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How to Build an Ethnic Pantry: Moroccan

By Justin Chan | May 24, 2012

Photo: Paul Goyette

To celebrate the many different types of cuisines around the world, we’ve created a mini-series, “How to Build an Ethnic Pantry,” that offers some advice on the kinds of ingredients every cook should have when they make a particular cultural dish. We also asked grocery store owners and chefs for suggestions and what they think makes their food unique. Check out our first entry below.

Moroccan cuisine may possibly be the most diverse in North Africa. It draws mainly from Berber, Moorish and Arab influences and makes heavy use of Mediterranean spices. Luckily for New Yorkers, there are tons of Moroccan restaurants in the city that locals can visit. One of them is Barbes Restaurant, located at East 36th Street between Fifth and Madison Avenues. According to its site, the eatery is named after a popular Paris neighborhood close to the end of Sacre-Coeur, otherwise known as the “little piece of North Africa.” It should come as no surprise to first-time patrons, then, that Barbes’ menu is a combination of Parisian and North African foods. Abdellah Ksiyer, owner and head chef at the restaurant, was kind enough to share some advice on what ingredients every chef should have in his or her pantry when preparing Moroccan food:

1. Ginger
2. Paprika
3. Saffron
4. Semolina
5. Garlic
6. Onion
7. Olive Oil
8. Merguez
9. Salt
10. Pepper

Most of those ingredients, Ksiyer said, can be used to make either tagines or couscous. A tajine is a Berber dish that is made in an earthenware pot. It usually consists of a stew that is braised at a low temperature, which helps tenderize the meat and vegetables. Most Moroccan tagines contain lamb or chicken and various sorts of fruits. Couscous, on the other hand, is a staple food made of semolina and a stew. Its history dates back to the 13th century, and it has since remained as one of the most popular North African dishes in both Morocco and France.

Ksiyer said the fusion of the spices is what sets Moroccan food apart from other cuisines. If you find his assertion surprising, think again. Spices have been imported to Morocco for thousands of years and have almost become a necessity in Moroccan cuisine.

Now, if you’re looking to cook up one spicy Moroccan meal, check out this recipe from one of our contributors.

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