Morocco Day I - Moroccan-Spiced Carrot Hummus
MOROCCO DAY I
Will and I went to Morocco in May 2015. It was an adventure. A whirlwind, really. On May 22, I walked in Baltimore with a Master's from Johns Hopkins in Communications.
After the reception, we rented a rent a car to drive to JFK. We were taking Royal Air Morac—a questionable airline per online reviews. The fact that it was allegedly unreliable worked in our favor, since the flight was supposed to take off at 7:15 p.m., and it would be nearly impossible for us to make it. The flight ultimately took off around midnight.
We flew direct from New York to Morocco. Tough to believe a direct flight to Africa is a mere six hours. But it is. We then took a train from Casablanca to Fes. We intended to get some sort of lunch at the train station, but when we pulled up to the platform, there were clearly no options. We were in the dessert. The air on the train was stagnant and stuffy. Nonetheless, the scenery was stunning. I didn’t want to close my eyes to miss any of it. Men herding sheep, sunflower fields, mountains.
And then some desolate areas of extreme poverty. It looked as if they started to build new complexes of cement and clay, but they had been deserted for years. Dry areas. Boys playing soccer. And tents. Many abandoned buildings.
We traveled along coastal towns as well. The most surprising aspect was the technologically advanced infrastructure. Solar panels on the highway to light the street lamps. Far more energy progressive than the States. Will and I sat across from a young, married couple, and we both found it fascinating to observe their dynamic. She must have been 16 years old. He was likely ten years older. She wore the full head scarf and covered garb. They were modest, yet affectionate. He would graze her hand. He was clearly her protector. Constantly tending to her, ensuring she was comfortable, had water. They got up half way through and a father and son took their seats. They were also affectionate, head on shoulder, rubbing each other’s back. The father was eager to tell us his story. He spent 30 years in the Sahara Dessert in the Moroccan Air Force in the 70s. And a fair amount of time in the States. He was proud of his time in Houston and Hollywood. He loved the U.S. He loved all Americans. He wanted to invite us to his home for dinner, but he had an important appointment that evening. We chatted for a while before parting ways.
When we got to Fes, it was nearly 7 p.m. We took a taxi from the train station to Riad Alya—600 Dirham. We navigated our way through winding alleys, and finally found the riad.
When showed the concierge our reservation, they said they didn’t have it. Apparently our Expedia reservation didn’t register. The first of many miscommunications on our trip, we’d come to find. The comically hospitable man who ran the front of the house sat us down in the tiled, ceramic center.
We were assured we would be taken care of it. Continuously told not to worry. I was wary. It was our introduction to Fez, Morocco.
They served us sweet Moroccan mint tea and homemade cookies—two flakey sugar cookies, two macrons, and two almond sesame biscotti’s. They were delicious. Since we were staying in a different riad for the following two nights, I suggested they contact that riad to see if they had space. He constantly dismissed me, saying, “Madam, sit, enjoy the tea.” I told Will he had to advocate on our behalf, they were not responding to a woman. After finding space at a riad around the corner, they said they would arrange for us to have dinner with them that night. I agreed, deeming this our nicer dinner—a treat after a day of travel.
We sat for a decadent, multi-course meal at 9:30 p.m. There was no indication what we were having. We sat in the back at a private, beautiful table with a couch. We downed water, could not get enough. This was our first meal in Morocco—and it certainly set the bar high.
We had a personal server who spoke little English, but was so very sweet. We started with a small plate of pickled vegetables, and then a massive pot of soup, ladled into our individual bowls.
But, the server left the pot, which yielded us four more bowls of soup. I believe it was Haira soup—made of pureed vegetables, rice, and large chickpeas in a warming broth. And a round load of warm homemade bread. We were served cured green olives and spicy olives. And honey cake! Which seemed random at the time, but apparently quite traditional. It was sweet, crunch, fried, and rich tied in small knots. Then, was my absolute favorite. The soup was cleared, and four vegetable dishes were presented: pureed red and green peppers in spices and olive oil, roasted red and green peppers in spices and olive oil. String beans in spices, tomatoes, and loads of olive oil, and finely chopped cauliflower in spices and olive oil.
For the main course, we had chicken tangine with preserved lemon rinds and olives. The hot tangine sizzled as they were placed in front of us. Once the top was lifted, the crispy chicken skin topped with melted onions sizzled with cumin, salt, pepper, and saffron. Amazing. The chicken tasted fresh and fell off the bone.
For dessert we had homemade flan and more sweet mint tea. We felt like we were royalty. A seated two hour meal. It was incredible.
The spices in the mixed vegetable tapas were remarkable. I recreated the spices and warming essence of these Moroccan dishes. The deeply roasted carrots and garlic yielded such a fantastic, familiar taste when pureed into a hummus. I wasn't shy with olive oil, since I found they used it liberally in Morocco. I was impressed with how much the spices and olive oil reminded me of that first meal in Morocco. It was so memorable. Perhaps because of the long travel, perhaps because we were both drained, but that initial meal in Fez had an impact on us—and introduced us to the culture. I felt that I recreated this feeling in a way I could share.
MOROCCAN-SPICED CARROT HUMMUS
1 lb. carrots, peeled and chopped into ½-inch rounds
8 whole cloves of garlic
¾ cup olive oil, divided
1 16 oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
¼ cup tahini
1 lemon, juiced
¼ cup water
½ tsp. cumin
½ tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. smoked paprika
½ tsp. turmeric
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees
Toss the chopped carrots, garlic cloves, and spices with 1/2 cup of olive oil
Scatter evenly on a baking sheet and roast in the oven until the carrots are tender and lightly browned, 20 to 25 minutes
In the bowl of a high speed blender, blend roasted carrots and garlic
Rinse chickpeas, remove skins of the chickpeas and dry well
Mix in chickpeas, tahini, 1/4 cup olive oil and lemon juice
Puree and drizzle the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil through the top opening with the motor running
To thin, add 1/4 cup water, more if needed
Whirl until very smooth, scraping the sides as necessary
Taste and add more salt and pepper as needed
Continue to puree until very smooth
*Recipe adapted from Andrea Bemis, The Kitchn (2014)