Monday, November 02, 2009

Moroccan couscous - the traditional way

Couscous, or seksu as it's know in Moroccan Arabic, is one of the staple foods of the Maghreb. It's made of ground semolina that's moistened and rolled in flour.

Moroccan couscous

These days we usually buy ready-cooked couscous in packets from the supermarket, but there are parts of Morocco where it is still hand-rolled by village women and the difference in taste is remarkable. This is the 'real thing'.

Cynthia Berning, a US Peace Corps volunteer, has been working with a women's association in the small mud village of Khoukhate, some 130km south of Fez in the Middle Atlas, with the aim
of bringing back an appreciation for the art - and taste - of hand-rolled couscous.

Cynthia Berning

"The majority of women and girls [in the village] are still illiterate and thus have few opportunities to contribute financially to providing for their families", explains Cynthia.
"Enter the Association ENNAHDA ('rebirth' in Arabic), an association with the goal of increasing the standard of living for all residents of Khoukhate through the creation of employment for the women of the village."

When the operation started two years ago, it was limited to couscous production. But the business has now grown to include jams made from locally-grown fruit - fig, apple, apricot, orange, carrot and watermelon, there's herb-infused olive oil, almond butter, and the Moroccan high-energy snack 'zmita'. All the products are marketed under the name 'El Karma', which is Moroccan Arabic for fig tree, and is also the name of the natural spring in the village.

Now the association has an eco-tourism project where groups of visitors are welcomed to Khoukhate to learn the secrets of a good Moroccan couscous, and at the same time experience traditional rural life. Visitors roll their own couscous from scratch with the local women, and then cook it and eat it for lunch.

Couscous preparation: step 1

Step 2: sifting the couscous

Couscous ready for sale

The association has teamed up with Fez Food and Cafe Clock and it's now possible to learn this traditional art in Fez - great for people who don't have the time to go out to the village. There are monthly couscous workshops at Cafe Clock, conducted in English, French and Darija. The three-hour session begins with fresh vegetables, wholewheat flour, and water brought from the village spring. It finishes with lunch, and could be the best couscous you've ever eaten.

The next workshop is at 11h30-14h30 on Friday 13 November at Cafe Clock. For details and to book, contact Fez Food. Fez Food also runs excursions to the village.

For a peek into Cynthia's adventures in this tiny village, visit her blog, Couscous Chronicles. Information on the women's association can be found here.

See all The View from Fez Moroccan recipes here: Moroccan Recipes

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1 comment:

Jeannie said...

My husband is Moroccan. When he came to live in the U.S. I made couscous which consisted of opening a box, pour in boiling water, and 5 minutes later it was done. Then when my husband made couscous the traditional way, the taste was so much better than what I prepared. I take my hat off to those women who put so much effort into making it.