Moroccan cuisine varies incredibly in its ingredients and preparation techniques, owing mostly to its indelible history — and embracement — of the numerous different cultures that visitors and conquerors alike have brought with them to the country. Couscous and tagine recipes can often be made interchangeably with meat, poultry, fish, or other seafood, and it’s not unusual to find the same kind of salad served hot, warm, or cold, depending on the cook’s preference. The binding cornerstone that is unchanging, however, the fulcrum on which Moroccan cuisine hinges, is its sauces.
The fulcrum on which Moroccan cuisine hinges is its sauces.
The concept of sauce in Morocco is not the same as that of the French, to which most Westerners are accustomed. In Morocco, a sauce is not an entity separate yet complementary to the dish at hand, but instead, is a delicious amalgam of the myriad tastes that converge within the cooking process, itself. Sometimes, the sauce — as in a tagine, for example — is as simple as the oil or melted butter in which the main ingredient and accompanying spices have been cooked, lending to it the properties of their extraordinary flavors. Already used as a utensil, bread is also served at every meal for the purpose of soaking up the delicious juices collectively referred to as ‘sauce.’
No matter what dish is being cooked, it will invariably use one of four traditional Moroccan sauces, or a variation thereof. They are: meqalli, a yellow sauce comprised of oil, ginger, and saffron; m’hammer, a red sauce which combines paprika, cumin, and butter; q’dra, which uses the clarified butter known as smen, as well as chickpeas and almonds; and m’sharmal, a yellow sauce of saffron, ginger, and pepper. While variations on these four basic sauces are as numerous as the cooks that make them, it is nearly impossible to find a tagine, or any other Moroccan main dish, without at least one of these combinations. In fact, so ubiquitous are these four sauces that the name of a dish often includes it: Chicken Meqalli, for example, is a popular meal, as is Q’dra Couscous.
Although a marinade and not a sauce, chermoula has certainly earned its place in Moroccan kitchens. Mostly used as a marinade for fish, chermoula begins as a mix of parsley and cilantro mixed with oil, lemon juice, and salt. Variations exist, of course, and are as numerous as those for the aforementioned sauces. Crushed hot peppers and finely diced rind of preserved lemons are also popular additions.
No matter what dish is being cooked, it will invariably use one of four traditional Moroccan sauces, or a variation thereof.
Another non-sauce that nonetheless commonly makes its appearance alongside many Moroccan entrees is harissa, a spicy condiment made from a base of crushed red chiles that is traditionally mixed with salt, garlic, and oil until it has reached the consistency of tomato paste. While Moroccan food is unquestionably spiced, very little is actually spicy, in the Western sense of the word. Harissa is a notable exception, and it should be equally noted that this popular condiment was borrowed from Tunisian cuisine, which is generally much hotter than Moroccan.
In a cuisine based on cooking many components together harmoniously, Moroccan sauces provide a base upon which a meal in Morocco is built. In addition, meqalli, m’hammer, q’dra, and m’shermel elevate what might otherwise be simply called ‘stock’ into a higher realm altogether. Chermoula and harissa add their own unique contributions to a cuisine renowned for its expert use of spice. The Moroccan proverb says to ‘make do with bread and butter ‘til God sends the honey,’ but as long as there’s sauce, the honey can wait.
Did you enjoy this Moroccan Article or find it informative? If so, why not share it with your friends? Leave a comment below to let us know what you think, too!