World Flavors: Moroccan

Multi-cultural heritage and fertile land have shaped Moroccan cuisine into the rich, colorful mosaic it is today.

France, Spain, West Africa and the Arab world have all played a part in the development of the country's culinary traditions. A stroll through one of Morocco's souks (markets) reveals the heart of the cuisine: aromatic fresh herbs, vegetables and citrus; glistening olives; a vivid array of lentils and dried beans; golden semolina grain for couscous; and a multitude of fragrant spices, including cinnamon, ginger, paprika, cayenne, saffron, coriander and cumin.

Modern Moroccan master

Many classic Moroccan dishes are slow simmered. Most famous is couscous, a savory mixture of lamb, chicken or fish cooked with vegetables until everything forms a flavorful albeit mushy stew that's served over fluffy, steamed semolina. Tagines are another typical one-dish meal; a combination of meat, vegetables, preserved lemons and olives cooked in a domed, earthenware pot. And there's spicy harira, a lemony lentil soup eaten during Ramadan.

At Aziza in San Francisco, chef-owner Mourad Lahlou, a Moroccan by birth, takes these and other traditional dishes and reproduces them with a contemporary sensibility. "The flavors get lost when you cook everything for hours," he explains. "I start with the same foundation but buy local produce and free-range meat, game and poultry, then shorten the cooking time and use different techniques so the results taste fresh and light."

Couscous Aziza is a good example. This best-selling menu item ($20) features crisp vegetables, grilled chicken and prawns, spicy beef sausage and stewed lamb. The Prawn Tagine ($18) is modernized with fresh herbs, seasonal vegetables and house-preserved meyer lemons. These are an indispensable Moroccan ingredient made by steeping local lemons in sea salt; preserved lemons can also be purchased in jars. Couscous is prepared on premise too, by a dedicated cook who rolls it fresh every morning.
Lahlou goes to the farmers' market four times a week to patronize Bay Area producers and get the best seasonal, sustainable ingredients. For Moroccan condiments and spices that are difficult to find in the States, including Spanish fly, queens of paradise and argon oil (pressed from a native nut), he works with a specialty importer.

The mother sauce and others

The fiery red condiment known as harissa is to Morocco what salsa is to Mexico. The standard harissa familiar to most Americans is a puree of hot chilies, garlic, cumin and coriander. But there are as many variations of harissa as there are of salsa. At Aziza, a version is made with roasted tomatoes, blackened chili peppers, cumin, coriander, paprika, cayenne, garlic, olive oil and argon oil. The prepared sauce is available in cans and jars from purveyors who import Moroccan and Tunisian products. Offering a dollop of harissa along with herbed roast chicken or grilled fish can instantly impart a North African accent.

Prepared spice blends are another convenient way to bring Morocco to the plate. Ras el hanout is a flavorful mix of 21 spices and herbs that has recently become commercially available. Included in the mix are cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, thyme, lavender, coriander, fennel, green cardamom, dill, caraway, saffron, cayenne and orange root. This multi-purpose seasoning can be used in rubs, marinades, sauces, dressings, soups and stews.

Sourcing the exotic

Since 1937, surfas has been a destination for chefs and operators shopping for ingredients that are a bit out of the ordinary. The Culver City, California, restaurant supply house has recently doubled its size and stocks an inventory of 14,000 products to keep up with the demand for spices, condiments and other products necessary to create a global menu. And all things Moroccan are selling briskly.

"Demand is driving our supply," says Diane Surfas, an owner of the company. "About 80 percent of our clientele is foodservice, and they are looking for authentic, high-quality ingredients." Surfas cultivates relationships with exporters all over the world; they can go direct to Moroccan sources for items like preserved lemons, harissa, ras el hanout, couscous and other essentials. Recently, Surfas introduced Berber Spice, a blend of salt, coriander, onion, chilies, ginger, garlic and paprika inspired by the nomadic Berbers of the country. "We like to stay ahead of the curve," says Diane Surfas.

More From FoodService Director

Industry News & Opinion

The International Foodservice Manufacturers Association has made public the 2018 recipients of its annual Silver Plate awards.

The nine winners—each of whom was given the top prize in their respective foodservice segment—include four well-known names in noncommercial:

Healthcare: Jim McGrody , director of culinary and nutrition services at UNC Rex Healthcare in Raleigh, N.C. C&U: Dennis Pierce , executive director of dining services at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, Conn. B&I: Michiel Bakker , director of global food services for Google K-12: Ken Yant,...
Industry News & Opinion

Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary in Brunswick, Maine, is hosting a mentorship program that brings in local community members to have lunch with second-graders twice a week, The Forecaster reports.

The program is aimed to foster conversation between the students and area adults, and staff say they are happy to have the extra adult supervision during lunch and recess.

Officials would like to find more volunteers to expand the program to the third, fourth and fifth grades in the future.

Read the full story via .

Ideas and Innovation
buying small

Here’s a stunner for noncommercial operators who work with one big supplier: Smith College buys food from more than 50 different suppliers. And only three of those suppliers sell Smith more than 3% of its food. “We know boutique,” says Andy Cox, director of Dining Services at the Northampton, Mass., school. “There are ways to make it work.”

Adding to Smith’s challenges: Dining Services has 12 kitchens and no central receiving, and works to ensure that 20% of its food is fair, local, humane and/or ecologically sound.

Teamwork between a food buyer and financial systems...

Industry News & Opinion

Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind., is celebrating National Nutrition Month by offering free weekly samples of plant-based items , as well as hosting produce-centric events around campus, the Indiana Daily Student reports.

Every Wednesday this month, students will be able to sample such dishes as vegetable vindaloo, lemon-herb quinoa salad, and pistachio and apricot couscous. Some of the items featured have been offered previously on campus, while others are new recipes.

The university has also partnered with a culinary training organization to launch two plant-based...

FSD Resources