“She is the best cook I know”. That is how Sami introduces his mother, Sabah. Moroccan Sabah met Sami's father, who is Iraqi, when she was sixteen. Since then she has lived in the Netherlands, but has never lost her love for cooking. During the interview with Sami and his mother, Sabah immediately became enthusiastic as soon as she started talking about Moroccan cuisine. Sami even told us that Sabah loved talking about it so much that she's now thinking about starting her own YouTube channel. We hope that this idea becomes reality.
Moroccan cuisine has a number of typical authentic dishes with a unique preparation method. Couscous is one of the most famous dishes. Friday is couscous day at Sabah's house. However, this dish takes much longer than we are used to. In Dutch supermarkets you often buy pre-cooked couscous that is ready within fifteen minutes. “This is similar to instant rice,” explains Sami. Real couscous, on the other hand, takes much longer to prepare. “You first soak the couscous in cold water, after which you let it steam for about two hours in a couscous pan,” says Sabah. In addition to this complicated preparation method, there are also different types of couscous. Fine couscous is used for chicken and sweet dishes, while coarse couscous is used for vegetable and meat dishes. In addition, Tajine is very popular in Morocco. These are dishes that are prepared in an earthenware stew, which is also called a tagine. Another classic dish is Tangia Marrakchia. This dish is made in a traditional Moroccan vase-like stew, the Tanghia. This is filled with meat, covered with foil and cooked slowly for hours.
“When we sit down to dinner, there is one big plate in the middle from which the whole family takes food”
Sabah explains that in Moroccan dishes sweet is often mixed with salt. For example, chicken is mixed with raisins, fruit or prunes. In addition, it is typical of Moroccan cuisine that a lot of use is made of dry herbs, such as ras el hanout, turmeric, ginger and cinnamon. This distinguishes Moroccan cuisine from, for example, Turkish cuisine in which a lot of fresh herbs are used. A unique spice from Morocco is saffron. This herb is added to many dishes and is very healthy. Sometimes Sabah adds a little bit of saffron to her water or her face cream. We asked her if that's the secret to her still looking so young, to which Sabah replied: "Yes, saffron and argan oil, those two ingredients are the secret to staying young." Of course we didn't want to withhold this golden tip from you!
Traditionally, they eat by hand in Morocco. “When we sit down to dinner, there is one big plate in the middle from which the whole family takes food,” says Sabah. Sami adds that he did not grow up with this himself. He does not eat couscous with his hands, but with a spoon. Sabah explains that they still eat by hand, especially in the smaller villages, but that they increasingly use cutlery in the cities. Eating remains an important social occasion, though. A lot of bread is eaten during this social occasion. Moroccans eat much more bread than we do in the Netherlands. You don't just get this bread in the supermarket. “In Morocco you often make your own dough and take it to the bakery. The baker will then prepare this for you,” says Sabah.
“Saffron and argan oil, those two ingredients are the secret to staying young”
Religion plays an important role in Moroccan food culture. Ramadan will start on April 1 this year. Every year this is celebrated about ten to twelve days earlier. During Ramadan, adults are not allowed to eat or drink from sunrise to sunset for a month. Sami and Sabah are both participating in this. “Not drinking water is the hardest part. It also depends on which month it is celebrated. When Ramadan falls in the summer, the sun does not set until late in the evening, especially in the Netherlands.” Sabah already prepares the food during the day, which they can only eat after around 11 o'clock. This is sometimes very hard. The end of this month of fasting is therefore celebrated with the Sugar Feast, which is accompanied by delicious delicacies, such as msemen, Moroccan pancakes. In addition, another way religion influences Moroccan food culture is the fact that for many people the food has to be halal. This especially holds for meat. Meat must meet certain requirements and the animal must have been slaughtered in a certain way in order to be halal. According to Islam, pork is 'haram' and should therefore not be eaten. That is why Sabah has never eaten pork. The term 'halal' is not only used for meat. Many candy, for example, contains haram ingredients because of the gelatin that is processed in it. Sometimes, according to Sami and Sabah, this goes very far. “I once even saw 'halal' on a shampoo bottle,” Sabah says with a laugh. Sami believes that this is often used as a marketing tactic these days.
Finally, Sabah gives us an important cooking tip. She tells us that no one really taught her how to cook. According to her, she learned this by watching her mother cook when she was younger, but above all by simply doing it a lot. “By cooking regularly, you get better and better.” And last but not least, Sami shares his favorite recipe that his mother often prepared for him: French bread with frikandel and egg. Not really authentic, but according to Sami definitely worth a try!