My family is headed to Morocco this summer. In an effort to stir up excitement, I enlisted Ezra, my seven-year-old son and (he says) aspiring chef, to create a Moroccan family feast. We’re definitely ready for a little taste of the North African kingdom’s renowned warm, family-friendly hospitality—and what will probably be an eye-opening food quest for my young culinary explorer.
Morocco was the first “non-Western” country I visited, what feels like a lifetime ago, when I was an undergraduate student at the University of Madrid. I spent my winter holiday awash in the immersive sensory experiences of wandering through medinas, camel riding in the Sahara, and devouring food that, at the time, seemed exotically spiced. That long ago trip sparked a life-long wanderlust, and I am thrilled at the prospect of taking my family to my “gateway” country. Moroccans place a high value on family, and I’m betting that traveling with children will spark conversations and open doors.
Ezra, meanwhile, wants to be a chef—a “famous chef,” he reminds me, reading over my shoulder as I write. “I want to be a chef because I don’t want people to starve,” he explains, “and I love food.” We often work together in the kitchen after he gets home from school. He laughs when I try to throw pizza dough in the air, as I sing in a bad Italian accent. He always steals raw tofu before he helps with a stir-fry. Creating our Moroccan meal gave us a way to connect, and a chance to taste a little bit of our future. We also got started on a short playlist of Moroccan music to take the immersion a bit deeper—see below!
A Moroccan Family Feast
Drink: Sweetened Mint Tea
Appetizers: Marinated Olives, Moroccan Tomato Salad
Main: Chicken Tagine with Apricots
Side: Spiced, Herbed Couscous
Dessert: A Selection of Fresh Fruits
While cooking, we searched out Moroccan music on Spotify. I preferred the selections from Gwana musical traditions whose roots descend from enslaved Black Africans who integrated into Moroccan society and culture. The Islamic spiritual poetry, drum rhythms, and the lyrical lute give the Gwana musical style a danceable, trance-like vibe that was perfect for an afternoon in the kitchen. The country’s musical traditions are vast and varied, so you’ll have no problem exploring further if you decide to follow our lead.
In every store you bop into, every home you visit, every guesthouse you stay in, every traveler is handed a small glass cup with sweet mint tea, multiple times a day. The first thing we made for our Moroccan feast was a batch of tea. Made simply by steeping fresh mint leaves in hot water and then sugared to taste, the refreshing drink can quench even a Sahara Desert-sized thirst. I filled our glasses repeatedly during our afternoon together in the kitchen, trying to replicate an authentic Moroccan experience.
Tagine is referred to both as a cooking tool and a classic Moroccan dish. The tool tagine is a clay pot with a deep base and a domed conical lid. The unique shape of the tagine is designed to return moisture to the base of the dish, creating a flavorful and moist entree. I happen to own a tagine, but it was a bit too small for this family-sized meal. I opted instead to use a high-sided frying pan with a form-fitting lid.
Ezra helped measure out the spices for the recipe. He spooned out cinnamon, ground ginger, turmeric, and salt for the initial rub, which gave the chicken both familiar and exotic flavors. The combination of sweetness from the apricots—a favorite fruit in our kitchen—and the savory elements from the chicken and almonds seemed like a kid-friendly recipe with authentic flavors for our introduction to tagine cooking. Together, we fried the chicken, then added cilantro and parsley to the pan and covered the dish, allowing the steam to deepen the intensity of the spices.
While the tagine cooked away, we started making couscous. Moroccan couscous is the de-facto national dish. Typically made on Friday nights in Morocco and for celebrations like weddings and the end of Ramadan, it is the basis of a communal meal, eaten with your hands by rolling bits of couscous into a bite-sized ball. Couscous is commonly mistaken for a grain, but it is made with durum wheat, like pasta, and crushed into granules.
My chef-helper first heated the olive oil and then stirred in onions until they were sweating. He added more spices, zucchini, a can of garbanzo beans and peppers, all the while asking, “When can I add the couscous?” He seemed surprised when we waited to add the couscous only after the sauté had given the vegetables an aromatic softness and we removed the pot from the stove. The dry, rolled durum wheat granules soaked up the moisture from the sauté and in just a few minutes, filled the pot with cooked couscous.
Delighted by this alchemy, Ezra took great pleasure in “fluffing” the couscous, mixing both the vegetables, garbanzo beans, and the now fluffy couscous into our traditional Moroccan dish.
We did not follow tradition when we used our forks to eat our delicious couscous and the rest of our dinner. Ezra declared that our foretaste of Morocco was “epic.” I hope our trip will be epic too.
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