Souk Cuisine--a Very Special Cooking Class in Marrakech
by Victoria Challancin
Souk Cuisine. The very name conjures up magic for me. Long-enchanted with souks, bazars, and markets all over the world, I find that they are usually my first destination when traveling. Imagine the thrill for me of taking an actual cooking class smack dab in the middle of Marrakech's ancient medina, preparing a cuisine I love, filled with fun students and led by a delightful and knowledgeable teacher! A perfect combination of ingredients, literally and figuratively.
I have been trying for several years to schedule a cooking class with Gemma, a savvy Dutch entrepreneur who has made Marrakech her home as well as the base for her very successful cooking school appropriately called "Souk Cuisine." In April, after the group I led (my ninth!) departed Marrakech, I finally was able to take this class. Gemma puts the skills she learned in hotel school in Holland to good use with her lively business. Not content just to provide a cooking experience, Gemma starts the class by handing your group shopping lists and wallets holding enough dirhams to buy what you need for the day's menu! Of course, she doesn't entirely throw you to the wolves, rather she leads you through the souk, greeting well-known and respected vendors along the way, teaching us about the ingredients we will prepare.
We stop to buy spices...
and to receive a lesson about the qualities of saffron and how not to be duped by one of lesser quality
We turn our tongues yellow with the real stuff
We buy some smen, the slightly fermented butter loved all over North Africa
We even taste the lovely smen flavored with dried meat
We purchase olives and preserved lemon (and I learn that the brightest, most yellow ones aren't the preferred type to use!)
We also buy a bit of olive oil sold to us in a recycled Coca-cola bottle, with a wad of cardboard to seal it
We stop at the local "grocery store" for flour, baking powder, and ground almonds, bargaining as we go
The cooking class is given in a small riad (a larger one is used for larger groups than our six) and has two Morrocan cooks on hand to help
The mise en place is ready for us, complete with the fresh saffron protected by paper
We thought we'd never get the herbs chopped fine enough for the Moroccan cooks who watched over us and scolded us with sign language when we fell short!
The chicken was left to marinate in chermoula, a Moroccan sauce/marinade rich with garlic and herbs
(My version of chermoula can be found here--plus numerous ways to use it! And my own recipe for a chicken tagine with olives and preserved lemon can be found here--and with it, of course, a lesson on tagines!)
We make briouts filled with vegetables and using the local purchased warka, which resembles phyllo dough
The briouts, fried and ready to eat!
The finished chicken tagine, bursting with flavor
A selection of salads we prepared (mine is the eggplant next to the carrots)
Once you've tried Moroccan salads...you'll be hooked forever!
(Learn what all the fuss is about in my two-part series on Moroccan salads here and here, plus my recipe for Moroccan Raw Carrot Salad here)
And now, with Gemma's permission, I give you the absolute BEST Moroccan carrot salad I have ever tasted--and I've made and tasted quite a few!
Cook's Notes: Although I didn't make the salad in class, Stefan did and he clearly peeled the almonds (blanching in boiling water makes it simple). They could also be fried in a touch of olive oil, if desired. When I made this at home, I didn't take the core out of the carrot, though Stefan did, under the strict tutelage of his Moroccan overseer! Apparently, she also indicated that they should not be cubed, but rather left in long pieces. This, of course, is up to you. Use argan oil if you are lucky enough to have it; extra-virgin olive oil, if not. And please, don't shy away from the orange flower water, which gives the dish such a special, yet ver subtle, touch.
Recipe: Moroccan Carrot Salad from Souk Cuisine
Moroccan Carrot Salad with Almonds and Raisins
1 kg carrots
100g almonds, unpeeled
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 cinnamon stick
6 teaspoons sugar (2 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon orange flower water
2 tablespoons argan oil (or top quality olive oil)
Peel the carrots and slice them lengthways. Remove the inner core of the carrots and cut into cubes. Boil carrots in salted water. Drain after 15 minutes and leave a small quantity of water in the pan. Place again on the stove over low heat. Add ground cinnamon, cinnamon stick, ground ginger, raisins, almonds, sugar, orange flower water and oil. Simmer until carrots are well-cooked. Serve the salad lukewarm or cold.
My version, made at home once I returned
I have been lucky enough to take classes from some of the best cooks in the world: Jacques Pépin, Julia Child, Martin Yan, Madhur Jaffrey, Rick Bayless... and others. All worthy. All fascinating.
But I can honestly say that this class, with Souk Cuisine and Gemma, was my favorite ever. I will definitely schedule one on my next trip.
Want to join me? Let's take a class with Gemma together on my next trip in April of 2015 and possibly in October of this year as well!
©Victoria Challancin. All Rights Reserved.
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