Monday, April 26, 2010

Moroccan Inspiration

It all began when I stumbled upon a book called Tagine - Spicy stews from Morocco'. The exotic ingredients used in this books recipes immediately caught my attention. Dates, almonds pistachios, preserved lemons, apricots, saffron, pomegranates, honey...ummm...SOLD!
I took the book home and immediately started browsing through all of the recipes. It is in this book that I first learned about Ras el Hanout. Literally "top of the shop", Ras el Hanout is a spice blend that can contain more than 30 ingredients. For the moroccan souks (spice merchants) it is a point of honour to have the most sought after version of this blend. There are stories of these spice merchants creating custom blends of Ras el Hanout for special clients with ingredients that might include hashish and even Spanish Fly.

My quest for this exotic ingredient then began.I also would be needing a Tagine Pot, but of course!. Google here I come!
After hours and hours of research I ended up NOT buying a Tagine, but I did end up travelling to Morocco, and what an amazing lifetime experience this was.
I can proudly say that I contained myself from buying all that I saw, because it all was truly beautiful but way to big to bring back home. Humongous tagine pots beautifully handcrafted, incredible samovars, rugs, dishes, teapots,leather poufs, jewlery. The terra cotta tiles, light fixtures and lanterns, wall sconces and tropical plants made my heart beat faster. And the doors, oh my god, the doors!

We visited a cooperative of Berber women were ARGAN OIL was produced.I had never heard of Argan Oil before! Well let me tell you,it is the new "it" anti-aging product and it is being hailed as "liquid gold" by the New York Times. It comes form the nuts of the Argan tree which grows almost exclusively in Morocco. The oil is said to have restorative and age-defying effects. The production of Argan oil, entirely done by traditional methods is a lengthy process.
Each nut has to be cracked open by hand to remove the kernels and producing one litre of oil takes 20 hours of work!.
This I could not resist, and I did buy a couple of bottles to bring home. I later learned about Argan Oil craze and that it is sold for 30 dollars for a 2 fl oz by some companies like Eden Oil...yikes, I could have bought a couple more!

Berber woman cracking the nuts

My trip could not have been complete without visiting the Souk.The experience was overwhelming.I could not get enough of this place!

The 2 or so hours we had to visit it were certainly not enough to see it all!. The guide took us to a spice shop, I was not going to miss this one. Everyone in the tour group had heard my stories about the ras el hanout, and by this time I had gathered a couple of followers who wanted to come along to the spice shop to purchase this mystical spice blend.
The visit to the spice shop was an experience on its own, the merchant sat us on this room surrounded by shelves full of jars of all kinds of spices, herbs and who knows what else.
I had finally bought myself some Ras el Hanout, the original culprit of my moroccan obsession and perhaps the reason why I was there, in Morocco.
I bought a little bit more than ras el hanout: some 10 bags of slimming tea, fish spices, paprika, more argan oil, rose cream and some eucalyptus seeds. The vendor promised these would cure all sinus congestion and snoring. I don't snore, but I bought it anyway.

There were food vendors of all sorts, little shops that sold all kinds of olives marinated with delicious spices and chilli. The tour guide advised us not to buy any food from the streets, so I could only imagine how delicious they were. The preserved lemons looked incredible! Merchants with baskets of rose petals, tangerines and orange flowers filled the markets narrow corridors.

My trip to Morocco was an unforgettable experience and it certainly left me wanting more. I came back home with a heart full of inspiration, ideas and thousands of pictures to remind me of this enchanting magical place.