Marrakech Morocco – A Whole New World

Remember the Walt Disney classic, Aladdin? This fantasy is inspired by Morocco and they had it right with the theme song, “A Whole New World.” That is exactly what Morocco was!

After spending a year on the road, primarily in Europe and Southeast Asia, my husband and I decided to dance down to Africa. We were already in Barcelona and by looking at the map, it was just a hop down south so we booked it. Africa, level one. Marrakech here we come!

Culturally it was a bit intimidating but we learned how to navigate the in-your-face sales of the souks and the intense animals in the square. Vendors may come towards you with snacks, hawks or monkeys to take your picture with the animals to make money. And I hate snakes so that was NOT fun, but, once we knew what to expect, we got into the groove. Now for my favorite: the food.

I expected towering plates of lamb and couscous so needless to say, I wasn’t stoked.  Then I learned about the Moroccan salads. Oh the Moroccan salads! Let me explain.

Moroccan Salads

Moroccan salads are served as an appetizer and its plural. It is not A Moroccan salad. It is MANY Moroccan salads. Upon ordering this dish, you receive 4 to 12 different salads. They are small, 2-6 bites each. All different. All delicious.

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Now for the really rad part. Every single one of them is VEGAN! I ordered this appetizer at least 10 times while spending two weeks in Morocco. There is never an ounce of animal; vegan perfection.

The Moroccan salads contain veggies such as zucchini, eggplant, carrots, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, peppers and beans. Sometimes the vegetables are alone with spices and other times in combination with one another. For fat, they use argon oil, which is made from a nut. You know the blue-labeled “Moroccan Oil” used to smooth out hair? That is argon oil. Aside from using it cosmetically, it is the go-to dressing in Morocco. Because it oxidizes at high heat, it is best to drizzle on after.

Occasionally, a dish is made from orange blossom oil. Orange blossom is a bit tricky. Similar to rose, orange blossom tastes a little like perfume. It is so unique that my taste buds were turned off at first but once they started to adjust, they started to dance.

Moroccan Spices

The spices range radically. Most of the time, the flavors were so unique that I wasn’t sure of the seasonings. I took a cooking class in Marrakech to learn more. Surprisingly, the spices are not so new; just in combinations and doses that are not familiar. Salt, pepper, garlic, paprika, turmeric, cinnamon, cayenne, cumin, and saffron. Then, familiar herbs like parsley and cilantro (known to the rest of the world as coriander). All of these flavors harmonize in various ways in the Moroccan salads. It will not disappoint.

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Now enough of the salad salivating session. Let’s move on to my main squeeze. Tagine!!!

A tagine is a clay pot. The bottom is a plate with a large lip; similar to a shallow bowl. On top of the plate is a triangular top. Food cooks on the stove, inside the plate covered by the triangular top. Covering accentuates the flavors because they are unable to escape, consequently, melding together magnificently.

Vegetable Tagine

Tagine, the entrée, is cooked inside the pot. This is another dish I ordered at least a dozen times. Lamb and chicken are the two primary tagines. I never sought out a vegetarian restaurant while in Morocco. I didn’t have to. Vegetarian or vegetable tagine is everywhere. Since there is no honey, eggs or dairy in the dish (I checked), it is vegan tagine!

So, what goes inside this dish? Most of the time it is the same vegetables. Potatoes, carrots, turnips and zucchini topped with a slice of tomato and small slivers of preserved lemon (Click Here for the Full Recipe). To preserve lemons, they are cut in half, filled with salt and squeezed back together. They press several lemons tightly into a jar that is covered for 30 days. The product is a sweeter version of the citrus.

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FYI about tagine….it usually made a head of time since it is served in the clay dish it’s made in and takes an hour to cook. On two occasions, they were out. Luckily, there is another vegan item on the menu—couscous.

Vegetable Couscous

Morocco is covered in couscous. Like tagine, there are meat couscous entrées but almost always, there is a vegan version. The veggies in the couscous are the same as the tagine (Click here for Full Recipe).

If you are avoiding gluten, you do not have to limit yourself to the tagine. Since I limit gluten, on the occasions where the restaurant ran out of vegetable tagine, I asked for vegetables and rice. “Just like the vegetable couscous but with rice instead of couscous.” They got it.

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Wether it’s rice or couscous, plain veggies with grains can be boring but believe me, in Morocco it is anything but. Apricots and prunes are two fruits that are indigenous to North Africa. Vegetable dishes often use these two fruits, cooking them down to become even sweeter. They resemble a primarily intact jam; still whole but soft and spreadable.

It amazes me how simple it can be to eat vegan around the world. Originally from Mississippi (My Southern Story), I spent most of my life in the South. Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and Georgia. All lands of meat-lovers. In Texas its beef and in the Deep South, its seafood. Aside from the house salad and French fries, veganism at restaurants is nearly impossible. Not like Morocco, though; not like Morocco. Here, you can have all the salads, all the tagine, all the couscous – all the time. Enjoy the newness and embrace the culture. Princess Jasmine had it right. It’s a whole new world.

 

To recap…

Vegan Food That is Easy to Find in Marrakech…

Morrocan Salads

Vegetable Tagine

Vegetable

 

Visiting Casablanca, Morocco Instead?

Read here for travel tips and restaurant recommendations that you will not want to miss in Casablanca! I have selected just a few of the top notch vegan-friendly restaurants I dined at during my stay in Casablanca.