In my opinion, the best meal of our self drive adventure in Morocco is at the historic Telouet Kasbah. There are many amazing meals to be had in Morocco but for me this is a standout. It is the specialty of the region and is, of course, made in an earthenware pot called the tagine.
Telouet is a kasbah that’s secluded, off the beaten path, and filled with fascinating history. The kasbah is along the former route of the caravans from the Sahara over the Atlas Mountains to Marrakech. Below is a short video of the kasbah and surrounds.
The kasbah was the seat of the El Glaoui family's power, thus sometimes also called the Palace of Glaoui, and it was built in the 18th and 19th centuries. It lies at an elevation of 1,800 metres (5,900 ft). Occupying a strategic position in the High Atlas, the occupants of the palace had the privilege of being on the passage of caravans and near major salt mines.
In the makhzen, the pre-1957 feudal system of Morocco, a Sultan ruled the country, while a group of Pashas, the equivalent of dukes, instated local control by imposing taxes and keeping order. One of the most powerful Pashas of 20th Century Morocco was Thami El Glaoui, the “Lord of the Atlas.” The El Glaoui family had close ties to the Sultan and had presided over Kasbah Telouet since its construction in 1860, and from 1912 to 1956, Thami ruled as the Pasha of Marrakech.
Thami El Glaoui can be easily referred to as the Great Gatsby of Morocco. The El Glaoui family dominated the olive, saffron, and salt trades due to Kasbah Telouet’s optimal placement on the caravan trails, making Thami one of Morocco’s richest men. El Glaoui wielded immense political, cultural, and economic clout and was known for throwing ostentatious parties at the kasbah. By the mid-20th century, El Glaoui took his political influence one step too far. As the Moroccan independence movement was gaining popularity, El Glaoui teamed up with the French colonialists to oust the current Sultan, Mohammed V, and place Ben Arafa, a Moroccan sympathetic to the French, in power. This served El Glaoui well until 1955, when Mohammed V returned from exile in Madagascar and declared independence for Morocco.
With Mohammed V in charge once again, El Glaoui was declared a traitor and lost all of his political leverage, and Kasbah Telouet has been left to crumble ever since. The El Glaoui family charges an entry fee of 10 Dinah ($1) to the rare visitor in order to preserve the Moorish architecture, ornate windows, painted ceilings, and narrow corridors of the kasbah from decay. Although much of its original beauty is destroyed, the kasbah’s decrepit state has made it the perfect hidden gem for the few who venture out to experience it.
Now let's forget the history and get onto the tagine. We tried to find out the ingredients and we arrived at this list below.
I found a recipe for a dish called Andalusian chicken and it is the closed thing I can recall to the taste of the Telouet tagine. I serve it with a couscous packed full of fruit, herbs and nuts.
For the chicken:
Chicken stock cube
Large pinch of saffron
Large pinch of cinamon
1 red chilli, deseeded and chopped (optional)
2 tbsp sherry vinegar (or cooking sherry)
1 tbsp clear honey
6 cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 tbsp raisins
25g toasted pine nuts or almonds
1 handful of coriander, roughly chopped
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 large chicken breasts or 6 boneless, skinless thigh fillets, cut into bite sized pieces
For the couscous:
You can really throw in any sort of dried fruit and nuts you like but here is my usual mix.
1 cup dry couscous
1 cup hot chicken or vegetable stock
2 figs chopped
1 handful of raisins
1 handful of chopped almonds
1/2 carrot diced
1/4 of a yellow capsicum diced
1/4 of a red capsicum diced
1/2 a cucumber deseeded and diced
1 handful of mint diced
Seeds of 1 pomegranate
Salt and pepper
For the chicken:
Add the saffron to the hot stock to soak
Heat oil in a medium pan and cook the onion until it is just soft and beginning to turn golden
Push chicken to the side of the pan and add the chicken and cook for a few minutes until browned all over
Add the cinnamon and chilli and cook for a couple of minutes
Add the stock, vinegar/sherry, honey, tomatoes and raisins
Bring to the boil then turn down the heat to simmer for 10 minutes and the sauce is reduced and chicken cooked through
When ready scatter with the nuts and coriander and serve with the couscous
For the Couscous:
Add the couscous to the hot stock to soak for 5 minutes and then fluff up with a fork
Combine with the rest of the ingredients and serve with the chicken. The couscous can be served warm or cold.