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Published by Harmonia Norah, 2017-06-28 07:29:48




The gentle spices of Morocco and
magical African seascapes capture
Ross Golden-Bannon’s heart on
a culinary trip to Essaouira

Photography Ross Golden-Bannon


The Berber women are skilled in
shelling the precious argan nuts


he Mercator map of who was quick to dismiss mint from nearby NEED TO KNOW
the world, which is how most of Marrakech in favour of a gentler variety from
elsewhere. I also squeezed in a visit to the Where to stay
us westerners orientate ourselves on the Berber women who make the famed argan oil.
planet, depicts Africa with a very modest Surprisingly, I also got to see an entrepreneurial Riad Maison du Sud is situated in the heart of
landmass compared to the reality. This is cheese-maker (cheese is not a Moroccan the old walled city. A traditional riad of enclosed
due to a quirk of attempting to flatten a sphere tradition) and I eye-balled a vineyard called courtyards in the Moorish style, you’re just a few
onto a flat piece of paper. In reality, Africa is Domaine du Val d’Argan outside the Essaouira minutes walk from the port and the beach.
larger than China, the US and India combined medina. A vineyard is something of an anomaly
with a resulting cornucopia of dramatically in Morocco as, for the most part, it’s an alcohol-
contrasting landscapes and traditions. The free country, though alcohol is not actually Visit the cheesemakers
ancient kingdom of Morocco reflects this banned. Many restaurants and hotels are ‘dry’
diversity in microcosm with a diverse coastal but there are still plenty with a licence. At La Fromagerie, you’ll find a unique artisanal
and desert landscape teeming with food, unique I was not so taken by the local white wine, but cheese-making venture combined with a
flora and fauna and ancient peoples. the Le Val d’Argan Rouge, a Syrah blend, is a charming restaurant where great value can
The Moroccan Atlantic coast is dotted with magically smooth match with mellow spices. be had with food which combines the best of
little fishing ports and towns creaking with Moroccan and French culinary traditions. Douar
histories stretching back to Roman times. The SPICES Larabe Costal Road to Safi. Tel: +212 666 233534.
medina, or walled city, of Essaouira is just such
an ancient port city. Beloved of Jimmy Hendrix There’s a world of tagines beyond Morocco’s Vineyard
and Orson Welles (they have an Orson Welles famous export of lamb tagine and nearly every
Square), I found myself spending ten days here spice seller has their own range of tagine mixes. Les Domaines du Val d’Argan, is one of the
in January enjoying a combined cookery and From fish and lamb to beef and sweet things smallest and most southerly vineyards in
photography course. too, few foodstuffs escape a tagine makeover. Morocco. You can have a stylish lunch here and
Obsessives like me who like a busy itinerary The spicing in Morocco is not a hot spice and sits an even more stylish view over the countryside.
will not be short of stimulation. My trip included more at the mellow, nutty end of the scale, cut
a guided tour of the souk in Essaouira with through with higher citric or other piercing notes,
Naima Lewey, of Cooking Holidays Morocco, but rarely hot ones, harissa being the exception. Cooking and photography

Clockwise from top left: Darren Lewey and his wife Naima Lewey offer
dried beans for sale in the market; a unique activity holiday where he teaches
fishermen at the port; maturing photography with the spectacular scenery as
cheese at La Fromagerie; Port castle your schoolroom and Naima teaches the local
cuisine with the knowledge of a local.

SHUTTERSTOCK Buying anything in Morocco can be a challenge;
bargaining is an alien concept to us but it’s
Naima’s Moroccan soup central to them and there are sadly some who The Medina walls
will bargain and cheat you into buying all sorts
This is a staple dish throughout the holy festival of diluted spices. Thankfully, this is not the rural Moroccans use it, for breakfast as a dip with
of Ramadan. It will keep for up to five days in case at Chez Makki. Located off the main fish breads or mixed with honey and ground almonds,
the fridge. Best to make it the day before serving market, Chez Makki is run by five brothers. I called amlou.
to allow the flavours to develop. Ideal if you are met one of the brothers, Khalid Souah, who was
planning a dinner for a gang the quintessence of Arabic hospitality offering CULTURE SHOCK
traditional Berber, or royal tea, as he talked me
Serves 6 through the spice wonders of his shop. The dainty If your previous foodie trips have been to
little pot of tea was filled with lemon verbena, mainland Europe, you will need to take a deep
1 handful coriander cinnamon, juniper, dried rose buds, star anise, breath before embarking on a trip to Morocco.
2 handfuls parsley liquorice, galangal and a generous pinch of Food production here would leave an Irish
1 handful celery sugar. These folk have a very sweet tooth. The environmental health officer in a state of
1 onion, large flavours are released by pouring the liquid from catatonic shock. That said, not only do Moroccans
3 tablespoons vegetable oil a height into the little serving glasses, one pour boast a similar happy dietary health story as the
½ teaspoon salt is made into each glass, then returned to the pot, Mediterranean diet phenomena, I didn’t have a
1 teaspoon turmeric, heaped then a final pour is made. The shimmering liquid single, shall we say, food related issue during my
1 pinch ras el hanout, a pinch is three fingers releases a perfume of bright fragrances. Saffron stay. I had several meals in what could only be
150g dried peas is the real thing here too. Khalid says the test is described as Arabic greasy spoons where I was
150g dried broad beans, small, if large break to spot the three stamens in the little pile. If you served fantastically flavoured chicken tagines
bigger ones in two can’t see them, you’re probably being swindled. with mint tea for €3. I sat with the dish in front
150g chickpeas, dried are best, soak them Don’t forget the famed Moroccan ras el hanout, of me for some time not knowing what to do as
overnight in cold water meaning ‘head of the shop’, it is a sort of all- everyone around me ate with their hands. All
2 litres water spice of almost everything in the shop. It works my fellow diners had rinsed their hands on the
6 tomatoes, grated with a box grater beautifully with aubergine and I have tried it tap on the way in. I sheepishly returned to do
150g dried lentils rubbed into an eight-hour roast shoulder of lamb. the same but explained in French to the doughty
4 tablespoons flour, heaped Unforgettable. lady-cook that I’d need something to eat with.
2 tablespoons tomato purée She took pity on me and appeared at my table
1 cube of vegetable stock ARGAN OIL with a fork. My fellow diners grinned at me.
1 pinch black pepper, or to taste
Argan oil is unique to Morocco and if you’ve
1 Finely chop the coriander, parsley and celery. heard of it at all, it’s probably as a cosmetic,
but its culinary uses are famed amongst more
2 Chop the onion into small dice and then fry informed chefs. It adds a slick of nutty luxury,
on a medium heat in 3 tablespoons of oil with which few other oils can match. It is expensive
half a teaspoon of salt. Cover and cook for three though, difficult to source and as the production
minutes until the onions are softened. methods remain resolutely artisan, the price
is unlikely to fall. The nuts are gathered from
3 Add turmeric, stir to combine, then add the the trees and then dried in the sun before the
ras el hanout, cook them down a bit. shelling process begins. This is the traditional
job of the Berber women who have now formed
4 Then add the dried peas, dried beans and co-operatives, helping to enhance their status as
chickpeas. Stir to combine. women in the very male dominated Moroccan
society. The extraction of the kernel from the
5 Then add the parsley, coriander and the argan nut is done by hand and recent efforts to
celery. Cook for seven minutes and then add the mechanise this process have so far failed. The
water. Bring it to the boil and boil for 30 minutes. women sit with a large rock in front of them and
Add the juiced tomato and the lentils after 30 crack the nuts individually, separating the kernels
minutes, then cook until the chickpeas are done. from the nut. A tough job as argan nuts are 16
This will be a further 30 minutes but check the times harder than a hazelnut. The luxury of
chickpeas are done. Cook for another five argan oil would be lost as an ingredient amongst
minutes if the chickpeas are not done. bigger flavours so I’d recommend it drizzled over
a salad, folded through some fresh pasta or as
6 Mix the flour with a little cold water and
combine thoroughly until you have a creamy The outdoor dining area
consistency. at La Fromagerie

7 Mix the tomato purée with a little water to
loosen it up so it’s gloopy. Then grate a stock cube
into the soup. Pour in the tomato purée and add
the flour. Cook for seven minutes and the soup is
done. Serve with bread and maybe try it topped
with some crème fraîche with a little harissa.

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