I love food. I love to cook. And I love to eat. So a day to go to Moroccan cooking school can not be passed up. I'm so excited. The man who runs the cooking school is American, moved to Morocco some years ago from Texas and still has the drawl to prove it. Although he runs it, the woman who teaches the class is Moroccan. Thank god. Don't get me wrong, he's very nice, but I would rather be taught Moroccan cooking by someone with a Moroccan accent. Hearing "y'all can add your eggplant now" might ruin the Moroccan ambiance. Plus I want to learn from someone who learned it from their mom, just the way Fatimazaara, our teacher for the day, did.
Fatimazaara. Fatimazaara. Fatimazaara. I repeat, but I'm not so good with remembering exotic names. After several attempts to remember it I finally had to write it down. So I ask her if she has a nickname. "Fatty", she says. I felt rude even repeating it back to her for clarification purposes. By all English speaking standards this is one of the worst things that you can say to a woman. I'm sure in Moroccan it's absolutely beautiful. So I googled and Fatima means daughter of the prophet and zaara, beautiful flower. I'm positive that google and I have translated her name to 100% accuracy. Even if I didn't, it's better than the English translation. She seems a bit nervous because this is only the 4th class that she's teaching at the school. Either that or she was feeling a bit faint and lethargic because she teaches a cooking class and it's Ramadan and she can't eat or drink anything, but is entranced with the smells all day long until 7pm leisurely rolls around. I've been wondering how Muslims who work with food all day do it. They must get a special "get the loved one of your choice into heaven" free card for the extra temptation that they endure during Ramadan.
The cooking begins with our Chicken with Apricot Stuffed Walnut Stuffed Tagine. The olive oil, garlic and onions are simmering in the pot with cumin, turmeric, saffron, and ginger. It smells good already and my mouth is watering. Poor Fatty. I'm sorry I'm enjoying the smells and get to eat this a mere 5 hours before a morsel of food or water touches your lips. I will dedicate the first bite to you. We brown the chicken and water and let them cook in the pressure cooker. The apricots come later. We start on Touktouka (a bell pepper salad) and Zaalouk (an eggplant salad) which are served hot with Morocan bread which is round and flat kind of like a small Frisbee. Hey, maybe that's a great use for old, stale Moroccan bread. While our peppers and eggplants are roasting and our apricots are simmering in anticipation of stuffing them, Fatty makes us some traditional Moroccan mint tea. Green tea, fresh mint leaves and lots of sugar. The thing about Moroccan tea is it's sweet. Real sweet. Like sweeter than "sweet tea" in the South super syrupy kinda sweet. She pours the tea in the ceremonial style pouring the hot tea high from the pot into the glass cups to welcome guests. You can tell Fatty has done this once or twice before. After the sugar jolt from our tea, our apricots are plump and the sugar and cinnamon added to them have made a thick and aromatic syrup. Our deft hands stuff the walnuts into the apricots just in time for our chicken which is now done to perfection. We arrange our chicken and apricots in a traditional tagine pot and make a tomato rose to adorn our salads. Voila! Lunch. It's all delicious, especially the salads that we dip our Frisbees, or Moroccan bread rather into and scoop like we're eating loaded nachos.
And while this has all been a very fun time and the food is delicious. This cooking class really is for those with an interest in your less adventurous types of Moroccan foods. Everything that they make has ingredients that you can get back home in the states which is great if that's what you're going to do. Me? What I really wanna know what to do with the exotic ingredients at the Moroccan grocery store. What about that huge squashlike thing in the produce section that is so enormous it's purchasers order chunks of it which produce boy obliges slicing, bagging, weighing and labeling it. What so you do with tiny quail eggs at the store? Am I supposed to make tiny omelets with them? Or one individual cupcake? Then there's the real big questions of....what in the world do you do with the lambs heads? And are goat balls a delicacy? Do you saute them with garlic and butter? Capers maybe? But what I really must know is what will Fatty eat tonight when she breaks fast? What do you crave beyond anything else when you haven't eaten all day? I'm betting she's not eating Chicken with Walnut stuffed Apricot Tagine.
This Friday (if the moon is right) it will be Eid al-Fitr. It's the Muslim holiday that marks the end of Ramadan. This is the big blowout 3 day party where they sacrifice a goat or a sheep. I've heard that the air is thick with the stench of blood and roasting gamey meat. I'm sure that just like at the beginning of Ramadan that there will be police officers on every street corner to ensure that things don't get out of hand. Or maybe they are the last line of defense to make sure that the goats and sheep don't escape their inevitable fate. This is the real nitty gritty down and dirty stuff I want to know. And this is the kind of Moroccan cooking that interests me. Are there instructions in a cookbook somewhere? Like Fatty Crocker's 3 Day or Less Succulent Goatball Recipes? Step one: Wrangle goat into submission (this may require you to enlist the help of a co-wrangler). Step two: Bless said goat with beautiful Muslim prayer Step 3: Slay goat with machete Step 4: Remove vital organs and balls (reserve for later use) Step 5: Rub rocks together to start a blazing inferno while simultaneous preparing spit for mounting and roasting (again, you may want enlist help for this step)...
What can I do to earn a window into this mysterious world? Then I think. WWFD? (What would Fatty do?) And while I have no idea. I can't call her to invite myself over to her house. It might have something to do with that restraining order she filed against me when I tried to follow her home. I think maybe I should hang out by the butcher at the Medina with a sign around my neck that I'm available Friday for free goat wrangling/spit preparation. Sure I've never wrestled a goat before, but I did jello wrestle The Panty Christ (I'm using her roller derby name to protect her privacy) once. I'm scrappy, plus I'm free labor. And maybe just maybe I can learn to cook like a local and get a free tasting of lambs head or goat balls after all. That is until Fatty writes that cook book. Need a ghost writer? I know a good one.
Overall, I'm giving cooking school a rating of 4 goat balls out of 6. Well I can't do it out of 5 stars like food critics do because goat balls come in pairs you know. I have reserved the other two goat balls, but only because I don't know how to cook them yet! A very Happy Ramadan to you and yours...or is it Merry Ramadan?
(***Disclaimer: While the restraining order is fictitious, Fatty and jello wrestling The Panty Christ are real, and I would honestly give cooking school a 6 out of 6 goat balls and I might consider wrestling a goat if you and I can be a tag team***)