Ramadan and Water

Last week it was 43 degrees, that meant staying in mostly, keeping out of the sun and sleeping on the bottom floor of the Riad to avoid using the air conditioning. Thankfully its a bit less hot now and we don’t have to cold shower the dog! But it’s also Ramadan – meaning the opportunity to cool down with a glass of water in the day is taken away.

I’m not a Muslim but I do go along with Ramadan in Marrakech for many reasons really; firstly cultural empathy – its not a great feeling if you are stuffing your face on the street or in a restaurant while those around you are hungry and thirsty which is a lesson in awareness. Secondly – intrigue, why did the prophet Mohammed so many centuries ago communicate the benefits of fasting? How does it relate to today? I’m told by my husband who is muslim that its partly to clear the dead cells that your body needs to get rid of, but also obviously to concentrate the mind on other things and more spiritual pursuits. Fasting has become the thing to do if you are seeking a healthier balance and to manage your weight in the West – but it’s something Muslims do regularly, not just during Ramadan as part of a culture of cleansing.

The third reason is to explore the concept of abstinence and sacrifice, which during Ramadan is not just limited to no water or food (before sun-down) but also other daily distractions including sex which many limit for the whole 40 day period. There is a focus on self discipline, prayer and also the giving of alms. This has two effects; it does make you think, and you notice the lack of things you normally have to make your life more comfortable and sustain you.

I started to imagine how much water must be saved during Ramadan during these hours of not drinking, but I also remembered that in Islam water that is used to cleanse as part of the prayer ritual and a kind of purification, so does that make up for the water that would have been drunk?. It just gets you a lot more focussed on water overall – it’s the one thing you can’t wait to have at sundown, just waiting for the Imam to sing, and it makes you realise how difficult it is to even spend 1 day without water.

My husband believes I’m a one woman threat to the environment and he’s right, having grown up in rainy lush England where fresh and delicious Welsh valley water was piped to our Birmingham home, I took water for granted, only a hot Summer and hosepipe ban one year highlighted a potential shortage, but even then we still could drink water freely and have a shallow bath or a shower even if our cars were a bit dusty and gardens baked. I’m pretty bad with water, I confess that I still leave the water running while I clean my teeth out of habit, I have the shower on all the time when I’m in it rather than stopping it when cleaning with soap and showering after or in between, I like to run the water during washing up rather than soaping the dishes then swilling them all at once. These are ingrained habits and a lack of consciousness on my part.

In the countryside here in Morocco, and of course in the desert, water is still at a premium, you don’t have pipes to get rid of washing up water, you have a bucket, you don’t have a running shower you have a bucket Hammam outside or inside, and it’s not always warm. When you put this against lives in the developed world where one of the latest trends in Essex where I was last living was the garden Jacuzzi to supplement your walk in power shower – it hits home how vastly different our world is from one person’s experience to the next.

In the Quran there is lots written about water, there was a belief, now scientifically proven, that everything sprang from water, “And God has created every animal from water: of them there are some that creep on their bellies; some that walk on two legs; and some that walk on four. God creates what He wills; for verily God has power over all things (Quran, 24-45)”

Today we know that as babies we are 75% water and as we grow older the body of an adult human being is made of approximately 60% water. Animals contain on average 60% water while vegetables up to 75%. Human brain is composed of 90% water. This means that humans talk, think, do, write and invent on the basis of water – and it might explain why I’ve been less able to concentrate for long periods.

So I will spend my Ramadan being thankful for water, and trying to become more conscious, people here see water as sacred, water in Islam is considered as a gift belonging to all equally, which has to be managed and distributed with equity among all living beings, humans, animals and plant life. There is even an Islamic law or right concerning water named Safa after the place where Abraham (Ibrahim) and his wife and baby son set down on a search for water and were eventually saved by the Zamzam well (great name!) which magically sprang up at baby Ishmaels feet.

Climate change will challenge us all, to think differently, part of this is not just a technical challenge for innovators, but a behavioural challenge for us all – maybe non muslims need a kind of secular Ramadan to reflect on this from time to time and appreciate the value of the simple things.

To learn more about water and culture you can visit The Water Museum in Marrakech.

Lamb and Quince Tagine

I love this dish – its not an everyday thing really, it’s a treat as there are a few steps to it, but its worth it! I learnt this recipe from Aisha, my husbands mum who comes from Goulmima and is needless to say a brilliant Moroccan cook, mainly because food is the main pleasure in life here, cook well and you’ll never be hungry or lonely!

What you’ll need: – for the lamb Tagine
2 medium red onions
Half a kilo of lamb leg cuts
4 cloves of garlic
A fingernail of fresh ginger
2 tsps of Turmeric
Half a tsp of Black Pepper
2 tsps of Salt
A pinch of saffron
4 desert spoons of olive oil

What you’ll need: – for the quince
Half a kilo of quince
4 desert spoons of sugar (or honey if you prefer)
1 desert spoon of cinnamon

The Quince
Peel and cut the quince into quarters then put into a pan of water to start cooking
Wait until they start to soften (test with a knife) then add the sugar
Continue cooking to allow the quince to absorb the sugar
After about 30 minutes add cinnamon and turn up the heat slightly to start to reduce the water into a sauce

The Tagine
Chop the red onions into tiny squares and fry in olive oil until transparent
Add the lamb and your garlic and spices (except for the saffron)
When the spices are melded, add about a half a pint of water and leave to cook in a pressure cooker for about 30 minutes (while the quince are also cooking)
After a while add about another pint and a half of water to the pot
When the water and spices have melded again, check the lamb is cooked and strain and retain the sauce, keep the strained bits from the sauce to one side.
Put the strained sauce in a saucepan and the lamb in a Tagine.
Add a pinch of saffron for colour to the sauce and reduce it down so its less watery and a lovely brown colour
When ready (about 5 – 8 minutes) pour the sauce over the lamb in the Tagine
Arrange the caramalised quince over the top in a circle.


Honey Tasting Notes

When I first came to Morocco I researched honey and said that I would update you with tasting notes.

Well I tasted my first pure Dagmus mountain honey bought in the Atlas mountains for £20 for a Kilo (its normally more expensive), it is truly nectar from the heavens, because it’s so pure it is also tainted with the bee’s sting.

So at first you get a delightful mouth of melting liquid gold the best thing you’ve ever tried – but you don’t need much of it… I had one tea spoon and soon after the delicious sweetness hits your pleasure sensors, you are surprised by a warming sting at the back of your throat which mounts slowly – not in an unpleasant way, it’s something like the sting of chilli.

My mission is to get my friends to taste; honey made from sugar, honey sold in the supermarket as ‘mountain honey’ and the real thing – once tasted you’d never go back, although it should carry a note to ‘use sparingly’ however the price will ensure it’s not something lavished carelessly!

For more on honey you can read my original article: Black Gold Ancient Honey Secrets

Delicious Amlou

Morocco is rich in delicious good for you and natural foods, Almonds can be found everywhere and are a rich natural source of protein, magnesium and vitamin E. Actually almonds are the only superfood I’ve ever eaten that has made a visible difference (they give me stronger nails and healthier looking hair). And by far the most delicious way to gain all the benefits of almonds is Moroccan Amlou.

Like a much more delicious and natural peanut butter, Amlou its a million miles away from a jar of Sunpat! Made from all natural ingredients; ground roasted almonds, honey and argan oil, it is a delicious and healthy treat, great on a Moroccan pancake or as a dip with bread.

The best way to be sure you’re getting the real thing (which is a lot more liquid than peanut butter incidentally) is to get it from a local Moroccan friend, so the packaging here doesn’t look great but believe me the product is everything!

It cost 100 MAD for two of these which is a steal considering the amount of care and effort that goes in to making it and the expense of the pure natural ingredients.

Nut butters are becoming more interesting in Europe as the positive-in ‘healthy fats’ and ‘meat free protein’ trend continues to build, so I can see Amlou becoming the next European breakfast trend, but I can’t imagine anyone making it as nicely as our friend Kenza!

For a recipe or idea on how Amlou is made visit http://www.mymoroccanfood.com/home/2015/amlou

Cherimoya tasty and cancer preventing!

In countries where health care isn’t free, you often find there is a lot more local knowledge about the health benefits of different foods.

So I was walking along and saw this strange fruit which I haven’t noticed in England – ‘Oh Yes – you will never get cancer if you eat that everyday’ my friend told me. Sounds good I thought – I’ll find out more.

So Cherimoya isn’t native to Morocco but you can find it commonly – maybe they grow it here. It is native to Southern Ecuador and Northern Peru, and was carried to other parts of the world centuries ago, in some countries it’s also known as ‘soursop’, or ‘alone’ in France. Paw Paws and Sugar Apples are close relatives.

Cherimoya’s are about the size of a large grapefruit with a creamy white and slightly tart flesh, green skin and lots of black seeds – don’t eat the skin or the seeds – they’re toxic!

When peeled and de-seeded you can cut it into cubes, puree or use as a mousse, or you can dilute with ice water for a refreshing beverage. They are also added to fruit salads and sometimes fermented to produce alcohol.

Purported health benefits…

With zero saturated fat, Cherimoyas are cholesterol free, high in fibre, iron and niacin and contain powerful ‘cytotoxins’ which are said to combat cancer, malaria and human parasites (ewwwww! – hope I don’t have any of those, I think I’ve met a few though!).  They’re also a good source of B Vitamins, potassium, and have many more minerals than an apple – winner!.

There has even been discussion about the fruits ability to manufacture GABA (game-aminobutyric acid) a chemical in the brain also known as ‘the euphoric amino acid’ – definitely worth a try!

More on Cherimoya when I’ve tasted a few.

Black Gold – Ancient Honey Secrets

With the sugar debate still raging in the UK, its good to remember that a little of what you like does you good – and especially if its in its purest form.

I was amazed by the array of different honey’s I saw in the supermarket over here, actually it made me realise that the clear uniform jars of golden honey that I grew up on as a child of the 70’s and 80’s are a world apart from the history, taste and benefits of the real thing in its purest form.

Desert honey is as old as the Pyramids, it was found in Egyptian tombs and I read was still edible – they used it for cosmetic and embalming reasons.

Here in Morocco real pure honey is an expensive and prized treat, a black gold that is often only available in local areas. Created by wild desert bees feeding in natural surroundings on flowers and plants, this honey is minimally processed and a world apart from mainstream supermarket honey’s which I found out can be tainted by toxins in the atmosphere, antibiotics or created by Bees fed on sugar syrup.

Pure single source monofloral honeys are the equivalent of a single malt  – they carry the essence of the plants and atmosphere of the regions the bees have inhabited. So you can find honeys with the scent and flavour of Eucalyptus, Thyme, Orange Blossom and many more. The fine desert honeys of Morocco are from robust Bees who travel vast distances to feed on the Dagmus plant; a hibiscus type plant which comes in many varieties such as; Malagasy Dagmus, Red Dagmus and Bloody Dagmus.

There are three main botanical types of Dagmus plant with different associated medical and wellness benefits beyond delicious taste.

These benefits group into 3 main areas:

Aldrghmus: suggested for weight loss, appetite suppression and thyroid and fibroid issues.                                                                                                                            Caralluma Sp: suggested for eyes, joints, skin, teeth and detoxing.          Euphorbia ;  the most prized and is claimed to be a natural antibiotic, treatment for liver disease, cancer, acute asthma, rheumatism, severe colds, diabetes and headaches.

I will write more on honey and post pictures of the honey I find, I’ve made it my mission to taste the different types and share the tasting notes. Honey will be my new wine as step down my wine drinking to take up more healthy pursuits (well that’s the plan).

I won’t feel guilty anymore for a sweet tooth if its also protecting me from cancer, but at the high packaged prices (c. €27 per 250g jar) it will be an occasional treat or treatment not a habit – even if you buy it in the country towns from a local co-op its £60 for a litre, precious indeed.


Moroccan Soup

Street food is pretty popular in Europe right now, and it’s the best way to experience some authentic Moroccan foods, and if the stall is very busy – you know the food is fresh.

Moroccan Soup is a cheap, fresh and authentic ‘street food’ which you can find in Marrakech. Fadma’s (she’s also called ‘Walida’ or Mama) Harira stall is famous amongst the locals who grab a bowl after work, it’s a nice informal, cheap and sociable way to end the day.

Harira (or 7airra) is a Moroccan tradition, recipes are closely guarded family secrets handed down through generations. Typically it is a smooth blend of chickpeas, lentils and tomato delicately spiced with a blend of cilantro, cumin, cinnamon, turmeric, ginger and often served with a squeeze of lemon.

There is a soup ritual, you eat with a wooden spoon and china bowl, and the soup is accompanied by either bread and boiled eggs, or a side of dates and a honey soaked sweet treat called Chebakya. Enjoy with a cup of mint tea.

To find Fadma at the Moroccan soup stall in Marrakech:

Start in the main square in the old town (Jamal Fna) take Prince Moulay Rachid street until you get to Hotel Tazi then take Homman Al Fatouaki street on the left, go 100 yards and turn into the first street on the left Almoustachfa Riad Koukha street.

Starts at 17:00 in the evening finishes around 22.00 in Summer (20:00 in Winter).

There are many Moroccan Soup recipes on the internet, or contact me for a local’s tips on their own favourite recipe.