One of my favorite countries in the world is Morocco. Morocco is my second home, after France. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while now, then you know that I grew up in Morocco, and left it after I finished the French lycée/ high school, and that I still have some family there. Morocco truly holds a special place in my heart. This is a story about the Journeymakers I met in Morocco.
If you’ve ever visited this wonderful country, then chances are you’ve experienced the Moroccan hospitality. Whether from strangers or people from an extended social circle, Moroccan hospitality is a very strong element of the Moroccan cultural heritage: people go out of their way to make you feel at home in their home, to make sure you experience the best part of their country, its food, its villages, its culture.
A few years ago, I was able to go back to Morocco for a leisure trip, and used that trip to visit the Morocco I had never had a chance to visit while growing up – why is it that when we live somewhere, we never take the time to play the tourist, always postponing local trips because ‘we’ll have plenty of time to take later’ – which actually rarely happens? So we traveled extensively, visiting the Sahara desert, the Marrakech area, the beautiful coastal city of Essaouira, while based in Rabat, the capital, between road trips.
I met so many wonderful people during this trip : from carpet and pouf vendors who offered me a freshly made traditional Moroccan mint tea just because I connected with them during a sale, to Tuareg guides who played with my daughters in the Sahara dunes and started a bonfire with tumble weeds they would dig out of the sand because my girls were cold in the early hours of the morning while we were enjoying the spectacular sunrise over the Sahara dunes.
But if I had to choose one and only one person that made my trip even more memorable, I would choose Rabha as my Journeymaker. Rabha was part of the personnel staff at the house we stayed at in Rabat. She was cleaning and cooking meals. I remembered the first morning doing my bed before coming out of my room for breakfast and seeing her approach me all confused and stressed out. She asked me why I had done my bed myself and I told her I was not used to being served and did not expect someone to do my bed for me. She smiled, relieved to hear that I had not decided to make my bed because I would do it better than her, and kindly asked me to let her handle the bed making routine from now on. Then, we developed a strange bonding. My Arabic language skills are minimal, but I would manage to have conversations with her while she was cooking meals. She would give me pieces of advice on recipes or spices, teach me the Arabic name of vegetables or dishes, and we would giggle in the kitchen like two little girls in a school playground.
She shared with me her recipe of the lemon chicken tajine – a typical Moroccan stew-like dish – and every time I prepare it at home, I am reminded of Rabha and her contagious laugh and amazing kindness. So, in honor of my Journeymaker, here is Rabha’s lemon chicken tajine recipe.
Rabha’s Preserved Lemon Chicken Tajine
What you need:
- One large or 2 small onions, chopped.
- Chicken whites, cut in half, and/or chicken thighs [count two pieces per person].
- One preserved lemon – you can preserve lemons yourself or buy them already made in any middle eastern grocery store or online.
- 1/3 cup of parsley and 1/3 cup coriander, finely chopped.
- A pinch of saffron, a teaspoon of ginger, and some salt and pepper.
- 1 ½ cup of pitted green olives.
- In a pressure cooker [for faster cooking] or an oven top large pan, cook the chopped onion in a little bit of vegetable oil, until they become transparent.
- Add the chicken pieces, the preserved lemon cut in quarters [make sure you take out all the lemon seeds and rinse it to take most of the salt out]. Add the saffron, the ginger, salt and pepper.
- Cover the mixture by 2/3 of its height with water and let cook [25 minutes with pressure cooker on locked position], up to 1.5 hour in a regular oven top pan, stirring occasionally to make sure all ingredients cook evenly.
- Add the chopped parsley and coriander and the pitted olives, and let cook again for 10 minutes [pressure cooker] to 30 minutes [regular pan].
Once the dish is ready, you can put it in a medium hot oven [325 F°] for an extra 10 to 15 minutes to reduce and thicken the sauce; the taste will be even better, but this step is optional.
Serve with bread [because everyone will want to dip the sauce], and enjoy, courtesy of Rabha!
I’m thrilled to have been asked by American Express Travel to recall and share stories about my #Journeymakers. Who made your recent trip memorable?
All pictures FrenchByDesign – some of which were taken by my favorite sister ;-)
• This post is in partnership with American Express Travel. Thank you for supporting the sponsors that make FrenchByDesign possible.