Dar Les Cigognes, Marrakech Morocco

The escorted tour of Morocco has come to end and I’ve arranged to spend the last leg of my holiday in Marrakech, staying a private riad in the heart of the medina, and undertaking my own culinary adventure for the remainder of my time in Morocco. My internet search on cooking classes in Morocco had recommended Dar Les Cigognes which by all accounts is the preferred destination for those who take their Moroccan cuisine seriously. Yotam Ottolenghi filmed the Moroccan segment of his Mediterranean Feast cooking series there and the team from Williams-Sonoma featured a culinary day within this riad in their blog. And to top it off, the June 2013 edition of Delicious magazine had a Marrakesh feature which included Dar Les Cigognes so after a week after my last class in Fes, I was anxious to start cooking again.

Finding my way to Dar Les Cigognes was a small adventure in itself, but thankfully I made it just in time for my scheduled afternoon class. Stepping into the boutique riad was a contrast from the busy street outside. Cool and tranquil with a stunning, elegantly designed interior, it was a welcome relief to sit in the cool and listen to the sound of running water for a few brief moments. I was introduced to Pierre Herve, the General Manager of the riad, who took me on a personal guided tour of the mellah (the Jewish quarter of the medina) and I learnt a little about its history and the architecture. Walking around the labyrinth of alleyways to see the furan (communal oven) used for baking bread and then taking a detour via a narrow passage through the local hamman to get to the small neighbourhood market, we walked throughout the different sections of the souk where Pierre explained the different facets of Moroccan cuisine and market life.

Returning back to the hotel, I was led into the large kitchen within the riad and introduced to dada Fouzia who I would be cooking with in a hands-on class. Many Moroccan women who cook, do so by touch, taste and instinct and have learnt these recipes traditionally over years of repetition and so unlike the cooking classes I enjoy back home, I had to write my own notes as I also prepared each dish from scratch!

My first challenge was to make my own warqa pastry so I diligently watched as the dough was prepared, mentally taking my own notes as the mixture was spread expertly onto a hot frypan set over boiling water with a thick paintbrush. When cooked, the layer of pastry is then peeled from the pan and oiled to keep moist. Then it was my turn! My first attempt at warqa wasn’t too bad and regaining renewed confidence, I managed to create the ten sheets of pastry required to make b’steeya with no rejects! Next we cooked the seafood filling for the b’steeya and then started to prepare a selection of Moroccan appetisers, including zaalouk, grated zucchini and sweet tomato salad.

Pierre was concerned that I would be hungry just eating salad and b’steeya and so as an added bonus, Fouzia also graciously showed me how to make seven-vegetable balboula which included making couscous from scratch, hand-rolled and steamed three times over boiling water. Throughout each cycle, I put both of my hands into the steamed couscous to separate the grains with dollops of oil and salt. I think by the third round, my red hands put up a protest as it became harder to bear the hot temperature of the couscous and get the airflow required to fluff the grains properly. In my mind, I was thinking this was way too hard and that when I got back home, I was still going to resort to instant couscous anyway!

With the selection of vegetables steaming on the stove and the b’steeya browning in the oven, I kissed Fouzia good-bye and went upstairs to the rooftop of the riad to watch the sun slowly set over the medina and eat my handiwork with a glass of red wine.


Crabapple Kitchen, Hawthorn

In a recent edition of the (melbourne) magazine, I was reading an article on Greg Feck and his café/restaurant “Crabapple Kitchen” in Glenferrie Road. As I was salivating over a photo and recipe with brioche buns of pork and apple slaw, out of curiosity I Googled their website and saw that they were open for breakfast and took the opportunity to look over their Autumn menu.

Secretly hoping that the brioche buns were available, under the FoodandTravelCo’s selection of international breakfast dishes on the menu, I spied the exotic sounding baked eggs from Marrakesh. As I was about to head off to Morocco for a holiday, I was keen to try all things Moroccan.

By the time I arrived at Crabapple Kitchen mid-morning, there was a queue forming at the door to be seated. Trying to ignore the couple in front of me complaining about the ten minute wait, my eyes were absorbing the French provincial kitchen décor and chefs and baristas bustling around the front open bar area.

I was seated along the breakfast bar opposite the kitchen, with an array of candid photos of the San Pellegrino 50 Best Restaurant awards with snapshots of Heston Blumenthal and Greg’s partner, Kim and other gourmands occupying my attention.

Baked egg in a tagine of duck kofta with tomato, ras el hanout, toasted almonds and coriander served with Batbout (small Moroccan bread) - Crabapple Kitchen, Hawthorn
Baked egg in a tagine of duck kofta with tomato, ras el hanout, toasted almonds and coriander served with Batbout (small Moroccan bread) – Crabapple Kitchen, Hawthorn

I don’t normally order savoury for breakfast, but I was almost relieved to be eating something hot and spicy to beat the cold weather outside. Little did I know, just how hot and spicy. The Moroccan bread was light and delicious but there was only a small piece of it to counteract the chilli factor. A delicious mixture of baked tomato, spices and small meatballs of minced duck meat and egg, but the dish was extremely hot, both in temperature and overwhelmingly spicy. So much so that after a while, it was hard to distinguish what was being eaten and it was a struggle to continue eating after several mouthfuls. I could see the chilli in the mixture and almost wondered what I would be in for in Marrakesh!

The maître d could see that I wasn’t eating and when I explained about the heat factor, he asked if I would like a glass of milk to counteract the spice, but I politely declined thinking that all I wanted was more of that delicious bread to fill me up!

Crabapple Kitchen have an innovative menu and I had the privilege to indulge in one of their themed Friday Night Flight dinner evenings in May, so I have experienced their wonderful cuisine and their take on Moroccan traditional fare, however I think this dish was a rare misstep.