Eating dinner at my Moroccan Mémé's house is the highlight of my year. It used to be the highlight of my week, and my stomach and I both profoundly regret my decision to move so far away from her kitchen. Moroccan dinners have this amazing complexity that is somehow rooted in extreme freshness. The meal starts off with ten salads and it ends with a spread of sliced fruits and sweet fresh mint tea. In the middle there is fish, and then there is meat, often with couscous and vegetables, and chickpeas. Yes, the fish and meat are intensely flavored, but sandwiched between all those fresh vegetables and fruits, the meal is like a walk through some enchanted exotic garden.
One of the best parts about eating in France is eating Moroccan. Moroccan food has permeated French culture. Whether it's using roses and orange flowers in desserts, or buying a baguette stuffed with fiery merguez sausages and french fries on a street corner, or going out for a fancy couscous dinner, you can get some killer Moroccan food in France. French food today is not just about coq au vin; it's about all the flavors that come from all the people who live in France. And North Africans make up a solid portion.
I love my Mémé's tagines, but I also want to put my own stamp on tradition and make something a bit more tongue-in-cheek, modern, and simple. This is my lamb meatball tagine, made with tender, big balls of ground lamb, flavored with carrots, shallots, tomatoes, golden raisins, cilantro, mint, and ras-el-hanout—a spice mix made from everything from cumin to cinnamon to dried chilies to rose petals. It adds that perfect kick of heat, spice, and sweetness signature to North African cuisine without requiring you to concoct your own blend ad hoc. I love serving this over a bed of couscous tossed with Meyer lemon olive oil or—if I'm being more French about it—with torn warm hunks of crusty baguette. It's comforting, but unfamiliar. Really fun.