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Eating in Morocco, Part 2: The Cheap Stuff

14 Jul

Abandoned fruit... for the taking?

I have just over a week left in Morocco, and I feel like I’ve run the gamut of restaurant types. I’ve eaten everywhere from a stand in the middle of a crazy, smoky square in Marrakesh to restaurants in opulent old houses that suddenly appears at the end of a dark alley in the medina of Fez. I’ve also

Pistachio nougat

eaten at all the in between places—restaurants in gas stations, which is apparently a big thing, and the little places scattered across the town I’m in. I’ve found that my most memorable meals have come at the extremes of the spectrum. Donuts fried in front of you at a sweet stand, sprinkled with sugar and eaten standing up in a split second. Tables groaning under plate upon plate of different vegetables, and that’s just the first course. The stuff in between tends to blend together into one big tagine. That’s not to say that you can’t get great food at the mid-range restaurants, it’s just harder to tell if the lemon chicken tagine is going to be sublime or just mediocre.

Super decadent chebakia

Unusually, these sweets were actually behind glass!

Let’s start with the cheap stuff. We’ve walked through a whole bunch of medinas (the old section of Moroccan cities) at this point, and every time we pass a food stall (usually either dried fruits or sweets), I crane my neck and sometimes succumb to the temptation to dig in. In Marrakesh there were carts everywhere selling different kinds of nut paste/nougat thing. I got some pistachio, which was delicious—very sweet, I think sweetened with honey, but the pistachio flavor shined. In all the medinas you’ll also find pyramids of honey-soaked sweets, often covered in flies and bees. The most ridiculously indulgent (in the best way possible) are the chebakia, made from dough that is deep fried and then doused in honey and orange blossom water. Also delicious are little envelopes of pastry, coated in honey, filled with almond or peanut

Almost like a peanut butter sandwich...

paste. And while we’re on the topic of peanuts, one of my friends bought what she described as a “Moroccan whoopee pie” from a vendor in the Fez medina. It was two puffy almond-meal cakes sandwiched around a peanut butter filling—utterly delicious, and an excellent breakfast. Freshly squeezed orange juice also abounds in markets, but I was drawn instead to the tea stalls in Jma al Fna in Marrakesh. Instead of the ubiquitous Moroccan mint tea, this was a heavily spiced cinnamon—I had to buy some, it was so delicious. Everything you want American chai to be.

And I almost forgot all the fruit! Watermelon cut off the “tasting melon” at a souk and given to us for free with the toast “to your health.” Piles of dried dates and figs in every market you come across. Being forced to eat prickly pear after prickly pear from a cart before finally convincing the owner that we actually want to buy some to go. I may be lacking for fruit on campus, but there’s certainly tons to be found on the streets.

Dates, dates, dates

But on to the real food. We had dinner one night in Jma al Fna, the square in Marrakesh that turns into a crazy, smoke-filled riot of the senses at night. Food stalls crop up out of nowhere starting around five o’clock. Our group of ten sat down at one and I think just ordered everything on the menu… the food just kept coming, long after we had eaten our fill. It seemed pretty typical street

I'm going vegetarian when I get home...

food—lots of skewers of meat, though the spicy red sauce we requested was an excellent accompaniment, and one of the few actually spicy things I’ve encountered in Morocco. The price tag, however, was close to those at upscale restaurants outside Marrakesh, a sad sign that Jma al Fna is more a tourist than local attraction at this point. Cheap food does abound, however. At a souk in Azrou a couple days later I finally tried a merguez sausage sandwich for about a buck—though tasty, I found the flavor a little too distinctive for my taste. Distinctive of what, I could not tell you… perhaps too lamb-y, it just wasn’t my favorite. The brochette (kebab) at the same stall were extremely fatty, salty, and delicious, however. I’m going to have to stop here because I am off tomorrow morning on my next culinary adventure, to an oasis in the Sahara. Who knows what they eat out there! So you will have to hold on just a little longer for tales of opulent lunches that left us practically comatose.

Merguez sandwich in the perfect setting, a souk (photo by David Wong)

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Jalapeno Poppers

4 May

Happy Cinco de Mayo friends!

In honor of my third favorite holiday Cinco de Mayo I am posting a recipe for jalapeno cream cheese bites, which are sure to go well with that large margarita I trust everyone will be consuming tomorrow.  These may not technically be jalapeno poppers (a google search comes up with more of the breaded and fried variety), but they are delicious nonetheless.  I’m not a huge spice person, but I bought jalapenos for another recipe and was left with lots of extra jalapenos to use up.  Just two common ingredients later and I was ready to make these, which took about 10 minutes to put together and 5 to devour with the help of my spice-loving roommate.  I found that the spice-level varied from popper-to-popper (what a phrase), which I think had to do with how much of the membrane you leave in each one.  No matter how spicy each was though, they were all delicious, as are most things stuffed with cream cheese and wrapped in bacon.  They would make a great quick appetizer for a party or Mexican-themed gathering!

Jalapeno Poppers/Cream Cheese Bites

Ingredients:
As many jalapenos as you want
Cream cheese (I used onion and chive)
Bacon

Preheat oven to 375.  Cut jalapenos in half, lengthwise, and remove the seeds and white membrane with a spoon.  If you like really spicy things leave a little of the membrane in.  Smear each half with cream cheese, then wrap in a strip of bacon (about 1/3 slice each).  Secure with a toothpick for easier eating.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, until bacon is brown and crispy and jalapenos are slightly charred.

Christmas with the Spices

27 Dec

Our Christmas cookies!

Hello everyone, we hope you’ve all been having an excellent Christmas! We’ve had a rather adventurous few days, filled with lots of eating of course.

Roxie shows off her piping skills

As Roxie has said, we were delayed in Washington by two days, and so decided to make Christmas cookies to fill up the time. We realized we hadn’t done this in years, as we’re always traveling for Christmas—it was fun, but hard work! We followed the instructions put up by the Pioneer Woman (using Baked at 350’s cookie recipe but an egg white royal icing recipe). Of course, we didn’t have all the fancy equipment she did… but spoons and forks did almost as well as squirt bottles and toothpicks, though our free-form stars were a little wonky.

The wigilia table

We wrapped up the cookies to bring over to England, and finally made it on Christmas Eve, just in time for the traditional wigilia dinner at our aunt’s house. This is the big Polish fish dinner that is eaten on Christmas Eve (after opening presents).  Traditionally the wigilia is about 10 courses with 12 or 13 types of fish, which differs by family, according to our uncle Tony.  But we do a slightly abridged version, with 6

The borscht with a hard boiled egg

courses and 4 types of fish in total, by our count at least.  Basically it means we get two Christmas dinners… one Polish one on Christmas Eve, and one traditional English one on Christmas Day! The wigilia starts with the singing of Silent Night in three languages—the original German, English, and Polish. We all thought we might have gotten a little better at the Polish over the years, but it is a very difficult language to pronounce, and we basically rely on our uncle and cousin to carry that verse. The first course is a borscht soup (a brightly colored beetroot soup), traditionally with hard boiled egg or sour cream. Then we moved on to smoked eel—a new addition this year, and extremely tasty. Our aunt had made her own horseradish to go with it, which was proclaimed excellent by those of us who enjoy horseradish (I do not, but Roxie slathered it on everything). The next course is the pickled herring, cucumbers, and buckwheat. Not exactly something I eat every day, and I remember finding it pretty weird

Two very fat carp!

the first time I had it, but I’ve come to really enjoy the herring, and the cucumbers in dill are excellent accompaniment. The next course is thestar of the show—stuffed carp, and this year we had two! I’m still unconvinced by carp as a fish—it definitely has a very distinctive flavor, and it is basically impossible to get a piece without bones in it—but the stuffing is delicious. And if that isn’t enough, we had only a short break before the muck was

The Stilton (and the controversial Stilton spoon)

brought out! (Can’t guarantee that that is the correct spelling, but that is definitely how it is pronounced.) This is a poppy seed mixture with almonds (I think) and lots and lots of alcohol. It’s served alongside dried fruit also stewed in alcohol (and all served with port, of course). Last but not least was the huge wheel of Stilton (accompanied by a lively debate over the correct way to slice or scoop Stilton)—a course I was rather relieved to opt out of due to my hatred of bleu cheese, I was so full after all that food!

Can you pronounce those Polish words?

But then of course we were at it again the next day—and this time our family had to do the cooking! Our Christmas Day dinner is a little more casual though, especially as we had three boisterous children joining us. We cook almost the same exact meal as we do for Thanksgiving—substituting kale for sweet potatoes this time, though. And the dessert, of course, is the traditional Christmas pudding with brandy butter, though now that Roxie and I are no longer the youngest we don’t get the pound coins hidden in it anymore!  All in all, we’ve had an excellent few days and are looking forward to some more good British eating to come.

Maximilian enjoyed his brussel sprouts