Moroccan cuisine: A Mediterranean mix

Moroccan cuisine itself is influenced by its interactions and exchanges with other cultures and nations over the centuries.

CHICKEN TAJINE is a very popular dish on the streets of Morocco. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
CHICKEN TAJINE is a very popular dish on the streets of Morocco.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Half a century ago more than a quarter of a million Jews lived in Morocco, all coexisting peacefully with their Muslim neighbors. Today only a handful remain, although Morocco’s Jewish heritage is extremely rich and far from forgotten.
Last month we took a group of Spanish, Portuguese and Gibraltarian Jews – whose families have roots in Marrakesh, Casablanca and Tétouan – on a four-day Yaya Food & Travel tour of Morocco, to discover the country’s lost Jewish communities.
We visited all the old synagogues and cemeteries.
The visit to the cemetery in Fez was particularly emotional as several of our guests had relatives buried there. There are also many tzadikim buried there, further proof of how rich in Torah and Talmud the city of Fez once was. The story of the Jews of Morocco is long and complex like the mountains in the Sahara desert, a trajectory of highs and lows.
The cuisine of Sephardi Jews is basically an assortment of cooking traditions that developed among the Jews of Spain and Portugal, with contributions from Jews of Iberian origin who were dispersed in the Sephardi Diaspora, including Morocco.
Moroccan cuisine itself is influenced by its interactions and exchanges with other cultures and nations over the centuries. Moroccan cooking is typically a Mediterranean mix: Arabic, Andalusian and Berber cuisine.
Fish is abundant in Morocco. With both the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea, you can find all kinds. One of my favorites is rouget (as it is called in Morocco, suing the French word), red mullet or barbounia, as it is known in Israel. The small ones are great for deep frying, but the medium-sized ones are best grilled.
Ask your fish dealer for barbounia (each weighing around 150/250 gr.), and have the scales scraped from them and the insides cleaned out. (Tip: Always look at the color of the fish, it has to be clear and shiny – and most importantly, the eyes must be bright and clear; also look at its gills, they should be bright red. The fresher the fish the less smell it will have.) If any of you remember our restaurant Taverna in Abu Tor, Jerusalem, we used to serve barbounia as an appetizer, and the guests loved them, as they have a special sweet taste.
The writer, a London Savoy Hotel-trained chef and former owner of various high-end restaurants in Jerusalem and New York, hails from a Spanish and Portuguese Sephardi family. He and his wife live on a farm in Andalusia and run Yaya Food and Travel, specializing in gourmet kosher Jewish heritage culinary tours in Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Sicily and Provence. Isaac and Aya Massias can be reached directly at or or +34 678011585 Please note the correct Yaya Food & Travel website:
Heat up your grill at home to very hot. Rinse your fish and make a few little horizontal cuts on each fish. Place a slice of garlic and some fresh rosemary in each cut. Place the fish on an oven tray. Squeeze some fresh lemon juice and drizzle some extra virgin olive oil on them, add sea salt and black pepper, and grill for 15 minutes.
Serves 5
■ 2 Tbsp. soya
■ 1 tsp. sesame oil (good quality)
■ 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
■ Juice of ½ lemon
■ 1 small red onion very finely chopped
■ ¼ cup fresh coriander
■ ¼ cup red peppers, very finely chopped
■ Salt to taste, as soy sauce is salty
Mix ingredients very well and, just before serving, pour the salsa over each fish. Serve with a mixed green salad.
Serves 4
■ 1 whole medium-sized chicken cut into 8 pieces
■ ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
■ 2 large onions chopped into 2½- cm. pieces
■ 1 strip lemon peel
■ 300 gr. pitted dates or prunes
■ 20 blanched whole almonds
■ ½ cup fresh mint, chopped
■ ½ cup honey (you can use sugar)
■ 3 short cinnamon sticks
■ ½ tsp. saffron
■ ¼ tsp. ginger
■ 1 tsp. cinnamon
■ ½ tsp. black pepper
■ 1 tsp. salt
Combine half the oil and ground spices in a large bowl. Place chicken pieces and onion in the bowl with oil and spices. Heat the rest of the oil in a large skillet. When hot, put in the onion; and when brown, start searing the chicken, until brown on each side.
Add the remaining oil mixture and enough water to cover. Simmer until chicken is tender (for about 40 minutes). Add dates or prunes, lemon peel, cinnamon sticks and honey (or sugar). Place all the ingredients into a tajine pot (if you don’t have a tajine pot, you can use Pyrex) and bake in a hot oven for 30 minutes. Bring out 10 minutes before serving.
Decorate with almonds and fresh mint before bringing to the table. Place the tajine pot in the middle of the table and invite your guests to help themselves.
Serves 8
■ 400 gr. chestnut puree
■ 25 gr. brandy or cognac
■ 200 gr. sugar
■ 10 egg yolks
■ 150 gr. double cream (48% fat)
■ 5 dates, finely chopped
TIP: Preferably, prepare the day before
NOTE: Any cream will do, but the higher the fat content, the better.
Make a syrup with the sugar (cover it with water and allow to boil until the water is absorbed) until it sticks to a metal spoon. Whisk the yolks, adding the sugar syrup slowly. Once most of the syrup is mixed in with the yolks, turn mixer on full power for 5 minutes.
Combine the chestnut puree and brandy/cognac; whip the double cream until creamy, not stiff. Fold the cream into the chestnut mix and carefully fold in the egg zabaglione (egg mixture).
Pour the mix into small containers and freeze for at least 6 hours. Bring them out of the freezer 20 minutes before serving and decorate to your liking.