Food    The Traditional Tastes of Morocco    World Music at Global Rhythm - The Destination for World Music

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Couscous, the Moroccan national dish

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The Traditional Tastes of Morocco
By Anastasia Tsioulcas

Published September 1, 2005

Like the geography and peoples of Morocco, Moroccan cuisine is dazzlingly diverse: from the fish dishes of the coastal cities and towns to the Turkish-influenced desserts of Tetuán and the tagella bread of the Sahara’s nomadic Tamashek (a.k.a. Touareg) people. But despite the differences in regional foods, two themes stand constant: great Moroccan cuisine is made at home, not in restaurants (though there are some truly world-class restaurants in Morocco), and food, no matter what kind, is always served with the generous, genuine hospitality for which Morocco is so famous.

If you’ve never been to Morocco, the two dishes that might jump to mind as typically Moroccan would probably be couscous and tagine. You wouldn’t be wrong—couscous is considered the Moroccan national dish, and tagines (which simply means stew but is also the conical-topped dish in which they are cooked) are made in hundreds of dazzling varieties; one famous version is chicken, green olives and preserved lemons. Another classic is bisteeya, a pie of almonds, cinnamon and either squab or chicken, which is then tucked into a delicate, phyllo-like warka pastry and covered with a thick layer of powdered sugar.

 All these dishes are somewhat time-consuming to make, especially bisteeya. When you’re ready to dive into cooking Moroccan food, an excellent resource is Couscous And Other Good Foods From Morocco (Quill Books, 1987); author Paula Wolfert is one of the world’s foremost authorities on Moroccan cuisine. The recipes below are just as typically Moroccan, but far less work-intensive—even the soup’s a snap, despite the long ingredient list.

Whatever the dish, there is usually a great deal of attention paid to the spicing: subtle, rich blends that often include cinnamon, cumin, saffron, turmeric and ginger as well as other spices. Moroccan food isn’t spicy hot in the way that, for example, Indian and Pakistani food often is, though these cuisines share many of the same flavors. Another star of Moroccan cuisine is produce; the fruits and vegetables of Morocco are some of the finest anywhere. (Florida and California oranges are mere shadows of fruit compared to the concentrated flavor of a Moroccan specimen.) Orange salad perfumed with orange blossom water is a perfectly light and refreshing dessert after a sumptuous Moroccan feast.

Harira is eaten all over Morocco. Though this hearty, bean-based soup (a meal in itself when eaten with some good bread) is traditionally used to break the Ramadan fasts, it’s a dish eaten all year round. While harira is often flavored with a little lamb or chicken, it’s the lowly legumes that are really the stars, so making a delicious vegetarian (or even vegan) version of this soup is very easy. This particular combination of beans adds lively interest to the harira.

Without question, atay b’naa-naa (mint tea) is the quintessential Moroccan drink, although tea itself only arrived in Morocco in the mid-1800s, courtesy of British merchants carrying it back from the Far East. Wherever you go in the country, you’ll come across people carrying enormous bundles of fresh spearmint (just enough, one thinks, to get them and their families through the day). Warming in the winter and cooling in the s


HARIRA (adapted from Twelve Months of Monastery Soups by Brother Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Latourette)


Serves 8

 1/2 cup chickpeas, soaked overnight (or canned)

1/2 cup lima beans, soaked overnight (or canned)

1/2 cup black beans, soaked overnight (or canned)

1/2 cup red kidney beans, soaked overnight (or canned)

1/2 cup lentils, soaked overnight (or canned)

1/2 cup split peas (preferably yellow), soaked overnight (or canned)

1/2 cup white navy beans, soaked overnight (or canned)

12 cups chicken or vegetable stock (or water)

2 large onions, chopped

1 16-oz. can chopped tomatoes

1/2 tsp. ground ginger

1/2 tsp. turmeric

1/2 tsp. ground cumin

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp. saffron threads, crumbled

1/4 tsp. black pepper

1 Tbsp. lemon juice

salt (to taste)

2 Tbsp. flour

1/2 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped

1/2 bunch fresh Italian parsley, chopped

8 leaves fresh mint, chopped

pinch of cayenne

large pinch of paprika

1/2 cup dried vermicelli noodles (vegan option: rice noodles)


thin lemon slices and chopped parsley for garnish


  1. Place all the beans in a large pot, add the stock or water, and bring to a boil. Simmer for 1 1/2 hours.
  2. Add the onions, tomatoes (with their juice), ginger, turmeric, cumin, cinnamon, pepper, lemon juice, and saffron. Stir well, cover the pot, and bring the soup t

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