Sunday, April 30, 2017

MOROCCAN COOKING SCHOOL FOR A DAY: Part one - shopping

The food souk in Fes's medina
After three weeks of eating in Moroccan restos, caf├ęs, and holes in the wall, it was time to learn how to do it. I had found Fez Cooking and Cultural Tours during a Google search months before I left Canada and booked with them. I wanted a company that had a chef teaching the cooking class, rather than a family, and I totally lucked out. Lahcen, the owner of Fez Cooking, operated out of the riad next door to where I stayed in Fes. He also runs an excellent tour company that includes tours of wineries near Meknes which are a legacy of the French protectorate. I wish I had time to do this tour with him.

Lahcen picked me up with a smile at 9:30am and I realized I was his only student. Magic! We drove to the food souk in Fes's medina. On the way he questioned me about the dishes I wanted to cook, what I liked and did not in the way of spices, and my skill level in the kitchen.




The previous downpours were over, and shopping with Lahcen was fun and full of info. He brought along a huge basket like any housewife's and proceeded to overfill it.

For the next hour I was shown how to choose the best ingredients in spice shops, butchers, vegetable and herb stalls. We surveyed the whole souk first and then made our way back buying the food.




"Spices and herbs are the most important ingredients in Moroccan Cuisine," Lahcen said. "Buy fresh spices everyday!"

The basic spices are turmeric, cumin, black pepper, dried ginger, salt, and a mixture of 30-40 spices created by each spice vendor. Their aroma was tantalizing and nothing like their cousins in jars in Canada.






Next came the freshest herbs, hopefully picked that morning in the fields around Fes— parsley, cilantro, and mint in bunches the size of bouquets and two of oregano in posies. And, yes, we used them all. "Use three times more plus, than North American recipes call for," Lahcen advised. He turned out to be correct — it's all about heightened flavour.





In the souk, I saw live chickens, roosters, ducks, pigeons, rabbits, and snails that had been collected in the rain the day before, for sale. Buyers could take the birds home live or have them killed while they watched. (I've refrained from showing you!) Five types of Moroccan bread were on show, as well as workah, a crunchy Moroccan phyllo for pastilla, a chicken pie for special occasions. This was cooked in front of us on a hot stone from a lump of dough spread tissue thin.




Chickens for the pot
Breads made from semolina flour and yeast. Some
had eggs added - top left and right. Roll them up
with goat cheese and/or honey for a delicious breakfast.
Tissue-thin workah that's used like phyllo
Lahcen decided these were the best chickpeas for the soup




Lahcen tasted everything he bought but the lamb. He discarded a couple of offerings from the owner of the cleanest butcher shop in the souk, before buying a lamb shoulder he liked and having it chopped up for the pot.

Laden with our purchases, off we went to his kitchen in a traditional riad to start cooking. See Part Two of the story.