Juicy Olive

The quest for “the good life” should never be complete but it should definitely begin now.

Plat du Jour April 17, 2009

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Yesterday’s post about Morocco has me straight back in the medinas. I can’t get my mind off that trip today. So, I figured it may be fun to share a bit about the glorious cuisine in Morocco as a way to channel my memories and tempt your tastebuds.

The interesting thing about Moroccan food is that there are actually a fairly limited number of ingredients, but the way you work with them transforms even the most simple of items into masterpieces. I learned that one day at the charming cafe called Nid’cigogne. Just across the street from the Saadian Tombs, I sat and looked down at the street from the third floor terrace of this simple establishment. After climbing a steep set of stairs, I settled in at the table and gazed out at a couple of storks who were carefully guarding their nests – and potentially engaging in similar people-watching as I.

Storks spectating from above.

Storks spectating from above.

I had read that Nid’cigogne was a good spot for an authentic, yet simple lunch. Boy did it deliver.

Upon glancing over the menu I noticed very affordable salads, and so I assumed that they’d be an appropriate starter. I selected the sampler of Moroccan salads. As a main course, I asked for a beef kabob sandwich.

Seemed basic, and in many ways it was. But this simple establishment was clearly waiting to teach me a thing or two about what makes these basic dishes so remarkable.

First course: moroccan salad medly

First course: moroccan salad medly

The salad sampler was HUGE! Truly, I didn’t need any more food than that. For a mere $3, I received three different salads. One was a sweet carrot mixture – served at room temperature, the carrots were cooked al dente and dressed in a vinaigrette of bright olive oil, cumin, parsley, sugar and salt. Another was a cold rice salad with tuna. I honestly wasn’t sure if there were any other ingredients. As a result, you got the true flavor of the fish and the real texture of the rice. Finally, a classic tomato salad with roasted peppers, olive oil, salt, pepper, cumin and onion. All three were alarmingly simple, yet so flavorful.

Beef Kebab Sandwich with Fries

Beef Kebab Sandwich with Fries

Next up was the $4 beef kebab sandwich. There’s basically one kind of bread in Morocco: khobz. Cooked in a huge, wood-fired community oven, loaves are about 6″ round and 2″ high. They’re crusty on the outside and soft on the inside. At Nid’cigogne, they took half a loaf and stuffed it with perfectly grilled steak (juicy and charred) and shredded lettuce. That’s it. The fries were crispy and not greasy. I didn’t even end up using the ketchup, though I went heavy-handed with the mixture of cumin and sea salt served with it. The earthiness of the cumin and the sharpness of the salt brought out the natural flavors of the beef.
By the time I was about halfway through the sandwich and a few fries in, I was stuffed. And I was amazed. The ingredient list to make this meal was so simple. And yet I had so many flavors coursing through me.
While I’m clearly someone who is willing to go all-out for the meal of a lifetime, it’s critical that we all remember how much simplicity counts when pleasing our palates and getting back to the core of what makes food so good.

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