Never enough Moroccan food

Lonnie Sussman, special to the WJN

True confessions. I lied when I wrote last month that I had just returned from Morocco. I was about to leave for the trip and didn’t return until after the May issue was published. Please forgive me as I’m still jet lagged but excited to share some actual experiences from this beautiful country as well as some of the information and meals I had there.

I learned of the 2,000 years’ presence, give or take some centuries, of Jewish life in Morocco. We heard this from our wonderful guide, Mohammad, a devout Muslim, who frequently told us that Morocco had three cultures, the indigenous Berber tribes, Arabs, and Jews. The last two groups arrived after expulsion from Spain in 1492. Although Morocco is now a Muslim country, all the groups, including the many Jews who left in the mid-1950s to emigrate to Israel, Europe, or Canada, are considered to be citizens of Morocco.

Currently there are very few Jews left in the country, as we learned when we visited one of the two remaining synagogues in Fez. They can’t hold services as there are not enough men to make a minyan (prayer quorum), but the state provides protection for the building. In recent years tourism from Israel to Morocco has exploded as people return to see their homeland and the sites of famous Moroccan rabbis and scholars.

We went to one enormous cemetery in Marakesh that was very meaningful and emotional. Mohammad also shared many of the Sunni Muslim beliefs and traditions, Bible stories, and Koranic laws. Our group, composed of mostly Jewish women, often told him, “That’s exactly what Jews believe.”


These are starters or appetizers. You may know these starters from trips to other countries as well. We had about 30 meals in Morocco and all, except breakfasts, began with meze. There were often 3–5 little salads before lunch and dinner. Many were eggplant based and here are two of the recipes. The goal of the spicy starters is to “wake up your appetite.” I usually felt full after eating the salads.

Spicy Eggplant and Pepper Salad

The Book of Jewish Food by Claudia Roden

Serves 6–8

2 Eggplants (about 3 pounds total)

2 red bell peppers

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp paprika

A good pinch cayenne or chili pepper

2–3 cloves garlic, crushed

4 tbs olive oil or light vegetable oil

Juice of 1 lemon


Prick the eggplants all over and roast in a very hot oven (450 degrees) or on a grill along with the peppers. Take the peppers out after about ½ hour and leave the eggplant in until the skin is blistered, and the eggplants are very soft, about another 15 minutes. Peel both and cut into small cubes, about an inch or slightly smaller. In a pan put the cumin, paprika, cayenne, garlic, and oil, and stir over low heat until the aroma rises. Take off the heat for a minute to cool and then add ½ cup water, the lemon juice, and salt to taste. Put in the eggplants and peppers and cook for 10–15 minutes back in the pan until the water evaporates. Serve cold with pita.

Fried Eggplant and Pepper Salad

The Book of Jewish Food by Claudia Roden

Serves 6–8

Some of the same ingredients, but fried rather than roasted.

2 eggplants, about 3 pounds total


Olive oil for frying

2 tbs wine vinegar

5 cloves garlic, sliced

3 red or green bell peppers

Trim and slice the eggplants into round about 1/3 inch thick. Sprinkle with salt and leave for 1 hour in a colander. Then rinse and dry on a tea towel or paper towel. Fry in hot oil but not so hot that they brown too quickly. Turn once to brown them all over and then drain on paper towels. Arrange in a layer on the serving dish and sprinkle with vinegar. Fry the garlic in 2 tbs of oil, stirring, until lightly colored. Lift out of the oil and sprinkle them on the eggplants. Fry the peppers whole, turning them so they are soft and browned all over. Cut them in ribbons, remove the seeds and spread them over the eggplants.

Harira, Lentil and Garbanzo Bean Soup

The Scent of Orange Blossoms by Kitty Morse and Danielle Mamane

Serves 6

This soup was our starter at several dinners. What is most interesting about the recipe is that Muslims end the daily fast of Ramadan with this soup and Moroccan Jews ended the Yom Kippur fast with it. It was thickened with flour or rice or crushed angel hair pasta.

2 tbs olive oil

2 onions, sliced

4 celery stalks, diced

½ cup brown lentils, cleaned and picked over

7 ½ cups vegetable or beef stock

4 large tomatoes, peeled and seeded (or canned and skip the extra work), coarsely chopped

20 sprigs cilantro and 15 sprigs of parsley

1 tbs ground turmeric

1 tsp ground ginger

2 tbs raw long-grained rice

½ cup canned chickpeas, drained

1 tsp salt

¼ tsp ground pepper

3 tbs flour

Wedges of lemon for serving

Use a soup pot and heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 4–5 minutes. Add the celery, lentils, and 6 ½ cups of stock. Cover tightly and bring to a rolling boil. Cook until the celery is tender, 10–15 minutes. Decrease the heat to medium. Use a blender to combine ½ cup of the stock with the tomatoes, cilantro, parsley, turmeric, and ginger. Process until the mixture is smooth. Add to the lentils along with the rice and garbanzo beans. Cook for about 30–35 minutes or until the lentils are tender. Season with the salt and pepper. Five minutes before serving bring the soup to a simmer. In a bowl mix the flour with the remaining ½ cup of stock to make a smooth paste. Add it to the soup, stirring continuously, until it thickens somewhat. Do not boil. Serve immediately with wedges of lemon on the side.

Shabbat Dinner in Fez

Our travel group tried, without success, to find a restaurant to have a kosher Shabbat dinner. What we found was Moshe, a Moroccan-born Israeli who has returned to live in Fez and who keeps a kosher kitchen in which to cook for visitors who want a kosher meal. He travels back and forth to Israel about once a month. The dinner was arranged in a Riad, a beautiful traditional home that has a center open-air garden and pool or fountain. This Riad is now a hotel as well as a restaurant. Moshe made all the food for our group of 12 and came out frequently to check on us. We were able to have our own version of a family Shabbat evening meal with blessings. It was an amazing evening. One of the highlights for me was the kofta, basically a hamburger. I have eaten ground meat only a few times in the past three years but made an exception for this traditional way of making a ground meat patty.

Kofta Meshweya, Grilled Ground Meat Patties

The Book of Jewish Food by Claudia Roden

Serves 6

This is not exactly what we had. I tasted some allspice and or cinnamon in the meat or maybe it was the spice blend Ras el Hanout, also called Top of the Shop. It was delicious.

2 pounds ground beef or lamb

2 medium onions, grated or very finely chopped

½ cup finely chopped parsley

Salt and pepper

You know how to make a hamburger. Mix all the ingredients and divide into 8 hamburger patties. Cook over a grill or under an oven broiler for about 7–10 minutes, turning once.

Ras el Hamout

Makes about 2 ½ tablespoons

2 tsp ground allspice

1 tsp ground nutmeg

2 tsp ground mace

1 tsp ground ginger

¼ tsp ground black pepper

½ tsp salt

½ tsp ground cinnamon

Combine all ingredients, store at room temperature in a tightly closed container.

Or buy it at By the Pound, or other stores in the area.

Oriza of Wheat Berries and Sweet Potatoes

The Scent of Orange Blossoms by Kitty Morse and Danielle Mamane

Serves 4

We had tagines every day, sometimes twice a day. A tagine is a stew and also the special cooking pot used to make it that has a round bottom and a cover with a distinct shape. They are used to cook stews made with beef or lamb and some vegetables like potatoes and carrots and often with prunes and dried apricots. I had the vegetable tagines made with potatoes, carrots, squash, and cabbage with couscous. All were very good but here is an easier recipe that doesn’t call for the tagine. Use an ovenproof skillet or a Dutch oven.

2 tbs olive oil

2 onions, finely diced

1 tsp Hungarian sweet paprika

¾ cup whole wheat berries, rinsed and drained

2 cups water

1 tsp salt

1 small sweet potato, peeled and cut into ½ inch cubes

2 heads of garlic, papery husk removed. Don’t worry, the heads of garlic will mellow out in the cooking.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Heat the olive oil in the skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onions and paprika and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft, 6–8 minutes. Add the wheat berries and stir to coat for 2–3 minutes. Add the water, salt, sweet potato, and garlic. Seal the pan tightly with aluminum foil and then with a lid. Bake until the wheat berries are tender but still chewy, 2½ to 3 hours. Serve immediately with the garlic on the side. Serve with pita or bread and spread the buttery garlic on it.

Moroccan Coconut Cake

The Book of Jewish Food by Claudia Roden

Serves 10

We usually had fresh fruit for dessert, but I am going to make this cake very soon. End of lunch and dinner meals always included mint tea.

3 cups dried grated coconut

1 cup fresh orange juice

1½ cups sugar

4 tbs sunflower oil

6 eggs, separated

In a bowl, mix the dried coconut with the orange juice and leave to soak for about 20 minutes or until the coconut is soft. Add the sugar, oil, and egg yolks and mix well.

Beat the egg whites stiff and fold into the egg mixture. Then pour into a greased nonstick cake pan and bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 45 minutes. Turn out upside down on a cake plate while still warm. A creamy egg mixture, which will have sunk to the bottom, will come out on top.

Moroccan Mint Tea

Serves 6

1 tbs green tea

5–6 cups boiling water

30–40 fresh spearmint sprigs

½ cup granulated sugar

Rinse the teapot with boiling water. Discard the water and add the tea leaves to the pot. Add the boiling 5–6 cups of water and steep for 2–3 minutes. Add the mint and sugar to taste. Let stand for 3–4 minutes. Strain and serve immediately. Usually, the tea was poured from a half foot or so above a glass. That caused the tea to make bubbles, which was the purpose as well as looking cool.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *