The world of spices
Making a dish is not easy or complicated, but it requires a recipe, a good technique and especially spices. A good Moroccan dish that respects itself consists of 90% of spices.
A harmony of colors that punctuate our dishes and awaken our taste buds.
What is the origin of spices?
There was a time when spices were as rare and expensive as gold. Arabs, Venetians, Portuguese, Dutch, all wanted to control the Indian road and dominate the fruitful trade of spices. Coming from distant countries and therefore rare, expensive but also mysterious, these plants easy to transport have quickly become the symbol of a luxury of course essential.
In ancient times, in Mesopotamia, Assyrians and Babylonians already used spices in food, medicine and perfumes. The trade in spices was then equally important to the one of gold or precious stones. The Egyptians also used spices to embalm the dead, make perfumes and ointments.
It was the Arab traders who first brought spices from China and India to the West. Allied with the Venetians, they build a powerful navy that assures them an influential role in the Mediterranean.
Do the spices come from the same part of the plant?
No, there are spice-seeds, like mustard, juniper or sesame, but cinnamon is a bark, clove a flower bud, saffron a stigma, pepper a fruit, and ginger a rhizome, this underground part of a plant at the junction of stems and roots. Sometimes poured in the category of aromatics, with the other plants with perfumes, the spices are rebellious to the classification.
A wide variety of spices is used in Moroccan cooking to create rich, flavorful sauces and zesty (but not too spicy) side dishes and salads.
Popular spices in Morocco
The plant that produces coriander seed is one of three plants that produce both an herb and spice. The herb produced by this plant is Cilantro. Coriander is popular in Indian and Mexican dishes and provides a warm earthiness to dishes along with citrusy undertones.
Cumin comes from the dried fruit of a plant in the parsley family. It is very aromatic and imparts a slightly bitter taste. It is used in Moroccan cooking to season eggs, some tagines and stews, grilled and roasted meats, beans, salads and more.
Paprika is a mild chile powder used frequently in South American, Hungarian and Spanish cuisine. Made from dried sweet red peppers, paprika is used in Moroccan cooking to season meat, cooked salads, bean dishes, some stews, and soups.
Cinnamon is a fragrant, sweet spice which comes from the bark of the cinnamon tree. Moroccan cuisine makes use of both ground cinnamon and pieces of the ground bark (quills, or sticks). Cinnamon is most common in Moroccan pastries and sweeter dishes, such as those that combine meat with fruit.
Ground black pepper comes from the small, dried berries of the Piper nigrum plant. It is most flavorful and pungent when it is freshly ground, but it can be stored a very long time.
Saffron threads are the cultivated stigmas from the saffron crocus flower. They are very fragrant and only a few threads are needed to impart a yellow color, wonderful aroma and distinctive taste to dishes. Saffron is known to be expensive, but it is much more affordable in Morocco and other Mediterranean countries than in North America.
Ras el hanout
Ras el hanout is a blend of aromatic ground spices that is easy to prepare and is used extensively in specialty Moroccan cuisine, sometimes rubbed on meat or fish, or stirred into couscous or rice, but typically not used for everyday cooking.
The name’s literal translation from Arabic is “head of the shop,” an expression which actually means “the best offering of the shop.
What can you cook with spices ?
Vegan Moroccan Harira
Harira is Morocco’s famous tomato and lentil soup, and it’s absolutely perfect for when you have the dreadful sniffles or just need a cozy pick-me-up
Bastilla is the Moroccan version of a meat pie. If you’re not into meat, you can substitute the filling with practically anything.
A Tajine is a rich stew of beef, chicken, or fish and most often includes vegetables or fruits. If you can’t find a traditional tajine you can substitute a slow cooker.
A traditional Moroccan dish with Arabic roots. It is a type of stew made from lentils, chicken, fenugreek seeds, and mixed spices. The stew is served on top of a bed of shredded crepes. It is full of flavour and has an interesting texture. It’s especially popular in the winter months and at celebrations.