Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Top Chef Morocco?

So I’ve talked a lot about food since we’ve been here, but it’s mostly been about eating the food, not about cooking it. Now I get to talk about the other side of it - this past Sunday was our first chance to get in a Moroccan kitchen and cook some food!

Justin and I had been talking with our host family for a little while now about cooking them a meal, and when we asked them specifically what they wanted us to cook, there was 1 request: pizza. Coming from New York where pizza is king, we were reeeeally nervous about how to go about making pizza in Morocco, but up to the challenge. We decided to pair the pizza with a very American dessert – apple pie – and the menu was set.

Now, this is not the type of easy process where in the U.S. I might just find a recipe and then go out and buy whatever I needed. Here, there are some ingredients that I just couldn’t find anywhere in our area – In this case cider vinegar, nutmeg, and brown sugar for the apple pie, and basil and a bay leaf for the pizza sauce – So we just had to adjust the recipes to cut out those ingredients. Beyond that, the only cheese sold in our small community is the Laughing Cow triangles and I would not be allowed back in the state of New York if I tried to put that on a pizza – so luckily Justin and I found cheese in Fes on a quick overnight trip for training. Oh yes and I forgot to mention that since the concept of pre-made pizza dough or pie crust does not exist, we were making everything from scratch – the dough, pie crust, pizza sauce, etc. None of which I have ever done before. So I was more than a little nervous that I might disappoint my family that makes every amazing meal from scratch.

So our ingredients and recipes were set, and we went to our local market the morning of our big meal to get everything needed (here, people just buy whatever food is needed for each day which by the way I LOVE). We were able to get everything that we needed and we went back to the house to start cooking. This was the first time that Justin was fully allowed into the kitchen, which was exciting. Up until now the family has only let him bring dishes down from the kitchen to the dining table – I’ll talk more about gender roles in another post. As we cooked, our family sat around and eagerly watched – even 2 of our host brothers, who rarely come into the kitchen and certainly don’t stay for very long, watched excitedly for about 3 hours’ worth. In keeping with the American theme of the day, we put on some of our own music. Our youngest host brother (8 years old and adorable!) seemed to be really into Marvin Gaye and Al Green which was cute.

The cooking process presented a lot of obstacles which just required some flexibility and patience. For example, the ovens are hooked up to gas and are lit with a lighter and there’s no chance of trying to calibrate that thing to a particular temperature (not to mention that the door is falling off of the oven so it needs to be rigged up a bit when cooking). So, we just had to keep a close eye on everything to make sure it was going well. And, we had to find cooking supplies in the kitchen that we could use, many of which were very different from what we might use in the U.S. (for example, no pizza or pie pans, but we found things in the kitchen that would make do). Beyond that, we had to deal with the family watching our every move and trying to help when they could (my host mother laughed at how slowly I diced an onion and she took one and literally did it in 5 seconds flat – she really should be on Top Chef!).

But overall, we found everything that we needed to make it work and the food was GREAT! I was actually truly surprised by how good it turned out. It was a huge learning experience for Justin and I in what goes into cooking in a Moroccan kitchen, and the importance of flexibility and advance planning when figuring out what recipes might work here and what might not. And, I think it was fun for our host family to be a part of the cooking experience. Enjoy the photos of the final results! 
The ingredient list - that’s my handwriting in Arabic script on the right!
The apple pie before going into the oven
tomato sauce from scratch! sooo good
pizza with peppers and onions on top
plain pizza
Moroccan-style pizza - half olives and half harissa
close-up of the Moroccan-style pizza
the whole spread!


  1. everything looks delicious! and I'm so impressed with your written Arabic :)

  2. thanks Nishta!! I have really taken to the Arabic because I feel like I am making art every time that I write :)