We are never eager to eliminate an African nation from the World Cup of Food. African food, before we took on this endeavor, has been a subject of which we knew little, and what we have discovered has been a joy to experience. Madagascar and Morocco have proven to be no exceptions.
Morocco is famous in Western culture for a lot of things: the film Casblanca, the fez hat, the once-seedy underbelly of Tangier (and its citrus fruit the tangerine), and the High Atlas Mountains. As far as the food is concerned, easily the most important Moroccan export is couscous. To us, calling couscous Morocco’s national dish is a little like saying that rice is Japan’s or that mashed potatoes are the United States’ national dishes; while probably true, those statements do not shine a lot of light on their national cuisines. In search of something more interesting to present here, we noticed that every single Moroccan cookbook had a recipe for a particular dish, a tagine (a Moroccan stew named after the clay pot in which it is traditionally prepared) of chicken with olives and preserved lemons (recipe follows).
Preserved lemons (recipe follows) are an essential ingredient of Moroccan cookery. Packed in salt and pickled in the brine made from their own juices, the pith of the lemons lose their bitterness almost completely and the peels are used to accent all manner of savory Moroccan dishes, from stuffed poultry and whole fish to rich Moroccan stews and soups. The traditional method, in which quartered or slitted lemons are simply packed tightly in salt, takes at least four weeks to complete. We wondered if their was a faster, reasonably acceptable alternative. Enter Claudia Roden’s excellent Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon. Roden’s technique softens the lemons with a quick boil in salty water before packing them in olive oil. Ready in just four days, these lemons are a neat trick for the time-starved preparer of a Moroccan meal.
On the African island of Madagascar, edible green leafy vegetables abound, lending themselves nicely to what is probably the country’s national dish: romazava (recipe follows). Available meat and poultry, like chicken or the locally prevalent cattle zebu, supplement the dish and create a one-course meal. Chilies and ginger give the dish some kick, and the spicy dish that results is a great foil to Madagascar’s tropical climate.