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June 2, 2008 Comfort Food

I discovered during college that some of my mom’s specialties aren’t common in the wider world, but I also learned how to make them (or how to fake them – there was a dish at a local Asian restaurant that actually made for a pretty good approximation of her trademark meal). I checked before coming to Morocco to be sure that everything I consider a staple in my kitchen – garlic, onions, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, olive oil – is available here. (For the record, the olive oil here is AMAZING. I assume because the olives actually grow here. Before I came to Morocco, I had no idea that they were a major producer of olives; I thought they all came from Greece and points east.) I’d accepted that I’d have to survive two years without pumpkin, since it’s endemic to the New World, but then I found a very similar squash in the souq here. It’s green on the outside, but orange on the inside, and tastes (more or less) exactly like pumpkin. It’s called taghsayit (as are all squashes), and is a common addition to couscous.

But when Ama made me spaghetti, I almost cried. Spaghetti. So simple, and yet such a frequent part of my diet in the States. (Unfortunately, I was the only one who really enjoyed the meal. My host family virtually never uses forks, and you can’t really eat spaghetti without one. They all tried, but with limited success. I suddenly remembered how hard it was to learn to eat spaghetti as a kid.) And then she made me aHreer for the first time. It was like being given a visit home. It tastes (almost) exactly like Macaroni and Cheese. I was completely caught off guard. Cheese isn’t common here, and when they do have it, it’s usually a soft, cream-cheese-like spreadable cheese. And then we had aHreer again. And again. It’s downright *common* in my household, lhumdullah. The texture-providing core changes from meal to meal – sometimes it’s a pasta, sometimes a small sphere like tiny tapioca pearls, and most often rice – but the sauce stays the same. I finally asked my host-half-sister (who doesn’t live with us but who visits a lot) what’s in it. Roz, l-hleeb, aman, tisnt. Safi. I was startled. Just rice, milk, water, and salt? That’s it?? What about the cheese? Wallu fromaj. No cheese. And that’s when I realized why box M&C has such a high percentage of your daily required sodium. Because it’s not cheese that you’re tasting. It’s salt. Salt! Salt is the secret ingredient in my new Moroccan comfort food.


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