Sunday, September 26, 2010

Les Celliers de Meknes & Grown-Up Fig Newtons (AKA: Anti-terrorism Hashuma Cookies)

There is one word in Moroccan Arabic which describes everything that is socially unacceptable, shameful, irreverent, and naughty. You hear mothers use this word when their children get too rowdy. You hear street vendors use this word when a client is trying to get too good of a deal. You hear this word whispered whenever an overly-made-up teenage girl with too short of a skirt or too high of heels walks past a group of crusty old folks.


Literally, for shame.
Did you know that Morocco, a country where alcohol is illegal- hashuma- for most citizens, has wineries which produce about 55 million bottles of wine per year?


Did you know, also, that Les Celliers de Meknes, started in 1964, produces 33 million of those 55 million bottles? 
Super hashuma

Did you know, also also, that the chateau uses modern processing, but still harvests all the grapes by hand and ages the wines in French oak barrels for up to 2 years? 

Fasctinating…but still hashuma

Did you know that you can take a tour and wine tasting of Chateau Roslane?

Awesome. And deliciously hashuma.  

I organized a little excursion to Les Celliers de Meknes while my parents were here. And let me just say, it was surprisingly legit. 

After wrangling transportation including a train to Meknes, and two grand taxis to the winery located about 25km outside of town, we were introduced to the place by Fadoua. She explained the process as we walked around the plant, then explained vintages while we toured the cellars full of barrels of aging wines. Then, we got to taste two wines- a white and a red- as well as their finest champagne, the piece de resistance

It was such a fun excursion. I never thought I’d get to see this side of Morocco. It left me with a lot of questions (how the heck did the owner- the country’s first billionaire- ever get a license to do this?), and some great memories. 

And to go along with that bottle of Cabernet from Les Celliers, I thought I’d offer you all a recipe! 
Isn’t it wonderful when all the stars align and, for one split second, every ingredient you need for a certain recipe is in season in the market? Well, it happens to be pomegranate season here in Morocco (what a pretty pink season!), and it is always dried fig season, and my return from the winery automatically made it wine season chez moi, AND I found vanilla extract in the market in Tetouan…so, ta da! I finally get to test/adapt Heidi Swanson’s recipe for 

Grown-Up Fig Newtons with Moroccan Red Wine
(AKA: Anti-Terrorism Hashuma Cookies. You heard me right. )

Fig Spread (start 24 hours in advance of the cookies)
1/2 pound dried figs
1/2 cup pomegranate juice (I crushed and strained my own pomegranate seeds, much too labor intensive. You can use juice such as Pomegreat, and fight terrorism in the process!)
1/2 cup dry red wine, such as Les Celliers de Meknes’ Cabernet or Merlot (the original recipe called for port)
1/4 cup lemon juice

To prepare the fig spread chop the figs into quarters, removing any knobby stems that might remain. (check for little wormies inside too! I’ve learned this the hard way) Put the pieces in a medium bowl or Mason jar and cover with the liquids. Soak the figs for 24 hours, or at least overnight. Before you make the cookies, drain the figs of the liquid, except for a few tablespoons. Put the figs and remaining liquid in a food processor and blend to make a thick paste, somewhat like a tapenade consistency.

Fig Cookie Dough- (which was Gluten-Free in the original recipe [awesome!]…but you can substitute 2.5 cups of all-purpose flour for the first 4 ingredients)
1 cup brown rice flour
1 cup sorghum flour
1/2 cup tapioca flour
1/2 teaspoon xantham gum
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
scant 1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup organic cane sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons molasses or honey

Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. (Or take it to your neighborhood public oven and allow Master Baker Mohammed to do his thang…it always turns out perfect)

Mix all the dry ingredients in a medium-size bowl. Set aside.

Put the softened butter into a mixer. Add the brown sugar and cane sugar to the butter and cream together. Cream until well blended, scraping down the sides of the bowl a few times if needed.

Add the egg, vanilla, and molasses (I used honey instead). Mix until blended. Add the dry ingredients slowly, and mix until blended. Split the dough into two pieces, wrap each in plastic and then refrigerate the dough for at least one hour. This is key with gluten-free doughs.

My friendly neighborhood baker!

After you've chilled the dough, roll out half the dough to 1/4-inch thickness on plastic or piece of parchment paper. Slather the fig spread over the surface of the dough, stopping just shy of the edges. Roll out the second half of dough to roughly the same size as the first. Lay it over the fig spread. Crimp the edges with a fork to seal in the fig spread.

Slide the baking sheet into the oven for 15 minutes, checking occasionally to make sure the dough isn't browning too much. Remove when the edges are just starting to get nice and golden. Let cool for 10 minutes. When the cookies have cooled, cut the edges off to make straight lines. Slice the giant cookie into small squares.

Enjoy a cookie (or two or…) with the rest of the bottle of that red. Better invite a friend. Just make sure they’re legal, in every way. 


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Your gift to me: restoring The Wonder.

I was blessed with a little stream of visitors these past few weeks, which- besides allowing me time to re-connect with friends and family- allowed me to see and do things that I’ve never explored. That’s the perk of having guests to my homes abroad: seeing the country through their eyes renews my sense of Wonder about the place, and I appreciate it again in a different way.   

First, my dear old friend Maria came with her mom Joan riiiiiight at the end of Ramadan. So they got to experience the difficulty of finding a meal during daylight hours, a legit iftar meal, and the quietness-slash-rowdyness that is t Eid Al-Fitr on the very last day of their visit. Let’s call it an “authentic” Moroccan experience. 

Some highlights:
-hamam in Tetouan = non-stop giggles and deep exfoliation
-Going to Assilah, a lovely blue-and-white beach town just south of Tangier. I’ve never been there, and it is a really chill vacation space with art all over the medina.
-Riding a hilariously bumpy horse cart down to the beach and back
-visiting my old ‘hood in Fes. Staying at the gorgeous Dar Bouanania. Seeing Hassan the Hanout Guy again and getting a big hug from him. Fessi fruit salad, of course.

Then came the Mom & Pop for a 30th Wedding Anniversary Vacation…to visit me! (Congrats, Parents!) Highlights of their sejour include:
-Showing them my apartment in Rabat, of which I am so proud
-A tea party with Mrs. Ambasador Sylvia at the Ambassador's Residence, just the four of us…and one enormous rat.
-visiting the Chellah and touristy sights in Rabat that I take for granted
-Dar Fes Medina, with its welcoming staff and incredible breakfasts

-Dinner on the town with Caitlyn
-A winery tour/wine tasting at Les Celliers de Meknes. Yes indeed, I will write more about this soon. In a phrase: surprisingly legit and deliciously hashuma.
-having my parents meet Lalla Fatima, my adopted granny here
-The Blue Parrot/Rick’s Café and the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca…is there anything else?

Of course, my favorite moments were spent over amazing meals and conversation. Laughing and mourning and learning with my guests. Now I’m feeling refreshed and ready to be rooted in Rabat, at least for a bit, while this research takes more shape. Only 3 months left! Yikes!