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Basic Moroccan Flavorings

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HistoricFoodie View Drop Down
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    Posted: 12 March 2012 at 14:51

There are numerous special flavors identifying Moroccan food. Four of them are iconic, and anyone making Moroccan food should learn them. Three of the four are available commercially, but they are hard to find, and ridiculously expensive. The fourth, smen, is preserved butter. Early British travel writers described it as rancid, spoiled, and so on. It’s not. But it’s a rather strong flavor, that doesn’t appeal to many Western taste buds. You can skip this one. In recipes calling for it, just substitute ghee.

The three more common flavors are preserved lemons; ras el hanout; and harissa.

Preserved lemons are salt-cured lemons used in many dishes and as garnishes. Dave has already posted a tutorial, and there’s no need repeating it. One comment: Given the price difference between Meyer and Persian lemons, and given the fact that the salt will overpower the more delicate flavor of the Meyers, I see no reason to use other than standard Persians.

Ras el hanout is the standard spice blend of Morocco. There are, literally, dozens of mixes, with each cook and housewife having her own. Earlier mixes contained as many as 50 ingredients, some of which are toxic, and some of which are thought to be aphrodisiacs---which, of course, made it the darling of early British writers and ex-pats. Here is my simplified recipe:

Ras El Hanout

2 tbls allspice berries

2 tbls black peppercorns

2 tsp grated nutmeg

10 cardamom pods

1 ½ tsp coriander seed

1 tbls cumin seed

2 ½ tbls dried gingerroot

1 tbls ground cinnamon

1 tsp turmeric

5 rosebuds

1 clove

2-3 japones or other medium red chilies

2 tbls dried mint

 

Using a mortar and pestle (preferred) or spice grinder, grind all ingredients to a powder. Store in an airtight container.

 

Harissa is a hot chili paste used frequently in Moroccan foods. It can blow the roof off your mouth, if you’re not into spices. So, until you understand it, cut way back. A recipe might call for a tablespoon, but you might find a ½ teaspoon more than enough. As with ras el hanout, there are numerous versions. Here’s the one I use:

 

Harissa

 

1 tbls coriander seed

1 tbls caraway seed

2 tsp cumin seed

1 head garlic, separated, peeled, and crushed

1 tbls salt

9 oz red chili peppers

2-3 tbls olive oil

 

Dry toast the coriander, caraway, and cumin seed until fragrant. Let cool. In a mortar and pestle (preferred) or spice grinder, grind all ingredients as fine as possible, forming a paste. Transfer to a sterile jar. Add a film of additional olive oil to cap the harissa.

 

Stored in the fridge, with the oil cap replaced as necessary, harissa will keep two days longer than forever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12 March 2012 at 14:58

thanks for posting an excellent primer on moroccan flavour profiles, brook. i can see some great potential in there, indeed.

i'm sure i'll have other questions, but one that comes to mind first is in dealing with the requirement for cardamom pods. if one has ground cardamom but not the pods, how much should one use?
 
the rosebuds might be a little hard to find, too. we have wild prairie roses out here, alnd their buds are called "rosehips," but i am positive that isn't the same thing; however, i could surely order the rosebuds or otherwise procure them....
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12 March 2012 at 17:33
You can order them on-line, Ron. Rosebuds are integral to other spice mixtures as well. Some garam marsala recipes call for them, for instance.  Or just send me your snail mail privately, and I'll ship you out some.
 
The culinary rosebuds are small, more like tea roses than anything else. Rose hips are the opposite end of the bloom cycle. That is, they are what's left after the flower dies. Rose buds are just that, the bud, just about the time it starts to open.
 
Worst case: Just leave 'em out. They won't make that much of a difference to the final dish.
 
As to the cardamom: Every good question deserves a good answer. The answer to this one is, I dunno! And you can quote me.
 
I did, once, figure out how many pods it took to equal a teaspoon of seeds. But I promply forgot it.
 
If I have time, tomorrow, I'll strip some pods, grind the seed, and see what sort of comparability results.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12 March 2012 at 18:23
Well, it was bugging me. So I didn't wait. Here are the comparability figures I got:
 
Green Cardamom: 12 pods=1/2 tsp seed
Black Cardamom: 5 pods=1 tsp seed
 
One teaspoon of cardamom seed, ground, yields a hair more than 3/4 teaspoon.
 
For the ras el hanout recipe I'd just call it a half teaspoon of the ground cardamom. That should do you just fine.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12 March 2012 at 18:42
thanks for posting an excellent primer on moroccan flavour profiles,
 
Don't know as I'd call it that, Ron. There's an awful lot of basic info about the cuisine that would go into a primer.
 
What facinates me is the sorts of influences that shaped Moroccan cuisine. Although it has much in common with the rest of the Maghreb, there are some significant differences. Most significantly: The Turkish conquests ended at the Moroccan border. So, while you see a lot of Turkish influence on the foods of Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya, there's relatively little on the foods of Morocco.
 
On the other hand, we see far more Arabic influences in Morocco. Two reasons for that. First, and perhaps foremost was the Moorish retreat. When they were kicked out of Spain, in 1492, the Moors crossed to Morocco, and many of them settled there, with their Spanish-influenced Arabian food. The other influence comes from the indigeous Berber peoples, particularly in the mountainous sections.
 
The European influence on Morocco is primarily Spanish, whereas right next door, in Algeria and Tunisia, it's French.
 
And, of course, like any country with such geologic diversity, there are regional differences as well.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote ChrisFlanders Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 13 March 2012 at 04:42

There are a few spice mixes that I buy and don't make myself; ras-el-hanut and garam masala which is Indian I believe. Both are used very frequently, even in dishes that have nothing to do with etnic cooking. Garam masala is de-li-ci-ous sprinkled on pork before cooking it, and, it's one of my secret ingredients in my ossobuco! As you mentioned, ras-el-hanut is mostly an improvised mix with often dozens of ingredients. It literally means "head (ras) of the shop (hanut)" indicating that it is the very best of the shop. A little commercial exaggeration is no sin.

Maybe plain old cilantro aka koriander should be added to the list of basic Maroccan flavors. We have a very large Maroccan community in my country. Cilantro is known over here as "Maroccan parcely". Speaking of which, "chermoula" is kind of a Maroccan pesto made with fresh cilantro, garlic, cumin, chili, olive oil and lemonjuice, many times a little pimentón (smoked spanish paprika) is added. Chermoula is mostly used as a cold sauce, many times on fish but also used as a marinade, again on mainly fish. Chermoula is also a mixture of free interpretation as far as the addition of spices is concerned.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 13 March 2012 at 05:25
Absolutely correct on all points, Chris. Which is why I said my info was nowhere near being a primer. Hopefully, with other people making inputs, we can actually turn this into a beginners guide.
 
In North America we differentiate cilantro (the fresh herb) from coriander (the seeds). Both are important to Moroccan cookery. I would also include both rosewater and orange blossom water as important flavor elements. And, as should go without saying, citrus. Oranges, in particular, play a big role in Moroccan cuisine.
 
Your linking chermoula with pesto is very astute. Chermoula is as common in Morocco as is pesto in Italy. Or we can think of it as being akin to chimichurra. Basically it's an herbal sauce, served either cold or at room temperature. As you note, it's mostly used with fish.
 
Although traditionally done with cilantro only, I prefer a mix of cilantro and flat-leaf parsley as the base.
 
And, of course, the heart ad soul of Moroccan cookery, and what most differentiates it from the rest of the Maghreb, are the tagines, and their rich, self-created sauces.
 
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Margi Cintrano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 13 March 2012 at 10:41
Historic Foodie,
 
I make ( no spice mix ) Harissa fairly often as I love Tangier & Marrakesh and Tunis cuisines and make some for myself for a quick office lunch. 
Thanks for informative post. Also, in Morocco, Dates are their main export crop throughout Europe and USA.
Kind Regards.
Margaux.
 
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 13 March 2012 at 10:44
Margi, if your harissa recipe differs from mine it might be a good idea to post it, just to see the variations.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Margi Cintrano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 13 March 2012 at 10:53
Historic Foodie,
 
I shall check this evening when I return home ( I am on Tablet Android ) ... and if it does differ, I shall post it for sure tomorrow --- and provide the designation of origin, from the exact region I was given the recipe ...  I believe it is slightly different ---  
 
Nice to hear from u again.
Have nice evening.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote africanmeat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 13 March 2012 at 13:49
I love Moroccan food we cook Moroccan food at home ,and more after a visit to Morocco .
i love to add lemon juice to the mix.
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Moroccan food is easy to love, Ahron.
 
Would you care to share some of the dishes you most enjoyed?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Margi Cintrano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 March 2012 at 02:55
 
Lands steeped profoundly in antiguities, the coast and sea and inward, the desert. From these lands, had come the invadors, and the bringers of spices and herbs from faraway lands ... Thus, here are two of the staples in traditional North African and Middle Eastern regional cuisines.
 
I.) Charmoula:
 
1/3 cup coarsely chopped cilantro herb
1/3 cup coarsely chopped flat leaf parsley herb
3 garlic cloves halved 
3/4 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. sweet smoked Paprika
1/8 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground red chili pepper or cayenne flakes
4 tblps. extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup Lemon juice fresh
*** a pinch of saffron threads and a pinch of turmeic are commonly employed as well
 
1) prepare in food processor by combining the cilantro, parsley, garlic, cumin, paprika, cayenne or chil pepper, 12 saffron threads, turmeic  and salt  process until finely chopped like a paste - dip. 
2) add the olive oil and lemon juice processing very slowly until the mixture is well blended.
 
Charmoula is used as a marinade prior to tagine oven baking and in the tagine itself, by pouring the reserve marinade on top of the fish and vegetables, or lamb or chicken and vegetables.
 
This recipe had originated in Tangier and Tétouan, a 90 minute  trip southeast from Tangier on the coast, and is used in fish and shellfish tagines. Their cuisine reflects the Old Spanish and Moorish cultures of centuries gone by. Often, called the Daughter of Granada, Spain, their cuisine is a fusion of the two old empires.
 
Written by: Margaux Cintrano
 
 
 
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Margi Cintrano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 March 2012 at 03:07
 
 
 
Written by: Margaux Cintrano.
 
HARISSA, actually originated in Caesarea, Israel and thus, is a fresh hot pepper paste used in Israeli, Palestinian, Syrian, Pakistani ( the Moghul Kings ), ancient Persian and Marrakesh, in the interior of Morocco and in North African regional cuisines.
 
Each family has their signature on their individual recipes. Here are two I have had during one my trips 14 km across Spain´s southern Atlantic  to North Africa.
 
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro ( key ingredient )
1 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup chopped fresh red chili pepper
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tblps minced garlic
1 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp smoked paprika sweet
1 tsp ground cumin
 
Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend with olive oil very slowly until finely integrated. Refrigerate in air tight container for 2 hrs.
 
Harrisa can be used as a side dip and / or as a basting rub for meats and chicken.
 
This should have a " dip / coulis " texture, not a thin tomato like texture ...
 
HARISSA IN MOROCCO
 
The variation here is that Morocco is a large lemon and date producer; thus,  Lemon juice, chili, cumin, coriander and smoked paprika for the paste, with the rest of the above ingredients is blended for their Harissa.
 
Margaux. Cintrano.  
 
 
  
 
 
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Margi Cintrano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 March 2012 at 03:10
 
Some of the dishes I have had are:
 
Fish Cous Cous,  Chicken cous cous, lamb cous cous, Shellfish and seabass Tagine, Lamb and date tagine, chicken with preserved lemon and olives, Charmoula, Harissa, Kebabs, roast lamb and numerous others.
 
margaux.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 March 2012 at 04:41
Given your list, Margi, it should be pointed out, too, that cous cous in Morocco is not the same cous cous we (i.e., Americans) are used to.
 
Well, that's not correct. The pasta is the same. But it's cooked differently.
 
When we make cous cous it is typically done with quick-cooking or instant cous cous, and is served as a side-dish. For instance, an American meal might be a tagine with cous cous.
 
In Morocco, cous cous is a main-meal dish, and is cooked totally differently. It goes through several washings and steamings, and is cooked in a special utensil called a couscouserie, and the protein element is part of the finished dish.
 
Typically, a meal would include a tagine or a cous cous, but not both.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote ChrisFlanders Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 March 2012 at 06:12
Originally posted by Margi Cintrano Margi Cintrano wrote:

 HARISSA, actually originated in Caesarea, Israel and thus, is a fresh hot pepper paste used in Israeli, Palestinian, Syrian, Pakistani ( the Moghul Kings ), ancient Persian and Marrakesh, in the interior of Morocco and in North African regional cuisines.
 
Each family has their signature on their individual recipes. Here are two I have had during one my trips 14 km across Spain´s southern Atlantic  to North Africa.
 
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro ( key ingredient )
1 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup chopped fresh red chili pepper
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tblps minced garlic
1 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp smoked paprika sweet
1 tsp ground cumin
 
Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend with olive oil very slowly until finely integrated. Refrigerate in air tight container for 2 hrs.
 
Harrisa can be used as a side dip and / or as a basting rub for meats and chicken.
 
This should have a " dip / coulis " texture, not a thin tomato like texture ...
 
HARISSA IN MOROCCO
 
The variation here is that Morocco is a large lemon and date producer; thus,  Lemon juice, chili, cumin, coriander and smoked paprika for the paste, with the rest of the above ingredients is blended for their Harissa.
 
 
I believe you posted a standard chermoula recipe as I already referred to in a previous post in this thread.
Harissa used as a dip? Harissa tastes like burning fire! I've seen it used in Marocco when they served couscous. First the couscous, meat and vegetables, all cooked in the same couscousière but on different levels, go on a large plate, then they take a full ladle of the liquid (stock) from the lower part of the couscousière, add 1/2 teaspoon of harissa in the ladle of stock and stir, then the ladle of stock, now fired up with harissa goes over the couscous.
Most used harissa, also in Marocco is this one from Tunesia,.. from a tube or a tin;

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Margi Cintrano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 March 2012 at 07:39
 
Chris,
 
Piquant tolerance is very subjective and Harissa is piquant just as are Mexican or Peruvian salsas or Japanese wasabi ... up to the person to adjust to their individual palate.
 
In the fish cous cous, I posted today, yes, some cooks place the Harissa inside the cooking broth, and some as a side coulis salsa -- or dip ... ( lingustics ) ... Also, they do put cayenne or chili peppers and smoked paprika ! So, you have quite a bit of piquant there ...
 
One time I posted a recipe, and Historic Foodie said, it was too bland. However, I had not mentioned that the referenced recipe was for two 5 year old twin boys.
 
Thanks for post Chris.  
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Margi Cintrano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 March 2012 at 07:48
 
Historic Foodie,
 
Cous cous tastes quite distinctly different in Paris verses Madrid ( alot better in Paris verses Madrid ) ... and in varying parts of Morocco, for example Tangier or Marrakesh and Tunis ...
 
I recall all tasted different from 1 city to another in the USA ... water and the products ... 
 
I cannot stand Spanish Pasta ... very starchy and heavy. I always buy Barilla or make my own with Italian products.
 
My pet peeve especially with  Italian products for Italian Cuisine and Spanish for Spanish ...
 
Nice thread that you have started with the gastronomic vocab.
 
Ron and Hoser: we should have a Community Gastronomic Vocabulary Section where we can also, translate the words.  Chris Belgium speaks a few langs and so do I ... Can be a wonderful tool for home gourmets, as well as professional chefs, cooks, pastry chefs, maîtrés, sommeliers etcetra.
 
Margi.
 
 
 
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 March 2012 at 07:55
Originally posted by Margi Cintrano Margi Cintrano wrote:

Ron and Hoser: we should have a Community Gastronomic Vocabulary Section where we can also, translate the words.  Chris Belgium speaks a few langs and so do I ... Can be a wonderful tool for home gourmets, as well as professional chefs, cooks, pastry chefs, maîtrés, sommeliers etcetra.
 
Margi, this is a great idea - not long ago, i posted 31 Culinary Terms in the Cooking Basics section of the forum - if you think this would be a good place to start, i'll go ahead and modify the title to "FotW's Gastronomic Vocabulary" and make it a sticky in that section. how does that sound?
 
Let me know, and thank you for a wonderful idea ~
 
Ron
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