Somehow I managed to lose 4 lbs while on vacation. This miracle can probably be explained by a number of factors: 1) walking instead of sitting all day (plus, Fes is quite hilly), 2) visiting Morocco during Ramadan sometimes made getting a meal at mid-day hard to achieve, 3) also, on account of Ramadan, my weekly consumption of craft cocktails was pretty much non-existent.
But, there was one day when I definitely didn’t achieve a caloric deficit – when I did my cooking class at Riad Anata. Traveling solo, I had the benefit of being able to have 4 hours of one-on-one time with Chef Samira and got to ask her ALL of my many questions.
Riad Anata was an absolutely stunning little hotel, expertly curated by Belgian owner Valérie Janczewski. Each room is comprised of lovely objets from Valérie’s travels worldwide, with plenty of Moroccan treasures mixed in, like the classic slippers pictured above.
Upon arrival, I was welcomed with a fresh pot of Moroccan mint tea and cookies.
Once Chef Samira arrived, we started the day together by setting a menu for the four-course affair. We decided on a light salad, hearty Harira soup, lamb tagine with preserved lemons and olives and a refreshing dessert of melon with mint.
Harira soup is made year-round but is traditionally served at the breaking of fast every night during Ramadan. The soup is a hearty vegetable soup with chickpeas, lentils and vermicelli noodles with a tomato base.
With our menu set, we ventured out into the souks of Fes to source our ingredients. Morocco has a phenomenal climate for agriculture and the cornucopia of produce at the market is a testament to that. Crates of oranges, peaches, cherries, figs, beans, peppers, and onions are just some of the fruits and vegetables on offer. While shopping in the souks could easily overwhelm the uninitiated, Samira was clearly a seasoned veteran. She rattled off the list of items we would need for our meal in rapid-fire succession.
As we were ordering our produce, Samira pointed out the fresh chickens being sold at the stall next to us. When I looked over, I realized that “fresh” meant still flapping. I watched as the butcher put a basket on the scale on the counter and then plopped in a live chicken, still clucking, to calculate the weight. Once the customer agreed to the size and price, well…winner, winner, chicken dinner.
Back at the Riad, we ventured up to the rooftop where the small but streamlined kitchen awaited us. Riad Anata has a stunning terrace with both dining and lounge areas that offer beautiful skyline views of Fes.
We set about chopping and peeling our vegetables for all elements of our meal. I must admit, I wasn’t ask to do anything too taxing, which was a welcome relief given that the temperature was a steamy 34 degrees Celsius that day. I did do some of my finest peeling work however.
Mostly, I watched Samira in action as she glided around the kitchen effortlessly, working on elements for the soup, tagine and salad simultaneously. As she worked, I asked her to walk me through the recipes for each component and snapped photos along the way.
Samira used stovetop pressure cookers, like this one, to expedite the cooking process for both the Harira and the lamb tagine.
Really, for the hands-on effort for the lamb tagine is pretty much all up front. After a little light chopping, the only ingredient you need is a little patience.
You could easily swap out beans for your preferred vegetable of choice, mixed root vegetables could work well, you’d just want to put them in at the same time as the lamb to ensure they cooked through.
The finished product was an impossible moist and tender hunk of lamb that slid easily off the bone with the slightest nudge of the fork. Use preserved lemon slices sparingly, depending on how much acid your palate prefers. Opt for your favourite olives to add a nice touch of salinity.
As Samira was fasting for Ramadan, I was on my own when it came to consuming the four-course feast. I am confident none of the remaining portions went to waste after sundown – with the breaking of fast.
It was definitely one of my favourite meals while in Morocco. I loved doing the cooking class at Riad Anata because it meant I was coming home with a practical souvenir – the joy of Moroccan cooking. I trust my friends will cherish it more than a postcard.
If you’re planning to visit Morocco and are looking to take part in this immersive learning experience at Riad Anata, you can learn more about the experience and how to book at: http://www.riad-anata.com/cooking-class/.
Add lamb, onion, garlic, tomato, spices, olive oil and tied bunch of cilantro to pressure cooker. Put on high heat and cover for 10 minutes.
Peel and snap green beams. Let sit in cold water until ready to use.
Release pressure and remove lid. Mash garlic with wooden spoon. If lamb is cooked, remove from pot and let sit in tagine. If it’s not quite ready, return it to pot for remaining cook time.