Well, now I understand why staying in a Moroccan “riad” in Marrakech is such a big deal! Whitney and I entered Riad & Spa le Secret de Zoraida, and our jaws dropped. The sumptuous interior space–ours has a pool–spoke peace to our travel weary souls. The calm space belied the frenzied Medina streets beyond the door.
A “riad” refers to a guesthouse accommodation that has a central courtyard. They are usually converted from traditional mansions in the old medina. Again, the adage that “the beauty is always hidden behind the door” is manifest.
Besides relaxing in the pool, we were interested in taking a cooking class. We hit the jackpot when we selected an Airbnb experience with Najlae. We met her close to her home in the medina to gather produce and meat for our meal. She explained as we selected produce that haggling is always a part of the purchase, even with these vendors she shops with daily. The chickens are alive because you can make sure you’re getting a healthy one. So we watched the butcher kill the chicken, clean the chicken, and skin the chicken!
Najlae was extremely knowledgeable. She instructed us on Moroccan spices and the specific uses for each spice. She showed us how to char the eggplant and peppers for the vegetable salads. We made a “wedding” tagine (used for special occasions) with beef and prunes (apricots and figs may also be used–no vegetables because they don’t mix fruit and vegetables). We also made chicken with preserved lemons–my favorite. We used preserved lemons Najlae made two years ago. They evidently improve with age!
We expressed an interest in the traditional bread and were surprised when Najlae said “no problem!” the simple dough uses semolina flour with regular flour, which gives it a toothsome chew. When I started working the dough, however, I wasn’t doing it the Moroccan way. Najlae showed us how to mix the dough with your fists before kneading.
Before I knew it, we were sitting down to a splendid meal! We’d made Whitney’s favorite salad, the aubergine salad; my favorite, the tomato and grilled pepper; and the traditional Moroccan salad, finely chopped tomato and onion. The bread was perfect for scooping the salads. Najlae added the final touches: olives to the chicken and lemon tagine, and a drizzle of the prune syrup over the wedding tagine. The flavors were absolutely delicious–winning combinations.
The most meaningful part of our class was sharing with Najlae. She talked about cultural norms in Morocco, traditional weddings, and her family. I admire Najlae and the life she’s made for herself. I intend to take a zoom class with her to learn other Moroccan dishes! Here’s the link: