it turned out great. I can't wait to try these techniques at home. While we chopped and peeled, Siham translated, made sure we were "doing it right", and entertained us with discussing about Islamic /Moroccan traditions, and the background of the very special Fez medina-only dessert.
We ate a little earlier than the locals would eat ( after 9 pm!). The final dinner we all ate together around the table in one of their living rooms. I personally believe home cooked meals are often better than eating out -- at least when I'm doing things like a Thanksgiving meal, it's always been true. Well, after taking a few more restaurant meals during our trip, I can say honestly this meal was not only the highlight of our trip, but the best Moroccan meal I've ever had. Zineb was so humble saying that it was because we were making it. My only regret is I didn't take the opportunity to learn how to make B'stilla (Pastilla), another classic dish, which I've tried to do at home before. That and the couscous rolling tour. That will have to be next time!
Beyond learning to cook like a local, we really enjoyed getting to talk with and share dinner with the generations - Zineb's mom (dressed in a traditional Moroccan ladies caftan), her sisters, including the youngest sister, (very much the modern university student dressed in tshirt and bermuda shorts, studying accounting). and as well as one of her nephews ( only 8 years old he had been waiting for dessert all day long). It was such a sweet and cute family, we were so grateful they shared their home and tradition with us. It's a one-of-a kind memory and experience!
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