Okay, so, yesterday I told y’all all about how I traveled in Rome (cliff’s notes: it was mostly just pasta and walking and very little sleeping*). What I didn’t tell you is that my meat-burdened carry-on** and I didn’t hop a direct to JFK when my trip was over. Because my trip wasn’t over. Because when I left Rome, I flew to Morocco to meet up with the BF and visit his sister, Kira.
Kira has spent the last year living and working in Rabat, and traveling all over the country. She speaks both French and Darija, and basically has life in Morocco down. She has the cutest boyfriend ever*** and the two of them took us on an incredible road trip across the country.
When I say they “took us on a road trip” I mean Kira and KBF did all the work and we were just along for the ride. For example, on our way out of Rabat we got a flat tire. On the side of the road, Kira and KBF spoke to a passing good samaritan about refilling our tire with the air pump he happened to have in the back of his truck and how far it was to the next service station. The BF and I contributed to the effort by looking at each other in the back seat of the car and attempting to smile meaningfully at the man so he would know that we appreciated his help. He may have thought we looked like serial killers, but we couldn’t understand anything he said so I guess we’ll never know. He did not choose to follow us to the service station.
Kira and KBF may be almost a decade younger than we are, but we were the kids on the trip. They drove, handled directions, found an amazing roadside BBQ stand in Oualidia in the rain, found a puppy on the side of the road that I still regret not adopting and handled the music, introducing us to our new favorite 17-minute long arabic song about getting drunk that devolves into just noises, at which point we could all sing along.
And then when we got where we were going they translated “No, I will not delete the photo of your snake off my phone, please step away and get the snake out of my face” for the BF in Djemaa el-Fna — that phrase was only slightly beyond our vocabulary at that point, which was limited to “salem” (hello), “shoukran” (thank you), “shabbet” (I’m full), “musharafin” (nice to meet you) and “mushafarin” (thieves, which we learned when we accidentally mispronounced musharafin upon meeting our hotel proprietor in Essaouira). They also haggled like champs for those little yellow and white bowls you see in the photo above and a carpet bag suitcase that I needed. (Usually, I would be joking about needing a souvenir, no matter how adorable. But between the Italian meats and the babouche leather slippers I was buying left and right, I actually, literally needed a second suitcase to get all of my stuff home.) They suggested an amazing afternoon trip into the mountains outside Marrakech, where we saw incredible waterfalls, climbed on a rickety old wooden bridge across a beautiful river, met women making argon oil and am’lou, and got caught in an unexpected snowstorm. All around, they were the best tour guides we could have asked for.
We did our part, too, though. KBF is learning English so the BF and I taught him several important American and New York phrases. “Road trip!” we would all yell, both when we were embarking on an actual road trip and when we would take a petit taxi across town because it was drizzling and we were all soooooo full after an amazing lunch. “I’m walkin’ here!” (stage direction: strong New York accent with an overly dramatic arm gesture) was employed with aggressive shopkeepers in the medinas and “c’monnnnn” when suggesting to the rest of the group a mid-afternoon snack of meloui or yet another pot of super-sweet mint tea.
It was an incredible trip. So when the BF was feeling a bit under the weather earlier this week and we needed a little chicken soup to warm his heart and heal him from the inside, I was thrilled to find this Moroccan-inspired chicken soup. It uses ras el hanout, a north african spice blend typically used in tagines (slow-cooked meat dishes that often use a mix of sweet and savory flavors and are served all over Morocco). The name of the blend literally translates to “head (ras) of the shop (hanout)” and Kira speculated that each little grocery store around the country probably used to make and sell their own blend. Besides using traditional ingredients — ras al hanout, cous cous and preserved lemons — I have no reason to believe this soup has any connection to Morocco. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t delicious — hearty and warm, and easy enough on the stomach to be a go-to chicken soup. You can expect that this will be the first of many Moroccan-inspired dishes on Leighto Greato.
To Kira and KBF, thanks for an amazing vacation!
Flashback! One year ago on Leighto Greato: Pimento Cheese Deviled Eggs
- 1 whole chicken
- 1 T. vegetable oil
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1 T. ras al hanout (available in middle eastern grocery stores or on amazon)
- 1 t. kosher salt
- 1 t. fresh-ground black pepper
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 28 oz. chopped tomatoes
- 4 c. chicken stock
- 2 preserved lemons, pulp discarded and peels finely chopped
- ½ c. cous cous, prepared according to package instructions
- Begin by placing your whole chicken in a stockpot and covering with water. Over high heat, bring the water to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Allow the pot to simmer until the chicken is cooked through and the joints are loose, about an hour.
- Remove the chicken from the pot and allow to cool. Separate the meat from the skin and bones, and reserve to add to the soup later. I like to add the skin and bones back to the water and simmer for a couple of hours to make a lovely bone broth.
- Put a large pot or dutch oven over medium-high heat on the stove and drizzle in oil. Add onion, ras el hanout, salt and pepper, and saute until onions are translucent, about 4-5 minutes. Add garlic and saute until fragrant, about a minute longer.
- Add the tomatoes and chicken stock and increase heat to high. Bring the soup base up to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer. Add the chicken and simmer until warmed through, about 5-10 minutes.
- Immediately before serving, stir in the preserved lemons and then remove soup from heat.
- Serve hot over cous cous.
*See, now you don’t even have to read yesterday’s post.
**Hm, if that sounds weird/gross to you maybe you should read yesterday’s post. Not that it’s not weird/gross. Just that it’s explained. Whatever, up to you.
***Kira’s boyfriend shall be referred to henceforth as “KBF.” (Kira’s Boy Friend, get it?) Aren’t you glad you read the stupid footnote? If you hadn’t you would have been confused by this new acronym. When you are gossiping about this post at the watercooler and your friend is all, “Who was KBF? Where did he come from?” You’ll know. You may choose not to explain and lord your superiority over your friend. Or you could make a condescending comment about people who don’t read footnotes and see how your friend responds. Or you could just explain to your imaginary friend that she isn’t real because you’re the only person in the world who reads this blog (hi, mom!) and there is no such thing as water cooler conversations about food blogs. It’s completely up to you.