As we assemble in the lobby after breakfast, we are thanked by the hotel staff. The men in our group receive Fez hats and the women are each given a scarf. What a nice gesture! We even received Moroccan slippers in our rooms. We ate the Tagine like we never ate before and drank the "Moroccan Whiskey" like nobody's business. We took in the medina, the tannery, the souks, the carpets and enjoyed it all. The colors, textures, landscape, aromas...it's all very Moroccan!
We depart Fez and start our drive thru Morocco's Middle Atlas Mountains stopping for a coffee (Nos-nos) which is a Moroccan cappucino and quite good. Our stop is in the ski resort town of Ifrane, a small town with a European ambiance. During our ride we cross the 6000 ft pass toward the Sahara which is where we are also entertained with Mohammed's jokes and a CD with Singing in the Rain, Moon River and Where is my heart. We ask for a Moroccan CD to be played. We want the real experience.
There is a mother who is very, very old and who has three sons. It is her birthday. The three sons get together and try to come up with a gift for their mother but cannot agree on one to buy for her. Each son decides to buy his own. The first son says he is buying her a beautiful house with a swimming pool and will have it all decorated to her liking. The second son says he is buying her a new car so she will have something fancy to drive around in. The third son decides to buy her a bird and will teach it to recite the entire Qur'an so she is comforted and has company in her old age. Days later the mother invites the sons for tea and says to son #1..."I'm am disappointed in you my son". "Why?" he asks, confused. " You bought me a big, beautiful house and one I cannot care for. You don't don't know me at all. To son #2...the mother says "what on earth were you thinking? I am too old to drive, I cannot even see very well anymore." This is a terrible gift for me. You disappoint me. You don't know me at all!" Son #3 has spent much time training the parrot to recite the Qur'an. He is excited to present his gift to his mother. He knows she will be pleased. The mother says..." Son...you make me very happy. You know just what I need and what brings me the most joy." The son is thrilled. The mother then says, " The chicken was delicious!. "
Here's that Chicken Tagine recipe if you're interested!
Tagine of chicken is simply means a stew cooked in a special kind of pot with Mediterranean spices and preserved lemons. You don't need the pot, a casserole dish will do, but you do need the preserved lemons.
The recipe is not difficult and is really juist home cooking Moroccan style. While using a tagine (a cooking pot with a conical lid) makes it more authentic, it is by no means essential. The dish works very well cooked on top of the stove in a saucepan, if that is all you have.
Preserved lemons can be bought in the better deli's these days and you can also make your own. In the absence of either, you could use fresh lemon juice and the pared skin cut into strips but its nowhere near as good.
Moroccan cooks would use a whole chicken for this recipe cut into individual joints. You can do the same but I've simplified that a little by using chicken thigh joints instead.
For 4, you need:
9 chicken thigh joints, skinned but bone in
1/4 c cold stock or water
1 onion, chopped
2 crushed cloves of garlic
1/2 T of paprika
1/2 T of cumin
2 T chopped cilantro leaves
2T chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
2T olive oil
1 T clarified butter
l preserved lemon, chopped
2 potatoes, cut into wedges
2 tomatoes, skinned, seeded and chopped
salt and pepper to taste
Mix the stock, onion, garlic, paprika, cumin, saffron, cilantro, parsley, salt and pepper in a food-safe plastic bag. Add the chicken pieces and leave to marinate in the fridge for at least 3 hours and preferably overnight.
Drain the chicken and discard the marinade
In a heavy bottomed pot, saute the chicken in the oil and butter until browned. Add the potatoes, preserved lemon, tomatoes and enough water or stock to just over the chicken. Gently simmer with the lid on for a further 30 minutes, remove meat and vegetables and rapidly reduce the cooking juices by half.
Arrange the meat and vegetables on a warm serving dish and spoon sauce over them. Garnish with fresh cilantro, olives and fresh lemon wedges. Serve with rice or couscous and a green vegetable such as spinach.
We are on the Kasbah route also known as "The way of the thousand Kasbahs". There is a large palmery here which produces three varieties of dates. These dates thrive here...they love their "heads in the sun, feet in the water". The houses( kasbahs) are interesting since many are in poor shape due to the winds and rains that time has taken on them over the years. These kasbahs are made of mud and hay and can only hold up for so long...they are then rebuilt . Many that we see are situated on an Oasis. Amazing scenery and so many interesting facts regarding not only this area but everything we've seen so far.
We arrive at our Kasbah in Erfoud. Another Moroccan spectacular complete with camels!
Time to pack up a small overnite bag for our camping trip and a good nights sleep!
www.Kasbah Xaluc Maadid