Nutrition

A trip to Morocco and a bowl of Harira soup

I recently went on a research trip to Morocco where I stayed for two months, and I am now back with loads of new recipes, ideas and inspiration. I went there expecting to buy a few popular products such as Argan oil, but I was completely blown away by the amount of natural products available, and regularly used by Moroccans. Walking around the souq, I found chebbah (Alun stone), a huge amount of different oils, from avocado to habba sawda (black seeds), a large number of herb and spice mixes used as medicine, my favourite ghassoul and henna… I experienced a whole different culture, with men and women taking regular trips to the hammam to  peel their skin with a loofa glove, called keess, and to purify themselves. Close to Meknes where I was staying, there are two thermal stations, called Sidi Hrazem and Moulay Yacoub, where water and mud and used to relax and cure various ailments. Over the next couple of weeks, I will discuss all those in more details and try out new recipes to use my findings.Unknown

For now, as we are in the midst of the holy month of Ramadan, I would like to share a soup recipe, Harira. Moroccans traditionally break their fast with a couple of dates, a bowl of harira seasoned with lemon juice, boiled eggs and sweets such as chebbakia or sellou. Harira is the perfect food to replenish the body after a long day, as it has a great balance of vitamins, proteins and nutritients. It is an ultimate comfort food: warm, feeling and full of flavour. It is also easy  to adapt to your taste, by using different vegetables or turning it into a vegetarian or gluten free version.

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Here is my recipe for Harira soup:

Ingredients:

– 1kg of fresh tomatoes, skinned (if I am being lazy, I use two tomato cans).

– 2 Onions

– A few branches of celery (can be replaced by cabbage, carrots, peppers, or pretty much any veg you have left in the fridge, in small quantity).

– A small bunch of parsley

– A small bunch coriander

– 100g of red meat, cut in small pieces (I use either beef or lamb; bones are good too as they give more depth of flavour).

– 200g of chick peas, canned/ 200g of brown lenses (I tend to use a bit of both)

– 200g of vermicelli pasta (you can use rice instead)

– Two tablespoons of flour (it is used to make the soup thicker, but you can do without for a gluten free soup)

– Spices to taste: salt and pepper, 1/2 tsp of curcuma and 1/2 tsp of paprika.

– A table spoon of cooking oil

My recipe is very simple: I put the tomatoes, the onions, the parsley and the coriander, all roughly cut, in a pressure cooker with the oil and spices. I add about 1L of water, cover and let cook for 30 mins. Once cooked, I mix everything with a hand mixer, then put back on the fire after adding the meat and the chickpeas/lenses. I cook for another hour or until the pulses are cooked. I then add the pasta and the flour, which I mix with a bit of water first. Tada! It’s ready to serve. Add water if you find the soup a bit thick, and serve with lemon.

This soup keeps really well in the freezer, so you can cook a big batch and use when neeed (for Ramadan for instance).

Health and Beauty

The benefits of Black Soap (Savon Noir)

I talk about the wonders of oil, in particular olive oil, in a previous post, in particular about their health and beauty benefits. Well Black Soap, produced in North Africa, is like a condensed version: it is made out of oil, often using the famous Moroccan Argan oil, and macerated olives, and it is thus packed with therapeutic qualities. Black soap is particularly rich in vitamin E and is known for deeply purificating the skin, as well as preparing the skin for exfoliation. In Morocco, women often use it in the hammam (public baths) before peeling their skin with a loofah. It should be applied on wet skin and left a couple of minutes to rehydrate and purify the body, before being rinsed off.

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Black Soap or Savon noir from Morocco

Don’t be fooled by its aspect: its texture is more like butter than regular soap, but it is all natural, works with all types of skin and has a light scent. The damage of chemical perfumes added to soaps, shower gels and shampoos on the skin and hair is well documented:  Black soap is a great, 100% natural and organic alternative, usually made the old fashioned way by small producers. If you want to try making your own black soap, try my basic black soap recipe.

Black soap can also be diluted with water and used as a cleaner and detergent. It has tons off properties: it can be used to clean floors and tiles, windows and leather furniture, it removes grease from ovens, baking trays or plates, and it is also used as a stain remover.

Furthermore, it can also be used in the garden to help get rid of parasite. Just spray diluted black soap on affected plants and leaves. It is a great product before it acts as a natural repellent without destroying the environment as would do traditional pesticides. In fact, black soap has so many different uses that I can’t list them all! Stay blessed!

Health and Beauty

Washing your hair, the Moroccan way!!

I’ve always been fascinated by the beauty regime of North African women: the ritual of the hammam, the application of henna of the hair and the skin, the attention given to the skin and hair to make them strong and healthy…and of course the majority of the products they traditionally use are entirely natural and locally sourced! There are real lessons to be learnt here.

Moroccan Ghassoul.

Ghassoul is a type of clay typically used to cleanse the hair, although it can also be used as mask on the face and body. It is produced exclusively in the Atlas mountains in Morocco, and it is rich in minerals. It helps remove grease by absorbing sebum without drying the hair out, and makes it shiny and soft. It is usually sold either as a power, or as dry flakes. To use it, mix it with warm water until it becomes a paste a apply on wet hair. Leave for a few minutes and rinse abundantly. You can also add a few drops of argan oil for dry hair, or use essential oils as scent.

Henna powder

‘Neutral’ henna, which doesn’t dye the hair, is also often use for hair treatment  or as a conditionner. It comes as a green powder, made into a paste by adding water. Some turn it into a regenerating mask by mixing it with yoghurt, oil or honey. It is recommended to use it once a month to give moisturize the hair and make it shiny. Leave it until it dries, then rinse and wash your hair. Ghassoul and henna are two natural, chemical free products, cheaper than manufactured shampoos and hair conditionners, and they are produced by local communities. What’s more to ask?