A random question that I get asked more frequently than you might expect is, “So do you eat Moroccan food, like, every day now?” The simple answer is “No, I’m not a tourist anymore” and the follow-up to that is what I say to almost any health-related question; “It’s all about balance.”
For example, I just got back from a long weekend getaway in Marrakech where all we ate was Moroccan tagines, slow-cooked meat, and rghayef (also known as messemen), which was absolutely delicious, but now I am having serious cravings for simple salads, whole grains and vegetable soups.
This is not to say, in any way, that Moroccan food is always unhealthy. On the contrary, there is such a wide variety of things to choose from in the cuisine here; farm-fresh meats, beans and lentils, vegetables cooked in so many different ways, and hearty doses of great-quality, heart-healthy olive oil drizzled on everything. There may be quite a bit of bread on the side of each meal, but it is often times home-made or whole grain. If you are eating traditionally, you’re not going to be seeing a lot of processed stuff.
I have absolutely loved learning more about this place that I now call home through adopting how to prepare and share the local food. I cook something more on the Moroccan side a couple times a week (tagines, bissara, zaalouk, etc), and on top of, that M and I usually visit his family for a meal on the weekends. His mom and sisters beat out any Moroccan restaurant in the city by a landslide.
The rest of the week, we eat a wide variety of things, but sometimes I find myself having bizarre and slightly embarrassing cravings for those health foods that have become so trendy in the states lately. I crave kale. Really, I know it’s weird, but there is no kale to be found here and sometimes I just want some dark, leafy greens. I also crave random specialty things like hemp milk, nutritional yeast, chia seeds (which are actually starting to appear here and there in Tangier), acaï breakfast bowls and green smoothies. Growing up with parents born from the hippie era, buying only organic everything and being mostly plant-based, these foods have become nostalgic and comforting when I am feeling a bit homesick.
When these specific cravings hit, it is time to get creative in the kitchen and turn our apartment into my own little hippie-cafe. While this trendy brand of health food isn’t common here, in Morocco they have their own culture of natural remedies, herbs and foods that heal the body and help the soul. Therefore, I have been able to find a lot of the specialty things I’m looking for, plus even more that I didn’t know existed. Black cumin seeds, fenugreek and whole dried soy beans are all things you can buy in bulk markets, often with tips from the shop owners of how to consume them and what they do for your well-being.
Last week, I was excited to discover barley in bulk for the first time (cheap thrills, to say the least). That was what sparked the inspiration for this dish, along with the memory of a brunch I had at Common Roots Cafe in Minneapolis over the winter holiday- a sweet potato and corn hash with a delicious and simple “corn crema.” Riffing off of that basic concept, I decided to throw some avocado into the corn-based sauce for extra creaminess and added some roasted cauliflower and barley to the roasted sweet potatoes to create a hearty dish that can be eaten at any time of the day. It is the kind of dish that keeps me feeling balanced over here as a hippie-food-loving American, fully living her life in Morocco.
- This salad is great to prepare ahead of time or on the weekend to have throughout the week. I would just recommend keeping the crema and salad separate until you're ready to assemble + eat.
- You can eat it hot or cold, depending on your mood + preference.
- If you want some extra protein, it's great with some chickpeas tossed in, a dollop of hummus on the side or a fried egg on top (for non-vegans).
Roasted Sweet Potato, Cauliflower + Barley Salad with Vegan Avocado Corn Crema
Makes about 3-4 servings, vegan
For the Salad: Preheat your oven to 400ºF and line a baking tray with parchment paper. Toss the sweet potatoes, corn and cauliflower together in a large bowl with olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread out on the tray, then roast for about 40-50 minutes or until golden brown and crispy on the outside.
Once roasted, place the vegetables in a bowl and mix with the pre-cooked barley. Add the lemon juice, extra salt + pepper to taste and stir.
For the crema: Combine all of the ingredients in a food processor until smooth. Start with 4 tbsp milk and add more if it is too thick.
To Assemble: Mix about 1-2 tbsp of the crema into vegetables + barley, then spoon the salad onto a serving dish. Drizzle with the rest of the crema and top with torn up cilantro and an extra squeeze of lemon juice. You can serve it warm or cold, keeping it in the fridge as leftovers for up to 3 days.
- 2 cups cooked barley
- 2 medium-large sweet potatoes, cubed
- 1 cup corn kernels (fresh, frozen + thawed, or canned + rinsed)
- 2 cups chopped cauliflower
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- Salt + pepper to taste
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- Fresh cilantro to serve
Avocado Corn Crema:
- 1/4 cup corn
- 1/2 large ripe avocado (or 1 small), cubed
- 4-5 tbsp unsweetened almond milk (or other unsweetened, plain non-dairy milk)
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 2 tsp fresh-squeezed lemon juice
- Salt to taste
- 1 small garlic clove (optional)