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Sunday, 21 July 2013

Ramadan in Morocco - A time for mothers and grandmothers to care for the whole family & Moroccan Hareera Soup

Old day Moroccan market place painting by A.S. Forrest
for the Book 'Morocco' by Journalist & Author S.L. Bensusan, first published in 1904

"For the Moroccans, Ramadan is the time of home, a time where mothers and grandmothers care for the family and as ever that care is displayed through food. Around a big table of meticulously created meals sits the whole family, all at the same time, to share and enjoy the delicious food prepared with utmost care." 

- Assia Othman, food blogger



While, not so long ago, a family sitting to savour a meal together used to be taken for granted, anyone living in today's world knows how such simple joys have become quite challenging these days and might need taking extra measures and at times may even require pre-scheduling to happen! Today's hectic lifestyle, the sonic speed, and work demands have left families striving for each other's company and to many, Ramadan presents people with a welcome break from that challenge allowing families to gather again, catch up and share meals together as they have always done, and are meant to be. 'Silat Al Arham' صلة الأرحام  meaning gathering and connecting with the family is a fundamental virtue of the Holy month. Therefore, families ensure gathering and connecting. 

In most cases motherly love is on full display through nurturing by food. We all know too well how our mothers always want to feed us. They always demand we gather and tempt us with spreads of deliciousness, and during Ramadan, knowing that everyone is hungry and appreciating good meals, they go out of their way and artistically create demanding and time consuming extremely delicious treats for all their children to enjoy. The beauty of Ramadan is that this is a mission taken on not only by our mothers, but even our grandmothers. There is charm in the sight of a mother and grandmother standing together in the kitchen, cooking together for their children. I have always enjoyed watching mine, and now more than ever appreciate the sentiment and the effort of such generosity of spirit. 

Chicken and Olives Tajine
Photo by Assia Othman
I had asked the Moroccan food blogger Assia Othman, to explain to me the culture of Ramadan in her country, and was really excited when she described Ramadan as being the month of home, where mothers and grandmothers denote great care to cooking to ensure a family gathers and enjoys a delicious meal. That is a short and sweet description of the spirit of Ramadan in my mind, and an essential part of what gives Ramadan its unique flavour. It is the ability to gather and to bring back the simple joys of life. 

Food is at the centre of home, and it is the time for all the family to share joy. The preparation of food and the offering of an assortment of foods for Iftar is a reflection of that and a celebration of both: the bringing together of the family and breaking the fast.
"During Ramadan we spend more time in the kitchen, and we prepare many dishes for Iftar. It is how we express love to our family."
Despite our mothers making it all seem effortless, the production of such varieties is no easy task and in order to produce delectable daily meals, some preparation ought to take place in advance.
"In Morocco, Ramadan is so special for us that the preparations generally start in Chaaban (the Arabic name for the 8th lunar month preceding Ramadan), when housewives start stocking their pantries with principal ingredients such as: sesame seeds, almonds, peanuts, chickpeas, lentils, honey… etc." 

In an elaborately charming cuisine such as the Moroccan cuisine, all food are delicious, all recipes are irresistible however there are specific dishes synonymous with Ramadan and must be included on the Ramadan food menu, Assia explains:
"We are known by three Moroccan Ramadani recipes: First, Sellou (a special mixture of nuts, sesame seeds, roasted flour, butter and honey) that we consume at Iftar. Second, we make kilos and kilos of Chebbakya (the famous Moroccan sweet served with the equally popular soup Hareera to balance the sweet and sour taste. Third the Briouates Louz (special filo samoosa, stuffed with almonds and soaked in honey flavoured with orange blossom water)." 

Modern day market place in Morocco, women selling assorted Moroccan pastries

When I asked Assia about the difference in eating habits, and cooking during Ramadan from the rest of the year, I learnt that she is with the consensus that Ramadan is a month to eat at home and specifically home cooked traditional cuisine, firmly stating that Ramadan is not the month for consuming fast food. She says that not only she but most Moroccans view eating and cooking as such during Ramadan.
"In my country, Ramadan has special culinary rituals: Ramadan for Moroccans is eating at home. We prefer eating traditional foods and of course there is no way that we consume fast foods! We spend more time in the kitchen preparing assortments of dishes for Iftar. Generally, we start cooking at 1.00 pm preparing Hareera حريرة , savoury samoosas,  Batboot m3amar بطبوط معمر (stuffed bread), marqet dja’j مرقة دجاج (chicken tajine) , rghayef louz رغيّف لوز (almond mini pies), baghreer بغرير (Moroccan pancakes) and salads. 
Then for Sohour, in Morocco it is either Lmrawah المروّح (hot Moroccan bread served with honey and melted butter) or Tajine Kefta Bel Beed طاجين كفتة بالبيض  (a very special meatballs and eggs tajine)."


Chtoun (Fried Anchovies)
Photo by Assia Othman
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A Traditional Moroccan Iftar Menu
Starters
Dates
Moroccan Hareera Soup 
Chebbakya 
Sellou (nuts and honey mixture)

Entree
Batboot m3amar ( stuffed bread) 
Chtoun ( fried fresh anchovies ) 

Dessert
Moroccan mint tea 
Cigares m3amr ( stuffed filo rolls ) 

"You see, the Moroccan Ramadani delights are various and always present a mix of the sour and sweet taste. One must try a traditional Moroccan Iftar, as it showcases the decadent taste of our amazing cuisine."
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Assia's
Moroccan Hareera Soup

You Need
300 g meat, cut into small cubes
several soup bones (optional)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 bunch coriander, finely chopped
1 bunch parsley, finely chopped
1 or 2 celery stalks with leaves, finely chopped
1 large onion, grated
1 cup of dry chickpeas, soaked and peeled
½ cup of lentils
1 tablespoon samnah (optional)
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons pepper
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
6 large tomatoes , peeled, seeded and pureed
3 tablespoons tomato paste, mixed evenly into 1 or 2 cups of water
2 to 3 tablespoons uncooked broken vermicelli
1 cup flour


Pick through the lentils and wash them then set them aside.

Peel, seed and puree the tomatoes in a blender or food processor.

Put the meat, soup bones and oil into a larger pressure cooker. Over medium heat, cook the meat for a few minutes, stirring to brown all sides. Add the coriander, parsley, celery, onion, chickpeas, tomatoes, samah and spices. Stir in 3 cups of water.

Cover tightly, and heat over high heat until pressure is achieved. Reduce the heat to medium, and cook for 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and release the pressure. Add the lentils, tomato paste mixture, and 2 liters of water to the stock. Cover the pot and heat the soup over high heat until pressure is achieved. Reduce the heat to medium and continue cooking. Cook the soup on pressure for 25 minutes. Release the pressure, and add the vermicelli. Simmer the soup, uncovered, for five to ten minutes or until the vermicelli is plump and cooked.

While the soup is cooking, mix together the 1 cup of flour with 2 cups of water. Set the mixture aside, and stir or whisk it occasionally. The flour will eventually blend with the water. If the mixture is not smooth when you're ready to use it, pass it through a sieve to remove lumps. 

Bring the soup to a full simmer. Slowly — and in a thin stream — pour in the flour mixture. Stir constantly and keep the soup simmering so the flour doesn’t stick to the bottom. You will notice the soup beginning to thicken when you've used approximately half the flour mixture. How thick to make hareera is up to you. I like to thicken the broth so that it achieves a cream-like consistency. Simmer the thickened soup, stirring occasionally, for five to ten minutes to cook off the taste of the flour. Seasoning with salt and pepper , then serve with boiled eggs and dates.

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Food For Thought
Be mindful about what you ingest. while all is promoted as great, there is a lot of rubbish out there. Research and find out what is real from what is junk.

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Hope you have enjoyed Ramadan in Morocco. Now I know Moroccan cuisine is a favourite for many, so do let me know which dishes are your favourite Moroccan dishes and the Moroccan recipes you would like to learn. I will make sure to post them for you.

Don't shy away, leave a comment before you go, and come back tomorrow for 
Halawet il Jiben Recipe, a decadent Arabic dessert


The world is beautiful, all its people are beautiful, all cultures equally important, and all the same in the end - all out there for us to explore...
Ramadan Kareem

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