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Essential Ingredients in Moroccan Cooking

Stocking Your Moroccan Pantry with Flours, Oils, Spices and More


Although some Moroccans are minimalists when it comes to food shopping, buying only what they need for a day or two, many homes are indeed well-stocked with a variety of ingredients which are not only considered essential to Moroccan cooking but may be turned to for inspiration when planning a last-minute meal. This list will give you an idea of what to have on hand in your own home if you plan to cook Moroccan recipes with any regularity.

Also see Equipping a Moroccan Kitchen, a list of essential and recommended cookware.

1. Moroccan Spices

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Only a handful of spices are necessary to make mouth-watering tagines, but the variety of spices used in Moroccan cuisine is actually quite extensive. This list highlights the spices you'll encounter most frequently in recipes. I'm giving further mention to a few of these spices below.

2. Ras el Hanout

Photo © Christine Benlafquih
This complex spice blend lends exotic flavor and aroma is essential to a number of Moroccan dishes, but it may also be added according to personal taste to tagines, vegetable dishes, meat marinades and rubs. Recipes with Ras el Hanout highlights some of the recipes which call for the fragrant spice mix.

3. Saffron

Photo © Christine Benlafquih
Saffron, often touted as the world's most expensive spice, imparts a distinctive aroma, delicate flavor and lovely yellow color to the dishes to which it is added. Morocco cultivates its own saffron in the Taliouine region situated between Agadir and Ouarzazate. In Moroccan cooking you'll most often encounter saffron in main dishes, but it also shows up in such unexpected preparations as Moroccan saffron tea, semolina soup and a fried sesame cookie called chebakia.

4. Moroccan Herbs

Photo © Christine Benlafquih

Onions, garlic, parsley and cilantro are the herbs utilized most abundantly in everyday Moroccan cooking, while na'na (spearmint) is used in equally robust quantities to flavor tea. Some other popular aromatic plants used in Moroccan homes, either to flavor teas or to benefit from their medicinal and therapeutic properties, are listed below.

5. Preserved Lemons

Photo © Christine Benlafquih
Tangy and salty, preserved lemons add a distinctive lemon flavor to a variety of Moroccan dishes. They're readily available in Morocco, but you may have a bit of trouble tracking them down elsewhere. Fortunately, making your own preserved lemons is quite easy to do and requires only fresh lemons and kosher salt. Allow the lemons to cure for at least a month before using.

6. Olives

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Olives of all kinds are served as condiments, garnishes or used in cooking. Red and green olives are the varieties you're most likely to encounter in tagine recipes; one such dish is the popular Chicken Tagine with Preserved Lemon and Olives.

7. Sesame Seeds

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In Moroccan kitchens, golden, unhulled sesames seeds are favored over their whiter, hulled counterparts. The seeds are used to garnish a variety of dishes, and lend nutty flavor and texture to breads and other baked goods. They're also a key ingredient to such sweets as sellou and ghoribas with sesame.

8. Almonds

Photo © Christine Benlafquih
Like sesames, almonds are used in Moroccan cuisine as both a garnish and key ingredient. Many recipes require that the almonds be blanched and peeled (and sometimes fried) before they're ready for use. They show up in a variety of Moroccan sweets, including the popular Almond Briouats and Kaab el Ghazal, and appear in simpler form as a Roasted Almond snack or Almond Milkshake.

9. Culinary Oils

Photo © Christine Benlafquih

The photo shows olive oil, pressed from Morocco's indigenous olives, being added to grated tomatoes to prepare a classic Kefta Mkaouara (Meatball) Tagine. Moroccan pantries typically have ample supplies of olive oil and vegetable oil, both of which are used liberally in cooking. In addition to its cooking use, olive oil may also be served plain as a condiment with bread, or as a garnish to drizzle over cooked salads such as zaalouk or bean purees such as bessara.

Many Moroccan homes have a bottle of argan oil in the cupboard. This oil, which is unique to Morocco, has a light, nutty flavor and aroma. It's delicious served alone with bread, added to dishes such as Lamb Tagine with Olives, and is famously used to make a delightful dip and spread called amlou.

10. All Purpose Flour

Photo © Ranveig/Wikimedia Commons
The value of flour in Moroccan can not be overstated, as it is utilized in great quantities by bakeries and home cooks to prepare Morocco's requisite daily bread. Bread is the staple upon which most meals are based, and it is either purchased or made fresh at least once daily. In a culture that prefers to eat by hand rather than by utensil, it is used in place of a fork to scoop up tagines, meat, poultry, vegetables, eggs, dips, salads and sauces. Bread is also used to make sandwiches of all kinds, as well as crepes, rghaif, cakes, cookies and other sweets. While white all-purpose flour may therefore be the most versatile flour in Moroccan kitchens, other grains are also highly valued.
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