Making a chicken tagine with Dada Lazziza at Maison Arabe, Marrakech
My last trip to Marrakech was a ‘mega fam’ I organised. We took 100 travel agents to Morocco to teach them about the country and show them the hotels. There were five different itineraries, trekking in the Atlas Mountains, visiting Fez, a bivouac in the desert, Agadir and Essouira, and the group I led took a cookery course in Marrakech.
I still think I had the best deal! It was certainly something different and something my family were really pleased I did. The course was just a half day one, although longer courses are available. We were driven to the gardens of Maison Arabe, which are not actually in the hotel but about ten minutes outside the city. It is a fabulous setting with a large pool surrounded by sun beds, lots of trees and plants and the building where we were going to learn to cook.
We sat at a long table on the terrace and, while we sipped mint tea, we were given a quick history of Moroccan cuisine and spices by Mohammed Nadir our translator and guide. We were then taken upstairs to the kitchen overlooking the beautiful gardens and introduced to the Dada or cook whose name was Lazziza. Traditionally the Dada is the housekeeper and is responsible for taking care of the children of the household as well as the cooking. She is a tiny little lady who speaks no English and has been working at Maison Arabe for decades.
We each had our own work space but worked in pairs which made the whole thing fun. First we learned, with the aid of the translator, how to prepare a traditional salad of green peppers onion and tomato, with spices and olive oil of course. Next we were shown how to cook a chicken tagine with preserved lemons, garlic, coriander, black pepper, ginger, turmeric, saffron and olives. The secret to Moroccan cooking seems to be in the number of fresh spices used.
We all made notes so that we could hit the souks later and buy some to take home along with a plain unglazed tagine to cook in, as recommended by Mohammed. We learned by following Lazziza as she cooked with the aid of Mohammed’s translation. Once our chicken tagines were simmering away on the hob we went to relax by the pool with cold drinks. It really is a beautiful garden and we spent a happy, if hungry, hour waiting for our meal to cook.
By the time our tagines were brought out to us we were starving. We devoured our culinary efforts at the long table on the terrace under the shade of the fig and olive trees. I’m not much of a cook but it really was delicious. My family were really impressed when I cooked it for them at home and, even in England in the cold, sitting at our dining table, it brought a taste of the Moroccan sunshine back to me for a moment.