Food from the peak

Moroccan food is everywhere in Israel, but homemade versions are in a different league altogether.

matboucha 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
matboucha 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It's lonely at the top, so they say. For any cuisine to stand the test of time, it needs to have unique features that will ensure its widespread appeal. Morocco is located on the cusp of North Africa and is heavily inspired by Andalusian influences and its Middle Eastern neighbors. The great varieties of distinctive tastes available in the country's natural landscape provide many of the key ingredients for traditional repasts. Spices frequently used in Moroccan cooking, such as saffron, cinnamon and cumin are used to flavor rich stews and tagines. Common herbs, including coriander, parsley and mint aren't relegated to the level of garnish but are rather a central feature enhancing the flavors of salads, soups and beverages. With the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the Mediterranean in the north, both fresh and salt water fish can be found in abundance. Fish is a versatile ingredient in Morocco and can be served using various methods; in stews, pan fried or stuffed with vegetables. The Cohen family immigrated to Israel from Morocco in 1971. Rami Cohen, a Jerusalem resident, is the second oldest of the Cohen children and a music teacher in west Jerusalem. A piscatarian (fish-eating vegetarian) he used to love watching his mother make her traditional Moroccan fish, but had to make do with watching from the sidelines. "She wouldn't let us into the kitchen," says Cohen. "She claimed it was her space. When we asked for recipes she would be vague about quantities so I simply used to sneak into the kitchen whenever she was out and start experimenting." That spirit of experimentation never left Cohen. Although he is now married, and his wife in charge of weekday meals, when Shabbat rolls around, Cohen is the boss in kitchen. Not content to stick with routine, Cohen likes to try out new things and is constantly tweaking his methods for cooking fish. Cohen's stuffed sea bream combines sour and earthy flavors to create a unique dish which is easier to prepare than the complex taste would suggest. This dish is a favorite with his three daughters, who he tries to ply with healthy and nutritious dishes. RAMI'S STUFFED SEA BREAM 4 4 whole sea bream (denis) 4 1⁄2 tsp. curry powder 4 1⁄2 tsp. paprika (hot or sweet depending on your preference) 4 1 tsp. salt 4 5-6 garlic cloves, roughly chopped 4 20 gr. parsley, chopped 4 1⁄2 cup fresh lemon juice Preheat the oven to 200ºC. Wash each fish and dry thoroughly with paper towel. Slice the fish horizontally from the abdomen and make 2-3 scores in the top of each fish. In a large dish, soak the fish in the lemon juice, and then add the garlic, spreading it over each fish, along with the mixture of spices. Stuff the fish with most of the chopped parsley, reserving some to sprinkle on top. Bake for 12-15 minutes until the flesh of the fish is tender. Place under a hot grill for 3 minutes to give the fish a crispy skin. In Morocco, salads are often served at the beginning of a meal. As light appetizers, they provide a delicious approach to whetting the appetite, while leaving enough room for the subsequent courses. Rami's wife, Efrat, has become a Moroccan enthusiast since marrying into the Cohen family. Her salads are enjoyed by family and friends. She contributed two of her favorite recipes, which are inexpensive and simple to make. MOROCCAN MATBUCHA 4 5 large tomatoes 4 2 cloves garlic 4 1 green pepper Put the whole tomatoes in boiling water for 15 minutes. Allow to cool. Peel the skins off of the softened tomatoes, then chop them and sieve the remaining liquid. Fry the garlic with green pepper in a little olive oil. On a low flame, add the tomatoes to the pan with 1⁄2 tsp salt, hot paprika, and 1⁄4 tsp sugar. Bring to a boil for two minutes than reduce the flame. Cook uncovered and leave on the heat until the texture resembles jam. BEET LEAF SALAD 4 2 packages of beetroot leaves 4 2-3 garlic cloves diced 4 1⁄2 red pepper, diced 4 1 heaped tsp salt 4 2 Tbsp. lemon juice 4 1⁄4 tsp. paprika 4 1⁄2 tsp. cumin In a medium size pan, heat water until it is boiling. Place the beetroot leaves in the pan for 10 minutes. When the leaves are tender, take them out and squeeze out the water. Lay the leaves in the sun until no moisture remains. Fry the garlic and red pepper until soft. Reduce the heat to a low flame and add the beetroot leaves to the pan. When the leaves have absorbed the flavor of the garlic, add the salt, lemon juice, paprika and cumin. Leave uncovered on a very low flame until the leaves are brown, approximately an hour and a half. Check the pan every five to ten minutes and stir frequently.