Morocco Day II - Olive Asiago Quick Bread
MOROCCO DAY II
My favorite way to find an inspiration for a recipe is though traveling. New flavors. New ideas. New combinations. When we went to Morocco in May 2015, it was a sensory overload. Beginning to end.
On our second day in Morocco, and first full day, we woke up early because I scheduled a cooking class for us at Café Clock. It’s a neat café, primarily for travelers and ex-pats, with live music and several floors to lounge. We went down for breakfast at our riad, and we were presented with various freshly made breads and jams. Two of each: fried dough, fried dough stuffed with onions, rolls, cookies, some sort of pound cake, a grain bread. With honey, three jams, butter, yogurt spread, coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice.
And we were off. We navigated to Bab Boujiloud, the blue gate signifying the beginning of the Medina in Fez. Once we reached Café Clock, we met up with a young married couple from Portland, Oregon who were living in Germany for the year and a professor from Vancouver who composed art installations. We chatted and ordered cappuccinos or lassies. We were provided with a menu with options of what to cook. We decided on Harira, a traditional Moroccan soup, Tagine Bit’mer with l’berkok, a lamb tagine with dates and prunes. For dessert we chose Ghriba d ‘zsel, fassi macaroons made with semolina flour and coconut. We continued to chat and learn about each other’s travels. Truly, one of my favorite aspect of traveling is meeting others and learning of their favorite places.
Our cooking teacher then took us to the Medina. She explained the significance of each ingredients as we visited different stands to pick up vegetables, lamb, bread, prunes. She told us about Moroccan culture. How Moroccans eat heavily in the winter. They love their bread, and said there is no such thing as saying “you eat too much.”
She told us Moroccans prize saffron and how they use every part of the animal. Animals are treated with great respect as they don’t allow animals see the others get slaughtered. Argon oil cures all. The largest meal of the day is lunch, and families typically serve leftovers for dinner. The black olives are eaten at breakfast and the cured olives for later in the day. Bread baking is a noble profession. At dried fruit stands, the least expensive dates are in the back by the owner.
The medina itself can be overwhelming, as every sense is stimulated. The conflicting scents, the vibrant colors, the bustling sounds. It’s a lot to take in. Emaciated stray cats. Donkeys carrying loads of goods.
Chickens in coups, fresh vegetables on the ground. Freshly baked bread and fried pastries were seemingly everywhere.
Will brought one pair of jeans, and at one point I had to push him out of the way, so he wouldn’t get smacked with a newly slaughtered pig passing by in a wheel barrow. At times, everything in such a close proximity seemed unsanitary. And yet the flow of the maze-like medina has been going on for hundreds of thousands of years. It's remarkable. Back in the kitchen, we started to cook.
We roasted peppers over an open fire, chopped parsley and cilantro, chopped vegetables with loads of onions for the top of the tagine.
For the roasted pepper salad with the fire roasted peppers, we removed the char and used olive oil, garlic, white wine vinegar, preserved lemons, salt, pepper, cumin, and chili powder. For the soup, we used onion, garlic, chickpeas, vermicelli noodles, tomato paste, parsley, ginger, salt, pepper, cornstarch, turmeric, olive oil, and water. For the cookies we used coconut finely grated fine semolina, eggs, powdered sugar, baking powder, orange flower water, and vegetable oil.
For the lamb: stewed prunes in boiling water, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. For the marinade: olive oil, crushed garlic, ginger, herbs, turmeric, saffron, salt, and pepper. We proceed to marinate the lamb in a pressure cooker. We cooked it for roughly two hours while chatting about Moroccan culture.
Our teacher told us she married an artist for love, which rare but slowly become more accepted. It was interesting to hear how women have more rights today, yet the Muslim culture is still traditional. We then ate our multi-course meal we prepared. My takeaway is lots of fresh herbs and loads of olive oil. Delicious.
After our meal, Will and I went back out to tackle the Medina. I’ve heard so many stories of getting lost, so we braced ourselves for the overwhelming, winding streets. We passed prayer baths, stalls of leather, jewelry, ceramics, scarves, shoes. At 5 p.m. a loud speaker came on for prayer. Shops briefly closed for about five minutes, but then reopened.
A man tried to persuade us to see the tanneries. No no no. Will ignored him. But, I felt an inherent trust. Albeit incredibly hesitant, I finally convinced Will to follow him up a staircase to view the tanneries. We were handed fresh mint, since the scent would be pungent. And it was. So strong. Past the leather goods for sale, we saw a vast open square with hundreds upon hundreds of barrels of natural dyes to make leather from hide. Reds, blues from indigo, and the most prized, yellow for saffron. I have the man a tip for showing us, but didn’t buy his leather products. Will admitted he was glad we followed.
Then it started to rain. We decided to find a café for mint tea until it passed. As it proceeded to really pour, we stopped in a nearby cafe, the Ruined Garden. It turned out to be such a hidden gem. We sat by a window outside, but covered and overlooking a truly unruly garden.
Our tea came and it really started to pour. The garden flooded and the thunderstorm caused the power to go out. They started a toasty fire, and Will and I settled on camping out. I wrote, Will read. Once the electricity came back on two hours later, we ordered some food. We ordered two bowls of the Bissara—a broad bean soup with garlic and olive oil. And a four tapas plate to share: popcorn makuda (fried potato balls with a tomato sauce to dip), smoked aubergine and cheese with preserved lemon jam, caliente (warm chickpea pancake with roasted tomato). We chatted and munched and laughed.
Once the rain subsided, we ventured back out while it drizzled. We walked through the Medina and winded our way back to Ryad Alya. They asked us if we wanted tea, and we’ve become accustomed to always say yes. We sat in the courtyard and sipped our Moroccan mint sweet tea, and just took it all in. The tea is so refreshing and has become symbolic at this point. It’s relaxing. A gesture of hospitality. We headed back up to what seemed like a comically lavish honeymoon suite—it was so overly grandiose. Surrounded by blue tiles. I felt so at ease.
When I try to recreate the flavors and the smells and the sense of that first full day, it’s filled with fresh herbs and warming flavors. It's filled with olives, which we had with breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and everywhere in between. And most notably, it's filled with bread.
Every different type of bread. It's a staple in the Moroccan diet. Khobz (baked in a large oven), batbout (cooked stove top), aghrir (made with semolina, filled with small air bubbles), msemen (similar to crepes), harcha (similar to corn bread).
Scenes in Morocco can feel frenetic, but the busied environment, the constant bustling, often have a deeper meaning than the initial appearance. The scents are of jasmine oils, spices, and livestock. The conflicting smells can feel overwhelming, but there is one prevailing scent: freshly baked bread. In Morocco, being a baker is honorable. Essentially, it equates to ensuring a family will be well fed since a baker is a guaranteed provider. Bread in Morocco is sacred. It’s wholly. In fact, cutting bread with a knife in Morocco is forbidden since it’s deemed a violent act. I recall being in shock when we were in Morocco at the abundance of bread. It was all encompassing. At every other stand on the street. Young girls paying coins to bring bread home. I was fascinated by the traditions and history, but moreover the symbolism that baking bread evokes. I want to learn and implement lessons from our travels. However, without context or a family history of the ritual, today bread baking can seem daunting and laborious. It doesn't have to be. Enter: the quick bread. No kneading, rising, waiting. Quick bread is infinitely adaptable and still evokes a fresh baked loaf of bread. It's fast, it can be sweet or savory. I added olives. Because if I had another takeaway, it would be the olives. Although Morocco produces hundreds of kinds of olives, they're not widely known to export. It's a shame, because they are tremendously flavorful: salty and briny. I added green olives, since in Morocco, they are served later in the day and we were enjoying this bread with dinner. This bread is an ode to Morocco. It's my rendition of one of my favorite, and unexpected, memories.
OLIVE ASIAGO QUICK BREAD
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 ½ tsp. baking powder
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup milk, 2%
¼ cup olive oil
½ cup pitted green olives, chopped
½ cup asiago cheese, freshly grated
2 tbsp. honey
1 tsp. dried rosemary
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
Grease 9 by 5 loaf pan
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, rosemary, and salt
In a large bowl, stir together the eggs, milk and olive oil
Add the flour mixture and carefully fold in the dry ingredients until moistened
Add the olives, and fold just until the pieces are distributed and the dry ingredients are moistened.
Scrape the batter into the pan and spread evenly
Sprinkle asiago evenly on top
Drizzle honey evenly on top
Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes
Serve with olive oil for dipping or drizzle with more honey
*Recipe adapted from Merrill Stubbs, Food52 (2010)