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Plant-Based Guide to Morocco

Sharon Palmer

I just got back from a life-altering trip to Morocco. This country has been on my bucket list for a long time, and I have to say that visiting it in real time was so much better than I had ever anticipated. Morocco is an ancient land of traditions, ethnic influences, hospitality, vibrant colors, geographical wonders, architectural treasures, the warmest of people, and flavorful, aromatic foods. Here I am (with Peter), enjoying a memorable meal at the incredible Nomad restaurant, which sits atop the city of Marrakesh. Join me on my plant-powered adventures of Morocco.

Vegetable Tagine

I pretty much lived on this classic plant-based dish in Morocco, which is served in most restaurants. I have a tagine, a clay cooking pot with a tapered dome lid, at home. I even have my own recipe for a vegetable tagine in my book Plant-Powered for Life, yet I never fully appreciated the significance of the tagine in Moroccan cooking until my trip there. You see, life in Marrakesh and its environs is all about the soil, which is deep red due to the clay. Marrakesh is “the red city” because all of the buildings are made of the native clay. So, that is why terracotta and clay play such a huge part in architecture, design, and even cuisine. The tagine IS the every day cooking vessel in Morocco—you won’t see aluminum and stainless steel pots for cooking. I saw it used to cook all manner of foods in open fires, over single kerosene burners, and on restaurant stoves. The vegetable tagine always has carrots and potatoes, as well as a few other items, depending on the chef, such as green beans, zucchini, eggplant, and olives. It comes in a tomato broth and is spiced with local seasonings.

Tagines at a Marrakesh Restaurant        

These are kept on low heat to cook dishes.

Breakfast at Riad Hamdane, Marrakesh

While in Marrakesh, we stayed at a beautiful old riad in the ancient medina—the old part of the city.  I highly recommend staying in a riad, which is like a cloistered little treasure behind a city wall along some hidden alley. When you open the door, you walk into a quiet oasis of tiles, courtyards, fountains, songbirds, marble, and antiques. Climb up the stairs to sit atop the city and take it all in. Our riad was an absolute delight. Do I need to tell you about the hospitality in Morocco? The staff met us at our car on the street to help us into our riad, took us to their favorite vegetarian restaurant one night, and were at the ready to help us with anything we needed. And just check out the lovely breakfast we enjoyed each morning.

Marrakesh, Bread

I had to snap this photo of fresh bread being delivered to cafes in Marrakesh. The bread was so good in Morocco.

Fruit Carts, Marrakesh

In the streets and souks of Marrakesh, I saw scores of carts like this, filled to the brim with local, fresh produce, and being pulled by hand or donkey. The cuisine in Morocco is pretty much all local. You won’t find anything on the menu harking from another country. Morocco has an intriguing food system, with a diverse geography, from coasts and desserts to mountains and valleys. They can grow an astonishing amount of produce, including citrus (oranges grow bountifully) and pomegranates seen on this cart.

Spices at Marrakesh Souks

It’s all about the spices in Marrakesh, which are becoming trendy in the US, too. I could not get enough of the spices, and I brought home local cinnamon, cumin (a favorite spice used as we would black pepper at the table), paprika, turmeric, and herbal tea blends. The spice merchants lure you off the street with a taste of their famous sweet green tea, followed by a little in-service on the benefits of spice. And then the pressure is on to buy spice!

Spices, Marrakesh

My spice merchant shows me his fresh turmeric.

Ras Al Hanout at the Marrakesh Souks

So, if you’ve ever tried the spice blend Ras Al Hanout, you know how wonderful it is—an exotic blend of sweet, savory, heat, and earth, all mixed into one deep rich red spice. And my spice merchant showed me that these are the key spices that go into Moroccan’s favorite spice blend. All of these are produced locally—even the pink rose buds are famously grown in in Morocco, in the Valley of Roses, which we drove through.

Souks, Marrakesh

The souks are a marvelous collision of flavors, aromas, noises, bartering, animals, motorcycles, tourists, and locals. You experience all of this as you wind through the pathways of ancient stalls, which start out in the square. Some of the stalls in the Marrakesh souks date back centuries, and I saw all manner of artisans making metalwork, foods, and delicacies in small shops. I took home spices, pottery, rugs, and blankets from Marrakesh.

Local Produce, Marrakesh

This local stall sold gorgeous local produce, including pomegranates, papaya, pineapple, citrus, and kiwi.

Bread, Marrakesh Souks

Again, it’s all about the bread in Morocco. Wheat is one of the main crops here. Think the fertile crescent—the origins of wheat in North Africa, and it’s easy to see why this crop is so important here.

Spice Cake, Marrakesh Souks

This cake may look moist and fudgy, but it’s like biting into pure cinnamon and spice—I mean ground cinnamon in place of flour kind of spice. I loved it! I’ve been told it’s called sellou, which is a Berber delicacy. Sold at the souks, you get a small dish served with an equally spicy tea.

Breakfast Breads, Morocco

Breakfast is a carb feast in Morocco. You will quite often get this airy, spongy bread (on the bottom left) served with jam, as well as other breads that are shaped like donuts, but are essentially bread,vserved with jams, and apple cake (top).

Cauliflower Pomegranate Salad, Nomad, Marrakesh

We mostly ate simple, rustic food in Marrakesh, but one day we splurged at a chic eatery called Nomad, which specializes in local foods prepared with a more modern twist. You might think you were in LA, given the hip vibe in this spot. This crunchy, flavorful salad was amazing!

Dips, Nomad, Marrakesh

These dips were based on pumpkin, green vegetables, and beets.

Olives, Morocco

I could not get enough of olives in Morocco. They are often brought to your table as a complimentary starter, or you can purchase them for a small price. They range the gamut of spicy, yeasty, green, and black. Olive trees grow profusely throughout Morocco. I had olives every single day!

Olive trees, Morocco

I saw olive trees all over Morocco, this is east of the Atlas Mountains.

Traditional Bread, Morocco

This flat, simple bread is served at every meal in Morocco. The locals use it instead of silverware to portion up food and eat it. I have to admit tagine tastes really good mopped up with this bread.

Berber Village, Morocco

We hit a cold snap in Morocco during our visit, and it snowed quite heavily in the Atlas Mountains. We passed over the Atlas, visiting countless small Berber villages, like this one, along the way. These are ancient villages, fashioned from the regional soils. The settings were magnificent.

Farming, Morocco

We took a walk with a guide in a local farm east of the Atlas Mountains, in Tinehir. The farming practices are ancient, with hand-dug irrigation channels, rotations of crop between wheat, fava, alfalfa, and vegetables, and agroforestry—citrus, palm, and olives planted amid crops. They use composting to nourish the soil.

Squash in Fields, Morocco

The crops are rotated among vegetables, wheat, and alfalfa–to feed animals, which are mostly limited to goats and sheep.

Red Berber Villages

So many of these picturesque villages east of the Atlas Mountains.

Coffee Traditions, Morocco

We loved the strong, espresso coffee served in Morocco. It was common tradition to stop for a stiff cup of coffee in the afternoon.

Vegetable Pastries with Rice, Hotel Tombouctou

We stayed in a lovely old Kasbah turned into a hotel and enjoyed these filled pastries with vegetables for dinner.

Fruit for Dessert

Just love the simple beauty of receiving local whole fruit for dessert at a restaurant.

In the Berber village of Tenehir, we visited a co-op of women artisans making rugs. I saw the rug-making from the beginning, starting with wool shorn from sheep, made into yarn, died with vegetable dyes, and finally to hand made into a rug on the loom. This process can take a couple of years for one rug. I bought a hand-made rug from this woman for my home.

Sahara, Morocco

A highlight from our trip was visiting the Sahara on camel and staying overnight in a tent there. We started at this auberge, with tea and peanuts, with our guide Mustafa. You can see the vast Sahara behind us.

Camel Ride in Sahara

Riding a camel at sunset and sunrise in the Sahara was an amazing experience. The red-golden sands, brilliant blue sky, loping camels…It was really cold, by the way!

Moroccan Tea, Served in the Tent in Saharan Desert

After our camel ride, we enjoyed a feast of tea, tagine, olives, bread, and fruit in a beautiful tent—powered by solar energy—in the Saharan desert. By the way, Moroccan tea is a pastime, they call it “Berber whisky”.

Sahara, Morocco

A parting shot of me at sunset on the Sahara.

What an experience! I only shared a small sliver of my time here. There is much to learn about the people, traditions, culture, villages, agriculture, and cuisine. I hope you will make time to visit this beautiful, unique land.

Farewell, Morocco. I can’t wait to return!

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