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Moroccan Recipes with Smen

When to Use Moroccan Preserved Butter


Before the days of refrigeration, Moroccan preserved their homemade butter (smen) by clarifying it, heavily salting it and leaving it to age in a covered jar. The longer it was left unopened, the more pungent its distinctive aroma and flavor would be. Smen was, and remains, an essential ingredient in Moroccan kitchens, where it might be served as a spread for bread or used to add flavor to dishes such as those below.

If you are outside of Morocco and can't purchase smen, you can try making your own:

1. Harira

Photo © Christine Benlafquih
Recipes for this chickpea, tomato and lentil soup vary from family to family, but smen adds what is regarded by many as requisite flavor along with the Moroccan seasoning with herbs and spices. As with other recipes calling for the preserved butter, a little bit of smen goes a long way.

2. Chicken Rfissa

Photo © Christine Benlafquih
This fabulous special occasion dish features stewed chicken and lentils served atop a bed of shredded msemen or bread. The truly unique sauce is zestily seasoned with ginger, saffron, Ras el Hanout and fenugreek. Smen is added at the end of cooking.

3. Tangia Marrakchia

Photo © Christine Benlafquih
A clay tangia is the cooking vessel of choice for this traditional meat dish from Marrakesh. Lamb or beef is seasoned with onions, garlic, spices and smen and placed into the urn-shaped tangia, which is nestled into deep ashes at a public oven. There, it is left to slow-cook all day. This recipe allows you to recreate the delicious, tender stew at home.

4. Couscous with Seven Vegetables

Photo © Christine Benlafquih
Many Moroccans would consider a couscous to be inferior without the addition of smen. Here, the preserved butter may be added to both the sauce in the pot and the couscous itself. It perfectly complements the rich broth and flavors of the stew which is served over the couscous.

5. Couscous Tfaya

Photo © Christine Benlafquih
Here's another classic couscous which is enhanced by the flavor of smen. This version of the national dish features stewed chicken or lamb topped with a generous garnish of caramelized onions and raisins. It's a personal favorite, and sometimes I add the tfaya topping to the vegetable couscous above.

6. Chicken Tagine with Preserved Lemon and Olives

Photo © Christine Benlafquih
This recipe explains how to prepare this traditional favorite in a clay tagine, but you'll find links to conventional stovetop and oven roasting methods as well. Smen is an optional, but popular addition to the seasoning of ginger, saffron and preserved lemon.

7. Tomato and M'hammsa Soup

Photo © Christine Benlafquih
M'hammsa is a very large form of couscous, and here it is cooked in a flavorful broth with tomatoes. Smen is optional but recommended.

8. Hergma

Photo © Christine Benlafquih
This variety meat recipe for trotters, chickpeas, raisins and wheat berries may not appeal to everyone, but it's a well-loved traditional dish in Morocco, where it's often prepared in the days following Eid Al-Adha. Smen is among the zesty seasonings which flavor the rich, thick sauce.

9. Roasted Spareribs

Photo © Christine Benlafquih
Smen or butter may be used to make the rub for the spareribs in this slow roast recipe. Other key seasoning includes garlic, cumin and cayenne pepper.

10. Mechoui - Slow Roasted Leg of Lamb

Photo © Christine Benlafquih
Again, smen or butter may be used when mixing the seasoning for this traditional slow-roasted leg of lamb in a home oven. The shoulder may also be used.
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