Mint tea is traditionally served before and after a meal. Today is no exception. The tall silver teapot packed with fresh mint leaves, tea and sugar appears on a four-legged silver tray called a siniyya. After the tea has brewed for some minutes, Taleb makes a ceremony of pouring the fragrant golden liquid from a great height into small decorative glasses.
Taleb’s wife Nahmiah and his two daughters serve the first course of lunch; a sumptuous salad of oranges, cantaloupes, carrots, Dijon mustard and balsamic vinegar. The unlikely marriage of these ingredients is simply delightful. When there’s a guest in a Moroccan home, the women might not always eat with the family, but allowances are made when female visitors arrive for lunch and Nahmiah joins us.
Next comes the tajine, one of Morocco’s most famous dishes. The name refers to the conical-lidded pot in which it is prepared, as well as the intricately spiced stew of meat and vegetables, sometimes with dried fruits and nuts, cooked very slowly over a charcoal fire. Typical tajine combinations include: lamb with raisins and almonds; beef with prunes and apples and lamb with dates.
Today it’s a Moroccan classic; chicken tajine with green olives and preserved lemons – a simple yet delicious dish that is accompanied by thick wedges of crusty Moroccan flat bread, perfect for soaking up the sauce.
The arrival of a large platter topped with a mountainous mound of steaming couscous replete with pumpkin, raisins, and almonds and topped with fresh coriander has me loosening my belt. The basic premise behind Moroccan hospitality is that no guest shall go home hungry and Nahmiah is making sure I leave her table on all fours. What many people do not realise, is that couscous is not traditionally considered a main course, rather it is the dish served at the end of the meal to achieve shabban (total satiation).
After the meal we retire to the cushioned divans that line the walls to stretch our legs and partake of yet again, more mint tea. Sipping on the refreshing sweet liquid and nibbling on fruit, I now fully understand that wonderful word shabban, and why Morocco’s cuisine is one of the world’s best.