One of the things I really enjoyed during my stay in Marrakech was the cooking school at La Maison Arabe We were a group of around 10 people, starting at 10am in the morning and going on until about half past four.
For MAD600 (£47) we got to experience quite a lot of things including making our own lunch. We were first given a sit down, welcomed with water and other things before being given a run down of the history of Moroccan cuisine. I had no idea that the food was a fusion between Burba, Arab, Moorish and Jewish restaurants cuisines. I noticed though that the French didn’t seem to influence the traditional cooking so much although you’ll find many french restaurants dotted around town.
We moved onto the kitchen where we were introduced to our workstations – admittedly with some of the preparation already done out of the way – spices measured out and some of our starting ingredients ready to go.
We were then walked over to the high table where the traditional bread found everywhere was prepared for us. We all had a go at kneading the dough as well that we would later consume as part of our meal. Unlike many of the French style breads, Moroccan bread is a lot denser, without so much of the crunchy crust you might find on a toasted sourdough, or the crispness of the baguette. Nevertheless it’s an important part of the meal.
We then took a walk out to see a local bakery, that was, literally right around the corner. I was surprised by how low temperature the oven was. I was expecting something a lot more intense but even walking in, the bakery didn’t seem like it was particularly hot.
After the visit to the bakery, and told a little bit about the background and why bread is so important, we made our way to a spices store. Although I felt it was a bit more of a sales pitch (we have this spice and that spice and this is good for that), we did get to experience some of the local specialities such as the aragon oil and the difference between the strong smelling saffron from the local area, and the Iranian saffron that seemed to have less impact.
After this visit, we returned to our workstations where we would get to prepare our lunch – made up of two traditional Moroccan salads and a preserved lemon chicken tangine. It was fun preparing everything according to how they expected things and trying some of the spice varieties such as the cumin and paprika mixes. I did learn a few new things, like how they preserve lemons and that you should never add salt to things where you’re using perserved lemons because there’s already so much in there.
I also was reminded of a much simpler technique fo removing the charred skin from a pepper with the back of the knife. There’s less of the black char that sticks to your hands and it’s often much easier to get off. We also had a chance to make some of the classic Moroccan mint tea, though fortunately managed to make it without the ton of sugar they put into everything. I didn’t realise that they used green tea as the basis and then added tons of mint – rather simple but very tasty nevertheless.
I’d definitely recommend this school again to people – I would probably try a different one next time just because I did it already. An extra bonus was they gave us all a little bag to take away including some of the spice mixes they talked about and even our very own small tangine to bring home – something I’m proud to say survived the bag hold in my suitcase.