Chellah, Home of the Storks

These ruins, which combine a Roman city called Sala Colonia with Chellah, a Merenid encampment are fascinating and peaceful. Just up the banks of the river, as it snakes inland, further from the ocean than the medina or the new city, the area had several groups of inhabitants over the years, as is the case with much of Rabat. It was first settled by the Phoenicians, and then expanded by the Romans in AD 40. They built a temple, a forum, a bath, a water distribution center, including the Pool of the Nymph, the overgrown and crumbling foundations of which can be seen. The Romans abandoned the city in 1154, but in the 14th century a Merenid sultan began building on top of the existing Roman site. Still discernible are the minaret tower, school building, tombs and gardens. In one far corner lies a pool built for washing before prayers. At one point the pool began being fed by underground springs from the river and eels were discovered in it. Lore says that women who feed hard boiled eggs to the eels will receive good fertility and easy childbirth. We visited Chellah on a cloudy day, which made it a bit cooler than the previous days 90 degree heat. Now, Chellah is abandoned by all but visitors and the hundreds of storks that winter in nests built in every tree and on every high tower. The clacking of the bills makes a unique, if loud, soundtrack to a visit.



The Kasbah

I believe I have somehow made it through two and a half years of posting about Morocco without once mentioning a certain song by The Clash from 1982. It is probably best not to start now. The Kasbah of the Oudaias (alternatively Oudayas and Udayas), being a fortress, has a highly defensible position atop a hill at Rabat’s edge with the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Bou Regreg River on another. Original construction took place in the first century and then the structure was added to, altered, and/or repurposed by the next inhabitants over the years. It is now mostly residential, (fun fact: kasbahs are apparently very hot property for foreigners to buy up) but also inside the walls are a jewelry museum in what used to be a palace, an Andalusian garden in the palace grounds, a café overlooking the river, and the oldest mosque in Rabat.


Lamb Tajine: A Lesson in Moroccan Cooking

Finished tajine.

Naima, the woman who lives downstairs and who cooks dinner for us most nights is, in addition to being warm, friendly and generous, a wonderful cook. In fact, she tells us she is the main cook in her family, the one who provides meals and pastries for family weddings and events. We asked if she would show us how to make one of her dishes so that we could learn about authentic Moroccan cooking straight from the source. Because she cooks fresh and local, she goes to the market around the corner and buys what looks best to her. On this day, it was lamb, peas, beautiful young purple artichokes, green onions and zucchini, so she showed us how she makes a classic tajine. A tajine (or tagine) is so named because of the cooking vessel in which it’s cooked. The clay pot, with a flat bottom and conical lid, was originally made to go straight into a fire or cooking oven, where the lid protected the dish from ashes and helped funnel all the juicy steam back into the dish. They are now usually cooked on a stovetop. A tajine can be made with pretty much anything: beef, lamb, chicken, kefta (ground meat, or even fish as you saw in a previous dinner) and vegetables. It is really endlessly adaptable and anything that strikes your fancy or is in season would be a perfect addition to the tajine. We noticed when we were up in Northern Morocco, in Tetouan, that tajines were usually either meat, or vegetable, but not both. But Naima says here it’s common to have meat and veg in one tajine, which makes for a perfect one-pot meal. If you don’t have a tajine it is, of course, possible to make it in a pot, in fact, some Moroccans cook it that way.

Three things in particular stood out to me as being unique: the prevalence of lemon, both preserved and fresh. Lemon juice was added to almost everything, even rubbed on some of the vegetables. Acid, any good chef will tell you, gives that all-important pop to other flavors. Second, the various flavoring mixtures, all made separately: the dry mix, the fresh, herby pureed mix, and then the tomato sauce for the top, allowing layers of flavor to develop. And last, I was surprised to see Naima didn’t add any salt. Although arguably the first rule of cooking is “season”, with all the lemon and the three different spice mixtures, (the herby one may have had some salt, although she didn’t mention it), the salt isn’t missed in the final dish.

Lamb and Vegetable Tajine

  • 2-4 pieces of lamb or other meat, bone-in if possible 
  • cumin
  • pepper
  • saffron
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • half an onion
  • olive oil
  • blended fresh herb mix (lima beans, cilantro, lemon)
  • 1 potato, peeled and cut into chunks
  • peas (preferably freshly shelled)
  • 4 small artichokes (or 2 large), cleaned, hulled and sliced into 4 pieces each
  • 1 zucchini, cut into large pieces
  • 1 scallion, coarsely chopped
  • handful of parsley
  • chili pepper
  • Tomato mixture: juice of two tomatoes (or 1 tbsp tomato paste), pepper, saffron, lemon juice and water. She also added a bit of cornstarch to thicken the sauce, I think a personal preference.