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Monday, June 8, 2015

A Yearly Cooking Class at La Maison Arabe--with a Recipe!

A Yearly Cooking Class at La Maison Arabe--with a Recipe!
by Victoria Challancin

I'm back!  I'll spare you the apologies, the whinging, the explanations, but I do hope I have returned to the world of blogging after a lengthy absence.  Happily so!

Many of my readers know that I lead small groups to Morocco each year.  Some of you might ask exactly "why?"  I posted a simple explanation, yet in my eyes, a perfect explanation, in a sort of photo essay in 2010 and I don't think I can improve on the sentiments I expressed there.

Why Visit Morocco--please check it out and see if helps you understand my love of this culture, country, and its wonderful people.

Although my tours are not culinary tours, as a part of our itinerary on the trips I lead, we take a cooking class at the spectacular luxury riad (really, this is a boutique hotel) La Maison Arabe, which offers its cooking workshops in private gardens just fifteen minutes outside of Marrakech.  Complete with an organic kitchen garden, an outdoor wood-fired bread oven, and a thoroughly modern cooking school which has 16 individual work stations--each equipped with a closed-circuit screen, the hotel has created a perfect cooking school.  And yes, I admit to being just a tad envious... From the comfort of his or her own station, the participants can watch the dada, or traditional Moroccan family cook, who might be descended from Sub-Saharan slaves or who at least holds a place of respect as the family cook, as she leads us at a brisk pace through our cooking journey.

The Physical Space

Terra cotta tajines used to prepare individual portions and an array of the most common spices used in Moroccan cooking

Two adjacent cooking stations with plastic-covered chicken ready to be prepared

Older Posts on Moroccan Cooking
Cooking at the Kasbah:  A Cooking Class at La Maison Arabe (the original cooking school)

Olives, Preserved Lemons, and a Moroccan Tagine--plus a terrific recipe for a Chicken Tagine with Green Olives

On a Moroccan Table--general info about Moroccan food

The Food and Our Menu

Here we participate in the making of a bread called tanourt, or tannour, baked in an oven also called a tannour (probably from  the Hindi "tandoor").  After we prepare it, we are shown how to make traditional Moroccan mint tea.  And of course, we blissfully eat the warm bread with olive oil, argan oil, and amlou, a delicious Moroccan dip made from toasted almonds, argan oil, and honey.  Unfortunately, most of my photos of this were mysteriously deleted (along with 1500 others) from my camera when I tried to put them on my desktop Mac.  Argh...

I always proudly write my name on the name tag in my child-like Arabic, which always elicits a smile from the locals--and not a small amount of surprise

Our main dish, individually prepared:  Tagine M'darble 

Our main dish with two side salads:  Tatouka and Zalouk

This particular dish is rich, with an unctuous sauce sizzling with gentle spices plus the depth of the caramelized onions.  And it is really, really simple to prepare.  One of the things that fascinates me about much of Moroccan cooking that you often don't sauté the chicken or meats at all; rather they are braised in a simple water-based sauce redolent with simple spices.  This technique couldn't be easier!

Recipe:  Tagine M'darble
(Recipe from La Maison Arabe's cookbook, Moroccan Cooking:   Our Dadas' Recipes)

For the chicken:
500g/1lb chicken pieces (boneless breasts or legs/thighs with bones)
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 small bouquet garni of parsley and cilantro
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
A pinch of saffron threads

For the Caramelized Tomatoes:
2 kg (4.5 lbs) tomatoes
1 lb/500g white sugar
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
A pinch of salt

Garnish:  Toasted sesame seeds

To prepare the chicken:  
Drizzle the olive and vegetable oil in a tagine, casserole, or large heavy pot.  Add the chicken, the spices for the chicken, and 1/4 cup of water.  Mix well

Add the finely chopped onion to the pot.  Cover the pot and cook the chicken on low heat for 15 minutes.  Turn the chicken over from time to time and add a bit of water if necessary.

Add 1/2 cup cold water and the bouquet garni of parsley and cilantro.   Cover, increase the heat to medium high, and bring to a boil.  Cook, covered, for 30 minutes or until the chicken is very tender.  Check from time to time and add water if the dish seems too dry.  There should always be a cup of sauce in the pan.

Once the chicken is done, uncover the pot, and continue cooking for a few minutes, until the sauce slightly thickens.

Note:  before serving, remove and discard the bouquet garni of parsley and cilantro

To prepare the tomatoes:
Cut the tomatoes in half and remove the seeds.  Grate the tomatoes on a box grater  and discard the skin.  Place the tomatoes in a large saucepan.  On low heat, cook the tomatoes, covered, for 15 minutes.  

Add the vegetable oil, sugar, cinnamon, and salt to the tomatoes.  Mix well.

Cook uncovered on low heat until the tomatoes become caramelized and thick, 45 minutes to 1 hour.  Stir from time to time.

To serve:  Place the chicken on a dish (or leave it in a tagine, if using), top with some of the sauce from the chicken, Add a dollop of the caramelized tomatoes, and finish by sprinkling with toasted sesame seeds.

Replace the tomatoes with pumpkin.  Wrap the pumpkin pieces with plastic wrap and microwave them for 15 minutes or until they become soft.  Caramelize the pumpkin following the same directions as for the tomatoes.

The wine tasting is optional, but I ask you:  Would I miss that???? Moroccan wines are phenomenal.  

Although we students didn't actually prepare this dessert of millefeulle with pastry cream, orange blossom water, almonds, and a phyllo-type dough, we happily enjoyed it.  The recipe calls it "Milk Pastilla"

Note:  As I come kicking and screaming into the world of social media, I am happy to say that many of my photos from this trip can be seen on Instagram (vchallancin) or my new Flavors of the Sun Facebook page...a work in progress as I learn the ropes!

My Tours to Morocco:
Come join me for my 16-day tour of Morocco in October or next April!  (The next tour will be my twelfth to lead there!)

Parting Shot:  
A sideways photo of favorite tagines in the souk, too heavy to bring home

Victoria Challancin

Flavors of the Sun Cooking School and Tours
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

©Victoria Challancin.  All Rights Reserved.


Eha said...

Oh Vicki: this must be the biggest, most elegant, modern and practical cooking school I have ever seen and anybody teaching cooking would be green with envy! The tagine looks extremely easy to prepare, is unlike any I have made so far and will be trialled soonest. With pumpkin because of winter here! Glad you are back . . . congratulations on your foray into the rest of social media where lack of time will not allow me to follow. Oh but would so love to meet you on one of your trips in Morocco one day . . .

Hotly Spiced said...

Welcome back, Victoria. I have been wondering how you are. You have returned with a very colourful and magnificent post. I would so love to join you on one of your tours and attend this cooking school. And what a yummy recipe! I will make this for my family xx

Tania | My Kitchen Stories said...

What a great place Victoria. I'd so love to go to Morocco. 12 tours! wow that is a lot now. This dish sounds very lovely.

laura ann loveland said...

Welcome home, Victoria! I am sure your many devoted followers missed you as much as I did. Your "welcome back to reality" posting on Morocco definitely does not disappoint and lives up to your high standards. What a delight! I am also dealing with the new world of social media and it is definitely a learning experience. And losing photographs from my personal experience as a fellow blogger is without a doubt total trauma. Buen suerte y gracias! Laura

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Welcome back lovely! So glad to see that you've been busy having fun. Those tagines are beautiful! I'd come back with bags full of things I think!

Karen (Back Road Journal) said...

What a nice post…welcome back. The cooking school is splendid. Your tangine chicken dish sounds like it is delicious.

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Maro said...

good work
Moroccan vegetable tagine: three pepper tagine with eggs
Baked vegetable tagine with preserved lemon
Spicy carrot and chickpea tagine with turmeric and coriander
Tagine of baby aubergines with coriander and mint
Vegetable tagine of butter beans, cherry tomatoes and black olives
Vegetable tagine of yam, shallots, carrots and prunes
Vegetable tagine of artichokes, potatoes, peas and saffron
Tagine of butternut squash, shallots, sultanas and almonds

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