I was checking my email over breakfast Wednesday morning when I saw a response from Café Clock (English-owned restaurant in a beautiful riad with an American coffee shop vibe - basically if you're in Fez you need to go at least once) to my inquiry about cooking classes. Sorry for the late reply, it said, but we have a class today at 11am. I checked the time: 20 minutes to get there and find the place. Inhaling the rest of my food, I collected my things and hurried outside; or rather as much as one can hurry in 80+ heat along streets that are unmarked and connected in ways that make very little sense. (The Fez medina has over 9,000 streets; I doubt even a special ops team could successfully track a person once they entered).
I arrived just in time to meet our chef, a friendly Berber woman, and my other classmate, an Aussie about my age, who had already decided on the menu: lentil soup, aubergine salad, lamb tagine and a dessert of phyllo pastry with fresh fruit and yogurt. Washing my hands and donning an apron, I joined them in the kitchen. For the next few hours we talked, joked around and learned some of the secrets to Moroccan cooking (lots of garlic! lots of spices!).
What follows is what I can remember to the best of my ability. Nothing was measured nor timed, which pretty much sums up everything I dislike about cooking and, hence, why I am a pastry chef.
500 g lentils
1.5 L water
1 yellow onion, chopped finely
1 head of garlic, minced
Fresh parsley and coriander
Olive oil (~2 T)
Place all ingredients in a pot. Add spices (paprika, salt, pepper, cumin, tumeric) to taste. Mix well. Bring to a full boil and cook until lentils are soft.
Zaalouk (smokey aubergine puree)
2 bell peppers
1 head of garlic, minced
Grill eggplant and bell peppers over gas flame until charred. Let cool, then peel. (You can wrap them - especially the peppers - in a plastic bag to get them to sweat, then after you can scrape off the charred bits with the back of a knife). Remove the stems from the grilled vegetables. Cut the eggplant into chunks. Remove the seeds from the peppers and do the same.
Sautee garlic in olive oil in a pan. Add eggplant, peppers, and spices. Mix well and continue to cook until thoroughly heated. Serve.
My new Aussie friend, as it turned out, is quite the globetrotting foodie herself. On this particular trip she was with her parents, but previously she'd been to some of the world's more dangerous cities (Nairobi, Johannesburg) alone, and felt perfectly at ease using the one form of lodging I was not brave enough to try on this trip: couchsurfing. I was impressed, and inspired. Did I mention that she also likes taking cooking classes wherever she goes? We made plans to stay in touch so that she can show me around her hometown, Sydney, once I get to Australia.