Moroccan food has called to me over the years. The first time was actually in Hollywood. Years ago, there was a famous Moroccan restaurant called Dar Maghreb. The interior was very exotic and it was famous for the fact that you sat on cushions on the floor and ate with your hands. It was definitely only a special occasion destination.
They featured bastilla (pigeon pie made with chicken) that you pulled apart, huge platters of couscous and tiny glasses of mint tea poured from oversized brass tea pots held at least three feet above the glass. Very dramatic! I went there with my parents for a birthday celebration and I was totally enthralled. My mother was not so enchanted. She was and is still a very proper lady who never ate with her hands and definitely didn’t sit on the floor. But my mom was a good sport, didn’t make a fuss, didn’t complain, but we never went back.
The next time I had Moroccan food was in Fez, Morocco. It was at least 15 years later and I was traveling with someone who was most definitely not a foodie. He insisted that we eat most of our meals in hotels which still featured menus heavily influenced by French cuisine. The food was awful! One evening, I persuaded him to venture outside his comfort zone and we went for a Moroccan feast.
We were seated on the floor on huge cushions around a communal table with several other guests. The first thing to arrive was a large bastilla (phyllo dough pigeon pie). Based on my vast experience, I showed the others how to tear off a piece of the pie. When huge platters of couscous were served, I showed the others how to use pieces of bread and scoop up bits of couscous and other delectable morsels.
This was Moroccan food: exotic, flavorful, colorful and a feast for all the senses! I was intoxicated by the food and when the belly dancer invited me to get up and join her, I did just that. Too bad I don’t have a selfie of that!
The food remained something foreign, exotic, never something I would think of preparing myself. Years passed and I was making a birthday dinner for a friend and asked him for menu ideas, and he said, “Moroccan food”. I said, “Of course”. As I remember it, the menu was Americanized Moroccan except for the bastilla which I was determined to get right. Pigeons weren’t available, so I used chicken instead.
The most memorable part of the evening for me was when one of the guests took a bite of the bastilla (same recipe I will use for this party) and his eyes became moist and he said, “My grandmother was from North Africa and this tastes just like she used to make”.
Channeling a Moroccan grandmother, this recipe became a keeper. There is so much more to say about this amazing cuisine but let’s get on with the feast itself, the details will be revealed layer after layer, just like the food.