I've read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I totally believe in eating locally grown organic vegetables. I believe in eating fruits and vegetables in season. I believe in not using oil to transport unripe and unhealthy chemically laden produce from one part of the world to another. I really do. The only thing is....it's a hell of alot harder to DO than you think it is! This is the tale of one woman's plight to make a delicious, locally grown, oil-free, chemical-free Moroccan meal. It's Animal, Vegetable, Morocco...
Once again I find myself in the grocery store lamenting the lack of vegetables. Really, this is very reminiscent of the movie Groundhog Day. Another day, another vegetable I know I could get at Whole Foods in the states that I must mourn the loss of. I'm at the produce weigher with my normal veggie selections: carrots, cucumbers, beldi (which is some kind of zucchini), peppers (if they aren't too fly ridden), beets, lettuce (if it looks decent), green beans. But, I'm daydreaming about spinach (oh god, what I wouldn't do for spinach), edamame, sprouts, baby carrots (they are SO much sweeter than regular carrots), snow peas, sugar snap peas, broccoli, sweet potatoes (they have sweet potatoes here, but they are NOT the same). I'm so depressed. I DO love you Whole Foods, I don't care if you're a huge conglomerate making the little mom and pop natural food stores go under. Ok, I DO care, just not enough to not shop there. I'm totally in a veggie rut! Right next to me in line are the pre-wrapped veggies and gombo!
Gombo, which just rolls off your tongue like the off-beat veggie it is, is French for okra. Now I did my time in Alabama for a year of college. I've eaten fried okra, but never cooked it myself. I always felt like you needed some certified Southern credentials to make it authentic, of which I have none. I'm a Yankee girl, well half of me anyhow. I bought it anyway. Something new and exciting. I must have it. Come make my black and white veggie world colorful again! After all Moroccans must do something with it other than frying it in corn meal, cause if I don't have the credentials to do this they most certainly don't either. So again, my quest for divine inspiration leads me to facebook. Someone out there will know something to do with okra that will be inspiring. And once again, it's true. A friend sends me a recipe for Lamb, Quince and Okra Tagine. Perfect!
If you don't know me in real life. I am a complete and total recipe whore! I'm not ashamed. There will come a point in our relationship when I need, I mean really need, a recipe from you. Like a delicious bruschetta for example. (Yes, you know who you are!) Please don't deny me and tell me you are too tired, have a headache, too much work, etc. Don't cling to your recipe virginity. You give me some and I'll give you some. There aren't any RTDs (recipe transmitted diseases) that I know of and I'll hold you afterward....I promise. Now that I have whored around and got a recipe let's get on with getting all the natural ingredients to make it.
Okra, check. Must get quince. Or coing as they're called here. Is it just me or does that sound dirty and wrong? And oh yeah, lamb. I always have a problem with converting from pounds to kilos. So after I eloquently and fluidly order from the butcher in French (ok you know that's bullshit and I totally bumbled my way through that by this point I hope), I realize that I bought a hell of a lot of lamb bones and got very little lamb flesh. This can be taken two ways. I could have gotten an anorexic lamb or a hormone/antibiotic/steroid free "clean living kinda lamb". I'm going with option number 2. Do they have at home drug testing kits for lambs like they do for teenagers? Would it have required the lamb to pee in a cup before it was brutally slaughtered?
On to coing. (I blush when I even type the word...it's weird.) Now if you have never had a quince before they have a thicker outer skin than an apple or pear, it would be hard for a bug to penetrate it. It's got no white pesticide film. So it has passed my very strict "organic and pesticide free" criteria. Then the okra. What bug could possibly travel from the south to Morocco with cornmeal to fry up the okra? Duhhhhh! So, obviously the okra has no natural predators here that would require pesticide in the first place! Then on impulse I buy the illusive gourd of ginormous size. Yes....the day has finally come! It's real name (if you can believe an oversized gourd) is courge rouge which means red pumpkin. And there are flies all over this....again....obviously pesticide free.
Ahhhh my favorite part....cooking it. My oldest, Sky offers to help me so I have a free and willing sous chef. He chops all the veggies for me, even the onion which I detest cutting. I slowly simmer the lamb with the onions, garlic, tomatoes, spices and jalapenos. Meanwhile slow cooking the quinces with cinnamon, sugar and butter. And I make a mound of whole wheat couscous. Then I add the pumpkin that the recipe didn't call for, the okra and cook it a bit longer. It smells incredible with a little bit of spice and a little bit of sweet. Sky decides that we should eat it Moroccan style from one big platter again. After all he chopped for me I would have let him eat it with chopsticks, through a straw, naked, after midnight in gratitude. Finally it's ready and we arrange it all on a big fish platter and get a spoon for everyone.
This recipe is so going to change my life. I'm going to make it for guests, I can spread the word to Americans everywhere that there is something else to do with okra and I can whore out the recipe to everyone. Spoons up in the air, the invisible air horn goes off and everyone looks at each other, locates their pie shaped section of the platter and has at it. The lamb is the most moist and delicious lamb I've ever had. The quince are sweet and tasty, like cinamon apples you would have for desert. The pumpkin is pumpkiny and the okra is okraish. Damn. This recipe isn't going to change my life. Nor is it going to change the one true calling of okra. Fried with cornmeal. Southerners do know what they are talking about. Not that the meal was bad, it just wasn't exceptional, not as exceptional as my effort to make it exceptional was.
Wait a minute! This post is NOTHING like what I thought it would be when I sat down to write it. This was going to be a hard hitting newsy 60 minutes-esque post about pesticides. It was going to be (wait for it)....SERIOUS! On par with the in depth investigations of Leslie Stahl and Christiane Amanpour. Now I've not only failed Barbara Kingsolver, but Stahl and Amanpour too. Damn it! I wanted to say how the green revolution in America has affected other countries. The pesticides that are outlawed in the states....well they have to go somewhere. That somewhere? Third world countries looking for a cheap solution to their pest problems. Peace Corps volunteers will tell you that when they come to spray pesticides on the apples in their small towns it's so insidious that they leave town for the day. So while the official reported use of pesticides in Morocco may be less than in the states, what they are using may be alot more harmful. And really how much do you trust the accuracy of any government agency statistics? So, for all of you living here in Africa under the guise that teenage mutant ninja fruit flies covering your produce indicates it's organic....it's just not true.
For more information on pesticides in Morocco and beyond: