One of the highlights of my trip to Morocco last month was without a doubt the cooking workshop at La Maison Arabe Ateliers de Cuisine. I had been dreaming for years to visit Marrakesh, so once there I wanted to totally immerse myself in the Moroccan culture and learn as much as possible about their culinary traditions.
La Maison Arabe is a 5 star boutique hotel situated in the medina, with three restaurants, swimming pool and traditional hammam (that I would love to try next time I’m in Marrakesh)! They have two cooking schools: one inside the hotel and a newer one in a country resort called Private Gardens, 15′ drive from the medina. That’s where I went for my workshop in Moroccan cuisine.
Before the class we participated in a tea ceremony: mint tea was brewed and served in the traditional Moroccan way.
We were shown how Moroccan bread is made in a wood-fired oven. The bread was absolutely amazing, it reminded me of Italian focaccia eaten straight out of the oven!
The Atelier de Cuisine at La Maison Arabe is one of the best culinary schools in Marrakesh. The workshops are conducted by a dada (traditional Moroccan cook) or a chef from their Moroccan restaurant, alongside a translator (Arabic/English/French).
Before the start of the workshop though, we had an introduction to Moroccan cuisine, which demystified a few misconceptions about their dishes. For example, did you know that it takes about two hours to cook couscous? You probably thought, as I did, that couscous was a quick dish: just pour some of it in a saucepan with boiling water and cook it for five minutes. On the contrary couscous requires a long time to be prepared and for this reason it’s considered a Friday meal (a bit like our Sunday lunch: something you make only once a week on a special day).
Couscous is first soaked for 15′-20′ in room temperature water and rubbed with the hands to break the lumps and make it fluffy. The couscous is steamed for about 25′, then more water is added and steamed again. Sometimes it can be steamed up to three times. The vegetables are cooked in stock at the same time (usually the bottom saucepan is used to cook the veggies while the steamer pan on top is used for the couscous).
While couscous is the Friday dish, the tagine is the everyday meal for the majority of people. A tagine is a historically Berber dish, named after the type of clay pot in which it is cooked. The pot consists of two parts: a base unit that is flat and circular with low sides and a large cone-shaped cover that sits on the base during cooking.
We used the tagine during the cooking workshop to make Chicken Tagine with Preserved Lemon, Olives and Saffron.
We also learnt how to make two Moroccan salads: Zalouk with aubergines and tomatoes and Taktuka with green peppers and tomatoes.
I loved the workshop and cooking in the kitchen which was large, beautifully decorated and with modern equipment. Every student had its own cooking station with two stoves, a sink, a chopping board and the best knives I’ve ever used.
Throughout the class the dada and two kitchen assistants were on hand to give us advise on how to chop vegetables and chicken, our how to use the tagine, or how to decorate the plates.
After the cooking, we gathered around the dada‘s kitchen counter to learn how to make ghoribas, coconut and orange cookies (I will share the recipe on my blog soon!). We also had a short lesson about Moroccan spices and danced to Moroccan music!
Then we all had lunch together in the garden, where the table had been set with the delicious tagines and salads.
For dessert we had the traditional Milk Pastilla.
Before leaving La Maison Arabe Private Gardens to head back to the city we received a goodie bag with a tagine and recipes of all the dishes made during the workshop.
I would recommend this workshop to anyone who loves cooking. It’s also a great activity for families travelling with children to do together. For me it was an amazing experience and I learnt a lot about Moroccan cuisine!
Disclaimer: I was invited by La Maison Arabe to attend the cooking workshop. All opinions are my own.