What I Learned In A Moroccan Cooking Class & A Recipe For Something Entirely Different

Learning to cook may be the best souvenir you can take home from your travels.

Luckily for me, just about every restaurant and riad in Marrakech offered some sort of cooking class to learn the local cuisine. There was everything from a 5 hour class that included a trip to the souk with the chef to buy the ingredients to classes specifically for Moroccan pastries. I had looked into a number of these classes knowing that eventually I'd want to take one. As it turned out, I ended up stopping by a colorful riad near where we were staying and ended up taking their dinner class that evening. 

It was just so colorful I couldn't help but wander in the door to check it out

It was just so colorful I couldn't help but wander in the door to check it out

Since Aurora (2 years old at the time) had taken a good nap that day, I decided to take her along with me. Our friend Antonio had been working to help "Roar" season her food correctly by holding the spices up high to sprinkle them on her food and it had her very interested in cooking (yay!). Let's be realistic, she wasn't super helpful in the chopping part but she absolutely nailed the part where we got to shovel spices onto our dish. Ever since this class she has been in the kitchen "helping" every time I make something and even enjoys watching cooking videos on YouTube. For me that makes our little experience totally worth it.

The class was basically a semi-walk through of how to make our dish then we got to eat it for dinner with a special guest of our choosing (in my case Johnny). I say "semi-walk through" because while we did all get to do the chopping and seasoning of our sweet and savory lamb tagines, we were not really a huge part of cooking them.

All I know is that: 

1. They were cooked in a tagine (a conical clay cooking device used in Moroccan cooking), over a fire for a certain amount of time. 

2. Some water and preserved lemons were added. 

3. It was cooked a while longer. How long? No idea. 

Even though I didn't get too many specifics, the cooking style really appealed to me, we just chopped the meat and vegetables, piled them up in the tagine, scooped some spices on top then tossed on some olive oil and raisins before putting on the lid and throwing it over the fire to cook for a while. It seemed like a more rustic version of a crock pot meal (which in my life is totally do-able). 

Our chef/teacher Adil was a lot of fun and very helpful in answering our questions about the spices. Did you know that if you're feeling under the weather the Moroccan cure all is to take a spoonful of cumin mixed in a little cup of hot water? Apparently it fixes just about anything that ails you.

We did the class with three wonderful young ladies who were visiting from Chicago and very much enjoyed talking to them while our meal cooked. They loved chatting with Aurora and were even good sports and wore sparkly cowboy hats that our teacher brought out for her to play with.

It's interesting, while we were in Morocco we ended up having three meals with people that we had only just met. Its a cool thing that happens when you are in a foreign place that probably wouldn't happen when at home. I loved that having something so broad (like speaking the same language) in common was enough to render an invitation for eating together and having a conversation. 

When the meal was finished (after a seemingly long but entirely undefined amount of time) it was excellent! Unfortunately, it was dark outside and we couldn't get any pictures. Ha! So this is looking a bit dire and I bet you're wondering how I'm going to share a recipe with no recipe and no pictures? 

Instead of consulting Google and finding a similar recipe I thought that maybe I'd just share a recipe for something simple, flavorful, cooked in a similar style and definitely my favorite traditional Moroccan dish, a Chicken Tajine with Lemon and Olives. 

A chicken and olive tagine with preserved lemons from one of our favorite spots in Marrakech

A chicken and olive tagine with preserved lemons from one of our favorite spots in Marrakech

RECIPE: Djej M’Chernel 

Chicken With Olives and Lemon

  • 1/2 lemon, thinly sliced
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 chicken breasts or thighs with skin
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups yellow onions, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • pinch of turmeric
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 3/4 cup pitted green olives
  • 1 preserved lemon, diced (optional, but so tasty)
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh parsley, minced

I know that seems like a ton of spices...it is. One reason I love Moroccan food is that it is heavily spiced but not "spicy" (like hot spicy). This dish is traditionally made in a clay tagine but since I'm guessing most of you don't have one of those, this recipe has been adapted for a saute pan. Win!

Pat the chicken breasts/thighs dry with a paper towel. Set aside. Heat a large saute pan with a lid over medium/high heat. Add the lemon slices and cook until slices are caramelized. About 3 minutes. Remove the lemon slices and set aside. Heat 1 Tablespoon of olive oil over medium high heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the chicken breast/skin side down. Cook for 3- 5 minutes until chicken is browned. If chicken releases easily from the pan, it's ready to turn. Turn chicken and cook until remaining side is browned. Remove chicken to a plate and set aside. Add remaining 1 Tablespoon of olive oil to the pan. Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are soft and translucent - about 7 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, paprika, cumin and turmeric, cinnamon and pepper. Stir for about 1 minute. Add the water. Stir, scraping up the brown bits on the pan. Add the chicken pieces back to the pan. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Check the chicken for doneness. Remove the lid and add the olives, preserved lemon and fresh lemon juice. Stir to combine. Serve over couscous or rice. Garnish with the lemon slices and fresh parsley.