We’ve spent the last three weeks in Morocco, where Safi met her huge extended family for the first time and we gorged on tajine, watermelon, almonds, bekkoula, oranges and pots of mint tea.
I was familiar with the Atlas region and the arid south – Marrakech, Essaouira and Agadir, where the landscape is dotted with the endemic Argan (Argania spinosa) tree – cultivated for oil and home to armies of climbing goats – but this time we stayed mainly along the Atlantic coast in the north of the country – an incredibly productive area, rich in crops as varied as peanuts, bananas, potatoes and purslane, not to mention a range of non-cultivated edibles which grow freely in the wild.
One of my favourite things to do (anywhere) is to explore markets, and here both my eyes and belly were truly spoiled – the frenzy of colour and the abundance of produce (all local, very little needs to be imported) were a veritable feast before even getting anywhere near my plate.
Supermarkets and convenience stores are very slowly creeping into the suburbs of bigger cities like Rabat, Casablanca and Kenitra, but on the whole the Moroccan respect for good food, properly produced and with nothing going to waste means that the daily trip to the market (souk) remains an intrinsic part of family life, particularly in the smaller towns of the north which are fed by such fertile land.
(above) Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) grows freely as an urban weed but it is also cultivated and sold as the principle ingredient for rejla, purslane stewed in olive oil and flavoured with cumin and ginger.
(above) marshmallow (Althaea officinalis) leaves are used for making bekkoula – similar to rejla in preparation but with a more acidic taste. We bought shredded and boiled marshmallow leaves from the huge tubs that ladies brought to the market and added oil and spices to them at home.
(left) purple bindweed (Ipomoea), a close relative of the sweet potato (Ipomoea batata) and (right) oranges growing happily in Tangier
(left) limes growing in Larache and (right) the barbary fig, or prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica) grows widely throughout the country, producing a sweet, bright red fruit after its yellow flowers.
(below left) mint grows everywhere and is combined with green tea and sugar to make the Moroccan staple, thé a la menthe. (below right) bananas ripening in a Casablanca car park.