Our half term break spent in Marrakech seems a lifetime away on this cold, wet November morning. The husband and I have been before, but it was the childrens’ first visit and we wondered how they would take to the madness of Marrakech. Thankfully the moment they arrived they loved it, but this was in no small part thanks to El Fenn, the beautiful riad we stayed in right in the centre of the Medina, overlooking the Koutoubia Mosque.
Last time we were in Morocco, we stayed in the Palmeraie, just outside the city, which was peaceful and beautiful. Staying in the medina is a much more hectic and lively experience, but staying at the beautiful El Fenn was the perfect haven from the hustle and bustle of the city. Outside the riad doors you are dodging mules, carts, motorcycles and bicycles, amidst all the sounds of a busy city. Once inside the riad, it is absolute tranquility. Built around a series of courtyards filled with palm trees, flowers, birds and, bizarrely, tortoises, there were a myriad of places to sit and relax with a Moroccan mint tea. Our favourite place was the rooftop garden, with its restaurant, bar and swimming pool.
You could overlook the city streets, hear the calls to prayer, smell the smoke from the food stalls of the main square, the Jemaa el-Fnaa, but relax above it all with a glass of fantastic Moroccan rosé. We loved the rosé and gris Domaine de Sahari and are desperate to find a case or two here in the UK.
We found the Moroccan food a bit mixed in quality but we ate well at the riad. Breakfast was delicious; freshly baked baguettes studded with sesame seeds, served with salty butter and home-made jam, fresh goat yogurts, eggs, coffee and hot chocolate.
On our final morning in Marrakech, while the boys played golf, the girls and I did a cookery course with the riad’s chef, Hassim. First we went to the Mellah, the Jewish district, to source our ingredients. The girls were a little shocked at the sight of the bloody Moroccan butcher counters in the souk, and even more upset when they saw the adorable caged livestock for sale not as pets, but as dinner. They soon got over their distaste at the Berber pharmacy counter, however, enjoying the sweet Moroccan tea we were offered, and badgering me for Berber lipsticks, rose petals and orange flower water. We picked up the ingredients we needed to make a chicken tagine, and I picked up some amazing Harissa, some Preserved lemons and some Moroccan mint and Berber tea herbs to take home with us.
The chicken tagine is a lovely dish for this time of year. The spices used are warming and anti-inflammatory. The addition of heart-healthy green olives and vitamin-rich preserved lemons add a deliciously savoury tang that contrasts delightfully with the heat of the spices.
Chicken Tagine with Green Olives and Preserved Lemons (serves 2)
- 4 chicken thighs, bone in
- 1 tbsp coconut oil
- 1 large red onion
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp ground tumeric
- 200ml water (or so)
- 1 preserved lemon, deseeded, flesh removed, and shredded
- handful stoned green olives, chopped
- handful or two of coriander, torn
- Heat the coconut oil in a heavy lidded saucepan (or Tajine if you have one)
- Brown the chicken and reserve
- Add chopped red onion and garlic to the pan and soften
- Add seasoning and herbs, and cook until fragrant
- Return chicken to the pan
- Add shredded preserved lemon and olives
- Add water, replace lid and cook for 30 minutes or so, until tender, stirring occasionally
- When cooked through, stir through a handful or two of torn coriander and serve immediately.
Couscous would be the traditional accompaniment for this tagine, but Brent threw together a quick Moroccan flatbread that worked brilliantly with it.
Moroccan Flatbread with Cumin
- 125g self-raising flour
- 125g goats yogurt (St Helen’s Farm)
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp roasted cumin seeds
- pinch onion salt
- Combine dry ingredients and add yogurt to the mixture
- Knead on floured surface until no longer sticky. Add more flour if necessary
- Roll out to size of your palm, or thereabouts
- Toast on griddle pan over high heat until crisp and charred
Sautéed Chard with Garlic and Chilli
- packet (2-3 heads) of chard, or dark green leafy vegetable
- 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 1 chilli, finely chopped
- Wash, trim and roughly chop chard
- Blanche in salted boiling water for one minute
- Rinse under cold water and squeeze out excess water
- Heat 1tbsp coconut oil
- Fry garlic cloves and chilli with a pinch of salt
- Add chard to pan, sauté for 2 minutes and serve
From Marrakech we headed to Essaouira, a 2 1/2 hour drive across the dusty Moroccan plains to the atlantic coastline of Morocco. A fortified city, it has a working port, a mini medina and a long, windswept beach that is popular for kitesurfing.
Essaouira is famed for its Argan oil production. This comes from the fruit of the argan tree (Argan Spinosa) which grow in southwestern Morocco. It is rich in vitamin E and polyunsaturated fatty acids, and has a savoury taste reminiscent of sesame oil. Breakfasts Essaouira-style were all about Moroccan pancakes (Msemen), made from semolina, which we drizzled with argan oil and topped with Amlou, a Berber speciality made from argan oil, crushed almonds and honey.