The Art and Joy of the Tajine

Cooking is all about people. Food is maybe the only universal thing that really has the power to bring everyone together. No matter what culture, everywhere around the world, people get together to eat. (Guy Fieri)

Cooking is all about the people for me, and learning about the places I’m visiting. As much as a bath house expresses the culture of a place, so too does the food.

On the last day of our incredible Moroccan trip, Aiyana and I attended a cooking class at an old farm house outside of the city surrounded by lushly blooming orange groves. From our days of hustle and bustle and busy cities, this was the perfect way to achieve a serene exit. After all, skin can only take so many hammam scrubs within a week.

Loving to cook, being addicted to kitchen stores, and having lived in the Middle East for 13 years, one would think I had cooking with a tajine down to an art. To be truthful, the idea of cooking with a tajine terrified me. Was it safe to put on top of the stovetop, really? What ingredients do I use, how do I know when it is done, will I blow the house up? What is the magic of a tajine that creates some of the best tasting vegetables and chicken I have ever eaten?

The sky was bright blue, the orange blossoms were out and Chef Michel and Nezah greeted us in a wonderfully bespoke cooking school outside of the city. Chef Michael’s esprit de corps and Nezah’s patience made for a relaxing day – full of laughter and learning and eating. (I wish my daughter did not rebel against learning to cook. But there is hope as I did not learn until I was older and just fell right into the joy of cooking for friends.)

The group began by putting on blinders and testing our knowledge of spices through smell. It was interesting when our visual cues were set aside and we relied only on our noses.  I thought I would rock this – I did not. But Aiyana did! (no, I did not pout a little at all) 

Aiyana and I claimed our work station:

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we chopped and onions (interesting how ours cooked into different colors):

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marinated our chicken and then put it in the tajine to cook:

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learned to make Moroccan bread:

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and salads:

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while various cats, dogs and chickens sauntered around, checking on our progress.

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At the end of the cooking class, we sat down as a group and broke bread over a typical Moroccan meal we had created using the tajine, which remained intact and produced the most tender of chicken dishes I have had in a long time.

No magic involved – just simple heat from the fire, a clay funnel that created steam, and spices. And I no longer fear the tajine.

We left with the recipes for the dishes we had created in hand so that during the winter months in the Netherlands we can recreate at home a meal that captured the blue skies, bright sun, spices, colors and laughter of our trip.

For me, cooking is an extension of love. (Hedda Sterne)

Recommendations:

When looking for a cooking class that best suits your needs and style, ask yourself the following:

  • Do  you want to spend all day cooking? Do you want the class to last only a couple of hours? The number of dishes/courses prepared will determine the amount of time you spend cooking.
  • Do you want to go to the market and visit a spice souk to learn about local spices before you cook? This will add to the length of your day if you wish to do this.
  • Do you want a private session, or do you want to meet new people and sign up for a group class?
  • Do you want to get picked up, or do you want find your own way to the class? We were picked up and then dropped off at the airport, which made our day even more relaxing and enjoyable, knowing that we did not have to arrange for transportation.

When in Marakesh, we highly recommend Faim d’Espices for their farmhouse location, cheerful and easy approach to cooking, as well as their attention to details such as transportation, welcoming mint tea, and the ability to also book a hammam experience after eating a delicious meal.

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