The walled city of Fes, with over 9,000 narrow rambling alleyways and a million plus people living in a time capsule is were today we learn the secrets of making Harira soup and a beef tagine.
Chef Souad negotiates the cuts of meat with the butcher. Here meat hangs freely unrefrigerated. There is a fridge in the back of the small space the butcher works in but the meat which is killed in the early hours of the morning is delivered fresh each today. Interestingly there are no doors or external access to the store, entry and exit is via hurling yourself over the counter.
We meander through the stores, checking out the orange blossoms, viewing a customer choosing his live chicken whose life ends in front of our eyes. The offal store where the delicacies of the internal organs of animals are on display contrasting against the beautiful fresh seasonal produce.
The fresh date is a symbol of happiness and is purchased as gifts for celebrations such as weddings. The dried dates are purchased as gifts on the passing of a loved one.
Moroccan’s love their bread. The main variety comes in a round and is doughy and thick made from white flour and semolina, but there are many others as well, from spongy to flavoured to thick buckwheat loaves. Bread in fact replaces the fork at a meal.
We head back to Café Clock to begin our preparations.
The first dish is the Harira soup. Chickpeas that have been soaked over night then cooked for a few hours are added into the soup pot. There is chopped red onion, garlic, tomato paste, black pepper, ginger powder, turmeric powder, olive oil, salt, green lentils, fresh chopped coriander and parsley. Adding these to some water we place the pot on the stove and give it a good stir leaving it to bubble away. After about half an hour we add in vermicelli noddles and corn flour to thicken the soup.
The soup is quiet spicy getting great flavour from the ginger and black pepper. Moroccan food does not lack flavour, they love their spices and add them liberally. Bland food is not tolerated.
We move onto the Tagine. Tagine is the name given to the pot used to cook in. There are three different pots. The unglazed which can only ever be used for one dish as it can never be rid of the flavours of the previous dish prepared in it. The glazed tagine which can be easily washed and cleaned and used for many dishes and the third the beautifully decorated pots which are used for presenting the dishes. The dishes need to be soaked for 12 hours prior to use and are traditionally placed on hot coals. These days the pressure cooker is the preferred method of cooking by our Chef, but some say that the flavour is simply not the same. We can vouch for this as one of the best meals we have had has been at a road side restaurant where the tagine was cooked in the traditional way.
The marinade for the meat includes fresh garlic, ginger powder, turmeric powder, salt, fresh coriander and fresh parsley. First we cook the diced red onions in boiling water with some olive oil, then we add these to the marinade along with the meat. This is all then placed into the pressure cooker to cook for an hour. We take the stones out of the prunes and placed them in boiling water with a stick of cinnamon. Sugar and a pinch of cinnamon create a caramel which the prunes are glazed in. Once the meat is cooked and falling apart the tagine is ready to be put together. This is were the romance of the tagine comes to play, in the presentation. Add the caramelised prunes, dates coated in sesame, some toasted almonds and enjoy with your bread.
Thank you to Cafe Clock and Chef Souad for this experience.