A taste of Morocco

Recipes and memories from summer vacations gone by.

The colorful produce at a market in Morocco (photo credit: AYA MASSIAS)
The colorful produce at a market in Morocco
(photo credit: AYA MASSIAS)
The culture of Morocco was always a part of our lives, growing up in Gibraltar. During the Second World War, both my parents were evacuated to Morocco for several years, and funnily enough, when we visit the country on our culinary and Jewish heritage tours, I really feel at home.
When Gen. Francisco Franco closed Gibraltar’s borders with Spain without warning, it was not easy. I can still remember – even at the young age of eight – that the Gibraltarians were shocked, as this meant separation from their families, and that Spanish workers in Gibraltar had to leave their jobs overnight.
Gibraltarians had to quickly look for an alternative source of imported vegetables, fish and other fresh products and try to continue living a normal life.
So Morocco was the alternative. It took my family six months until we were able to get back to feeling life was as normal as when the frontier was open.
We began spending our summer holidays in Villa Shangrila in international Tangiers, which was like a small Paris. The villa came with cooks, a butler, cleaners, a big swimming pool, horses and five dogs.
One person who worked in the villa remains vivid in my memories: Zorah, the head cook, who would go over the day’s menus with my grandmother every morning. Then I would hop in the car with Muhammad the butler and go to the local markets to buy fresh products from the Berbers who would come down to the city market to sell their products.
Today I would like to share with you three of Zorah’s recipes that are still favorites in my home.

The writer is a trained chef, former owner of restaurants in New York and Jerusalem, and runs Yaya Food & Travel Ltd. (gourmet kosher Jewish heritage and culinary tours in Spain, Portugal, Provence, Gibraltar, Sicily and Morocco). www.jewishheritagetourseurope
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BEEF WITH ALMONDS, PRUNES, CINNAMON AND MOROCCAN SPICES
Serves 6
❖ 1½ kilos fresh rib eye cut into 2.5-cm. pieces ❖ 1 medium-sized onion, chopped ❖ 1 leek, chopped ❖ 1 carrot, chopped ❖ 2 bay leaves ❖ 3 cloves garlic ❖ 20 pitted prunes ❖ 100 gr. baked skinned almonds ❖ ½ glass extra virgin olive oil ❖ ½ glass honey ❖ 1½ liter beef or chicken stock ❖ 2 tsp. cinnamon powder ❖ 2 tsp. cumin ❖ 2 tsp. turmeric ❖ 2 tsp. sweet paprika ❖ Sea salt and pepper to taste
Light the fire and cover the base of a heavy duty pot with the olive oil. When the oil is very hot, add all the meat and start searing. When the meat is brown on all sides add the onion, leek, garlic, carrot and bay leaves. Mix together and let cook for 8 minutes. Then add ½ liter of stock and all the spices.
Allow to cook for a further 15 minutes, and then add the prunes, ¾ of the almonds and the remaining stock and the salt and pepper. Leave to cook for another 45 minutes.
Remove from the flame, pour the meat stew into a ceramic bowl and place it in a 250° oven for another 30 minutes.
Serve very hot. I like this Moroccan meat stew served with quinoa. Sprinkle remaining almonds and some fresh curly parsley before bringing it to the table.
MOROCCAN SALMON WITH KALAMATA OLIVES, HOT CHILI PEPPERS AND CORIANDER
Serves 4
❖ 4 x 150 gr. fresh salmon fillet (no bones) ❖ 16 Kalamata olives (pitted) ❖ 1 small red onion finely, chopped ❖ 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped ❖ ½ cup fresh coriander, chopped ❖ 2 dried hot chili peppers ❖ ½ cup extra virgin olive oil ❖ 1 cup crushed fried tomatoes ❖ ½ cup cream (optional) ❖ 1 liter fish stock (you can use water) ❖ Sea salt and pepper, to taste
Start by heating a medium-size frying pan, pour in the olive oil and sauté the onion and garlic. When nice and brown, add the olives and the hot chili peppers, follow by adding the crushed tomato, cream and fish stock, and let cook for 15 minutes. When you have a nice sauce going, add the salmon fillets, cook for 7 minutes and cover the pan.
So as not to dry the salmon, just before serving, heat the pan for 7 minutes and, when hot, add all the fresh coriander and serve.
Serve with white rice or roast baby potatoes.
COUSCOUS, DATE AND PINE-NUT CAKE
Serves 10
❖ 1½ cups water ❖ 1 cup pitted large dates, chopped ❖ ½ cup unsalted butter (melted) ❖ 250 gr. self-raising flour ❖ 100 gr. baked pine nuts ❖ ¾ tsp. baking soda ❖ 1 tsp. cinnamon ❖ ½ tsp. nutmeg ❖ 100 gr. uncooked couscous ❖ 100 gr. brown sugar ❖ 4 eggs
Start by combining in a bowl the couscous, flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and pine nuts. In a small pot bring the water, dates and butter to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes, moving with a wooden spoon all the time.
Place in the fridge to cool.
With an electric mixer beat the eggs with the sugar until the mixture has a fluffy consistency. Once ready, fold in all the dry ingredients with a wooden spoon and then mix in the cooled date syrup.
When the creamy mixture is ready, line the bottom of a round 20-cm. cake form, line with baking paper and pour in all the cake batter. Bake in a 180° oven for one hour.
The cake is great for teatime. Serve with (preferably homemade) strawberry or raspberry jam.