A Taste of Marrakech

Garden Majorelle in Marrakech

Almost Late for Class

We were trying something different today, to see yet another side of Morocco.  We had booked onto a cooking class, learning how to make a traditional Moroccan Tagine; in the end we learned lots of new ideas and can’t wait to try them at home.

We were due to meet at 10:00 and we usually allow plenty of time to find our way through the labyrinth that is the medina!  Today we arrived in good time, we even had time for a quick coffee but that early confidence was almost our downfall as we walked up and down the street of the meeting point, searching for number 3… thankfully after asking several people we managed to arrive in the nick of time! We were going to learn how to cook a Tagine (or tajine); which is both the name of the pot and the food.  I have had two at home for a decade but never really known what to do with them.  I do now! 

Earthenware Pots for On-The-Move Cooking

A Tagine is derived from the Berber word ṭajin which means shallow earthen pot.  It was traditionally placed on hot coals and open fires where the dishes were slow-cooked savoury stews, and has been in use since at least the 8th century but probably much much longer. 

We’ve had a tagine most days since we arrived and it would be fair to say that we’ve been a tad disappointed.  When I imagine a tagine I imagine spice and lots of deep flavours but that has been lacking in the dishes we’ve eaten.  Today we learned why and we learned how to ensure we got the very most out of the flavour of our dish.

Moroccan Spice

We arrived, had some introductions and were handed our aprons.  Immediately we were set to work peeling the veg.  Once we’d peeled everything it was time to chop; oddly we had to cut the heart out of a carrot!  I’m not sure we’ll do this at home.  The vegetables were for the Tagine itself but also for vegetable side dishes which they referred to as salads.  One was of baby courgettes, a second of carrot and a third of aubergine.  Each of these dishes ended up tasting very different and the ‘moroccan mayonnaise’ on the courgettes was maybe my favourite dish of the day.  We also learned how to make preserved lemons and we’ll be doing this too when we get home, not least because it takes at least 2 months for them to be ready but they are at their best after 5 years!

So we chopped and peeled and prepared and then we learned how to add the spice such as ginger, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, paprika, pepper and one of my favourites Raz al Hanout (made from 36 different spices!)  We minced and grated the garlic and herbs until we were ready to build the tagine, layering the items that would take the longest (at the bottom) and the fastest at the top.  Once complete the dish was topped with water and left to cook.

After this we prepared and finished the side dishes, had mint tea and went off to chat with our fellow students and Asma ensured we all had the recipes sent via whatsapp before lunch was served.  And finally we ate the food I was hoping for.  Rich deep flavours and floral scents and everything that I love about north African cuisine.  Seriously, it would have been worth paying just for the meal, but in addition we had a few hours of cooking lesson to boot! 

After more chat and more tea it was time to say goodbye.  Asma walked us back to the main street and we decided to take the plunge and go to our next destination via the souk.  It was a great idea until I lost my google maps signal, and then we spent about 15 minutes going round and round in circles through the maze of tiny streets and mini squares just getting more and more lost.  Finally we got outside and picked up a signal and we could find a way out of the souk and back to the Medina and from there it was easier.  We had planned to visit the Jardin Majorelle and we were meeting our new friend Andrew here. 

Majorelle Blue

I have wanted to visit this garden for a few decades.  Years ago I fell in love with the blue colours used in this garden.  Indeed I once painted a bathroom this colour.  I still love it to this day.

We arrived with time to spare so we had a mint tea and waited for our friend.  The tea is different to the Jordanian tea but I really enjoy it and I’m resolved to make more herb tea when we get home. 

Andrew arrived and we wandered the gardens. 

The Majorelle Garden or as it is called, Jardin Majorelle is a one-hectare botanical garden created by the French artist Jacques Majorelle. He started the garden in 1923 and spent 40 years developing it.   The cobalt blue had been inspired by the bold coloured tiles he had seen around Marrakech and in Berber houses, and was used extensively in the garden.  The shade is now named after him; bleu Majorelle. 

Yves Saint Laurent Connection

In the 1980s, the property was purchased by Yves Saint-Laurent and Pierre Bergé who worked to restore the gardens.  I have to say that I had always thought the gardens and the blue colour was the work of Laurent, so for a few decades I have done Mr Majorelle a mis-service!

It’s been raining today and sadly our visit was cut a bit short by the sudden downpours but nonetheless we managed to meander around the entire site and still had time for more tea before heading home.

It was another great day.  More excitement to come tomorrow!

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