Food is an important part of Moroccan Jewish culture, as it is for the culture of every people around the world. Moroccan Jewish cuisine marries Jewish religious restrictions (kashrut) and norms with the cuisine of each of the regions where Moroccan Jews lived. Each local cuisine style in Morocco is unique, based on the peoples and cultures that have lived there over the centuries.
Moroccan Jewish cuisine makes use of the country’s abundant fruit and vegetables, mutton and lamb, almonds, walnuts, olives, and olive and argan oil. It frequently uses spices and condiments such as cinnamon, cumin, ras el hanout (a mixture of spices), ginger, saffron, paprika, garlic, preserved lemon and olives. Meat dishes are often cooked with fruit. Moroccan Jews, like their Muslim counterparts, enjoy eating organ meats. Variations of the national dish, couscous, are served with vegetables, onions and meat. Many meals include cooked salads. Fruit and pastries filled with almond paste complete the meal.
Moroccan Jewish food is strictly kosher, allowing no mixing of milk and meat products. Instead of butter, it uses oil, particularly olive oil. No shellfish, such as crabs or shrimp, and pork are ever served.
Moroccan Jews have adapted Moroccan cuisine to Jewish holidays and life cycle events. For Shabbat, when they do not light fire, they prepare a stew, called “Skina” or “Dafina,” which they cook at very low heat from Friday until Saturday at noon. Each cook has her own recipe, but typically Skhina includes meat, potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice, chickpeas, and eggs. It can be complemented with savory or sweet stuffing and chickpea soup. The Shabbat lunch begins with wine and homemade bread, over which a prayer is said. Moroccan Jews sometimes complete the meal with mahia, a very strong eau de vie made from figs, dates or grapes.
Other holidays require special foods. For Rosh Hashanah (the New Year), meals include apples and honey, seven vegetables and a sheep’s head, pomegranates and other fruit, as well as green dates. At the end of the Yom Kippur fast, Moroccan Jews eat a special holiday bread made with almonds, a rich meal and lots of cakes and pastries made from almond paste. For the holiday of Succoth, Moroccan Jews build huts decorated with fruit. Meals include couscous and bean soup. For Hannukah, the special food is beignets or sfenj (doughnuts).
The special Moroccan Jewish holiday of Mimouna ends the Passover festival. Frequently, Muslim friends and colleagues bring bread and pastry products to the homes of Jews. Jewish families fill their tables with foods and other items that symbolize the end of Passover, with its prohibition on consuming leavened products. These items include; milk, whey, butter, honey, fruit, flowers, fig tree branches, wheat, a whole fish, and five beans on top of flour. The special pancake for the evening is called “mofleta.”
There are several books of Moroccan Jewish cuisine, some of which are out of print. I particularly like “Moroccan Jewish Cookery,” by Viviane and Nina Moryoussef. Recent books include “I Thought I’d Never Taste This Again: Cuisine of Sephardic Morocco,” by Mercedes Castiel and “Grandma Elmaleh’s Moroccan Cookbook,” by Lisa Elmaleh Craig. For those who read French, there is “Cuisine Juive Marocaine,” by Rosa Amar.
In addition, the Moroccan Jewish diaspora has shared some of their recipes on-line. These websites include:
Darnna Jewish Cuisine Videos (French)
Cuisine Marocaine (French)