I write this to you from the Town of Essaouira which is off the Atlantic coast of Morocco. I'm staying in the Medina which is within the ancient walled city. After three days, I feel as though I know the rhythms of daily life here and have a sense of direction to make my way through the labyrinth of merchants. The market is called souk, my favorite place to be. I find favorite merchants hourly and see familiar faces from previous visits and I feel as though I belong and am a part of the neighborhood.
Talib is one such known merchant. We met him our first night when we were out for drinks and he invited us to his spice and herb shoppe. When we arrive, we are greeted with a Royal tea of lemon verbena, juniper, rose, cinnamon, cardamom, and licorice. Every merchant has his blend and invites you in to taste his specialty. I have now purchased three as one is better than the last. Of course is it poured from a tea pot 24"-36" from the glass (Moroccan style). Add a dash of crystallized eucalyptus and you have an instant sinus cleanser.
Below are my hand written notes for which spices are best used for fish, poultry or lamb and beef. To each spice mixture, add sautéed onions in oil and you really will have a terrific flavor profile!
This morning we headed to the market to procure the makings for Vegetable Tagine and Rabbit with Onions and Raisins. On our market journey, we are guided by Hafida. She is our resident femme de ménage. This is her neighborhood and she clearly is at home making conversation with so many along our route.
She has arrived daily at our riad (bed and breakfast which has a fountain and central courtyard) to make coffee and mint tea, offer slices of fruits, an assortment of condiments of jams and preserves with flaky breads and pastries. After breakfast, we head to the market for the makings of lunch.
We wind our way through narrow ancient ways, as Hafida knows the market, and our first stop is to the rabbit and chicken souk (stall). First we select three live rabbits. She is not satisfied with one of the rabbits and the merchant goes to his neighbor to select a better candidate. All three are weighed in a plastic basket and immediately killed. It takes two to skin them, but all are soon ready and wrapped in plastic. As the package is handed to me, the warmth of life is still felt.
Then it is on to get the produce and spices. Hafida does not buy any more than she needs for lunch even though she may need the same spices or grains for tonights dinner.
Tomorrow we will visit her village where she has a farm. It is a half hour drive by taxi and a half hour donkey ride to her farm from Essaouira. She will be making us lunch in her family’s home. She has not gone to school, does not read or write, has the most generous presence and has become family. When I ask her how long her family has lived on the farm, she says her mother lived there, her mother's mother lived there, her mother's mother’s mother, and so on. When I ask her about her father, she says "the same, everyone is from the village." She was married 15 years, raised three children, bought a piece of property in the town of Essaouira and built an apartment building that she manages. We will go to the market later today to gather fish for tomorrow's lunch, which she says will be a very special offering for her family. The markets are visited twice daily here. Once in the morning between 9:00-10:00 to make purchases for lunch and again between 7:00-9:00 as dinner is served around 10pm.
Additional Moroccan recipes and spice combinations will be posted on my site in the upcoming days. We still have space available in our upcoming Metabolic Boot Camp. We will be making tagines and using lots of Moroccan spices in the boot camp, making it extra special and not-to-be-missed!