I’ve stalled in writing this post because I wanted to attempt to recreate at least two of the dishes we were taught in class. It wasn’t until I went searching for ingredients that I realized even New York City doesn’t offer as many produce options as you’d think. But that was then and this is three months and two dishes later.
While planning my trip to Morocco, I researched different cooking classes to partake while there. There were quite a few options, but none that really peaked my interest, which made me think learning to cook abroad wouldn’t be apart of my itinerary. I gave it a few days and tried my luck one last time. That’s when I discovered Traveling Spoon.
Traveling Spoon was founded by Aashi Vel and Steph Lawrence in 2013 with a mission “to connect travelers with authentic, meaningful food experiences in local host homes”. This hands-on opportunity to cook native dishes with thorough instruction is rare. After a few emails back and forth, we settled on an all-day class that included a trip to the market and a multiple course meal with Edwina of House of Fusion Marrakech.
I was a bit late as I got lost on my way to House of Fusion Marrakech, but was just in time to meet Edwina, and her other pupil Llewelyn, on their way to the market. Edwina had equipped Llewelyn with a shopping list and a quick language session providing words and phrases to shop the market in Arabic. Though the accent wasn’t perfect, the vendors were appreciative of the effort; which is a common theory worldwide.
After our return, we took to our cutting boards and the cooking began. We created blistered aubergines, butterflied sardines, lemon chicken tajine, beetroot and orange soup, artichokes with a delicious dipping sauce, traditional Moroccan tea, and a few other items. Due to the number dishes and allotted time, we had to begin prep almost immediately. She had us start by finely chopping a bunch of cilantro, which I thought was easy, but soon learned that when you thought your herbs were chopped enough, Edwina would tell you to continue going. I don’t think my arms have ever worked so hard. Being back home now and following recipes that call for finely chopped [insert herb name], I always think,”Would Edwina think it’s fine enough?”
Other recipes called for thinly sliced oranges or onions, which now in the states I impatiently use a splicer to help. But for the sardines, I did butterfly and gut myself. (Due to its size, some markets in the city will tell you that they won’t butterfly as it reduces the weight, which lowers purchase price.)
Many of you reading this may think it all looks above your skill level, and it’s not. A good teacher can teach, but a great teacher can help anyone learn. If it’s something you even put little effort into, you’ll take away a lot from Edwina. She’s a great conversationalist with a sparky sense of humor; a personality that can work alongside even the most difficult. I prefer to do things alone as I feel another party can slow you down, but no matter which pupil was behind, Edwina was able to instruct us individually and jump in when necessary.
Taking everything I learned, I set out to make these dishes at home. I did purchase many spices while in Marrakech, but saved the heftier and easily spoiled ingredients for New York. My two favorites happened to be the blistered aubergines and butterflied sardines, but finding small eggplants is harder than one would expect. All the ones I’ve found have been larger than my hand, which wouldn’t work. Edwina mentioned how she noticed the oversized vegetables in the states, specifically eggplants, but I was on a mission to find some. Because I wasn’t able to, I had to make my next favorite dish, the artichokes.
The artichokes called for raspberry vinegar and the sardines for orange flower water and rose water. Rose water was purchased while in Marrakech, but the vinegar and orange flower water were purchased off Amazon. I’m sure cooking rose water is available there too, but don’t try substituting facial rose water for cooking rose water [for the most obvious reasons].
There was a misstep in the broiling of the sardines that I would like to point out. It wasn’t until after they had come out of the oven did I realize I’d forgotten the tomatoes. It was a bit to late to try and add them, but next go around they’ll be a must. The final dish was almost as delicious as the original but the earthy nuances of the tomatoes would have cut into the sweetness from the orange and chermoula. The dipping sauce for the artichokes was a tad tangy, and I haven’t been able to figure out why. I’ll be tinkering with it this summer to see how it can be fixed, but the ideas that manifested while playing with this recipe were endless.
Later this year I’ll attempt the lemon chicken tajine after visiting a few farmers markets to find preserved lemons. The same goes for the floured and spiced zucchini except my mission is to try and make it paleo. Once perfected, I’ll host a dinner party. Until then, I’ll prepare these delicacies for myself. hehe.
Traveling Spoon is currently available in over 25 countries, most offering private 2+ person experiences. If you are the solo traveler like myself, a private single person experience is available by some hosts. [On my go Edwina, Traveling Spoon paired me up with another guest who had previously setup their own excursion with House of Fusion Marrakech, as I wouldn’t have been able to visit otherwise. My attendance was an exception, but for future classes know that it will be private.] There are only a handful at the moment, but the amount of hosts has grown substantially since my trip in March. It’s only a matter of time before 1-person classes catch up as well.