Delving into Moroccan cuisine unveils a rich tapestry of flavours, aromas, and traditions that have been passed down through generations. From my great-grandmother to my grandmother, and now to me, certain kitchen tools and ingredients have been staples in preparing the authentic Moroccan dishes that bring warmth to any meal or tea time. Among these cherished items, the gsaa holds a special place in my heart, its very essence pivotal in creating bread and pastries that are the soul of Moroccan hospitality. Here, I explore the cultural significance, alternative uses, and the essential spices and ingredients that define Moroccan cooking, complete with pronunciations and in-depth descriptions.
Essential Moroccan Cookware and Their Uses
Brazier Pot or Large Stock Pot (Tanjra) Pronounced as "tan-jrah", this extra-large cooking pot is indispensable for simmering vegetables and liquids to perfection. Ideal for large family gatherings, the tanjra is a testament to Moroccan communal dining, commonly used for dishes like harira (a rich soup).
Charcoal Brazier (Majmar) The majmar, pronounced "maj-mar", brings the traditional Moroccan method of cooking tagines over coals into the modern kitchen. This tool is essential for achieving the slow-cooked succulence of tagines, a dish that epitomises Moroccan culinary art.
Couscoussier A couscoussier is a two-piece set used for traditional Moroccan cooking. The set consists of a base pot, called a gdra, barma or tanjra for the purpose of stewing and a large, deep basket, kesskess, for steaming. As the name suggests, a couscoussier is primarily used to steam Morocco's national dish, couscous. To hone the craft of authentic Moroccan cooking, this staple is an essential. Steam the couscous several times to get the best flavour, and you can even use it for steaming a whole host of other foods, for example, rice and other pastas.
Diffuser (Simmer Ring) A diffuser or simmer ring, known as a "mrewwed", is crucial for protecting clay or ceramic tagines from direct heat. It ensures even heat distribution, a necessity for the delicate cooking process of dishes like chicken tagine with olives and preserved lemons.
Gsaa A gsaa (pronounced "g-saa") is a huge, heavy but shallow serving dish or workstation. It's great for kneading dough, shaping baked treats before pan-frying and even as a bowl to keep couscous while steaming. Traditional gsaas are wooden, delicately handcrafted masterpieces. They are few and far between these days, and so they are expensive for the average person.
Pressure Cooker The modern tagine pot, pressure cookers have largely replaced tagines as the preferred method of home cooking. They are quicker and more efficient but be wary that they don't quite create the same flavours that traditional cookware does. For example, a pressure cooker is likely to produce more sauce.
Moroccan Tea Pot and Glasses Also known as a berrad, the Moroccan tea pot and its accompanying glasses are essential to provide a proper tea service. The people of Morocco and Britain certainly share their love of tea, and in both cultures, tea is served to guests upon arrival. However, in the case of Moroccan tea service, tea is served in glass cups, not mugs or teacups.
Mortar and Pestle You'll have used a mortar and pestle before, but the old Moroccan version is called a mehraz and it's made of brass. This is so important in Moroccan cooking, without it you wouldn't be able to enjoy chermoula, Morocco's famous fish marinade. It is also used for crushing herbs and spices. I remember as a child having to pound with this and having such fun.
Serving Trays and Platters Serving trays and platters are used in Morocco almost every day. This style of serving is reflective of how Moroccans eat from communal plates. The trays are used to transport the foods, and the platters are used to present the array of dishes; an Asian-influenced peacock motif is a popular display in Morocco.
Tagine No, not the food, but the Moroccan cookware traditionally used to serve Tagine. It has a wide circular base and a cone-shaped lid which helps retain flavour and ensure your tagine has the best taste possible. If you purchase one made of clay or ceramic, it may need to be seasoned before use.
Tagra You'll only need to invest in a tagra if you are a fan of fish. These are shallow cooking pots used to cook fish tagines either in the oven or over coals. They are most commonly used in Northern Morocco.
Tangia Tangia is the urn-shaped cooking pot which you will have seen in photos of a Moroccan spread. They are often patterned and decorative but ultimately have the practical purpose of slow cooking stews, stews like the aptly named Tangia.
Key Moroccan Spices and Ingredients
Moroccan cuisine is renowned for its use of vibrant spices and fresh ingredients. Here’s a brief guide:
- Turmeric (Kurkum): Adds colour and subtle flavour, used in rice and stews.
- Garlic (Thoum): A staple for its pungent flavour, essential in marinades.
- Ginger (Skinjbir): Provides warmth and spice, perfect in tagines.
- Black Pepper (Ibzar): Used across dishes for a hint of heat.
- Cumin (Kamoun): Earthy and warm, sprinkled over grilled meats and salads.
These spices, along with fresh herbs like coriander (kuzbara) and parsley (maadnous), form the backbone of Moroccan flavour profiles.
Cultural Significance and Alternative Uses
Each item in the Moroccan kitchen carries centuries of culinary heritage, serving purposes beyond their traditional uses. The couscoussier, for instance, can be employed to steam vegetables for a healthy side dish, while the majmar can double as a barbecue pit for grilling meats and vegetables, illustrating the adaptability of Moroccan cookware to modern cooking needs.
The gsaa, beyond its culinary uses, is a symbol of the Moroccan tradition of communal eating and hospitality. It represents the gathering of family and friends, sharing meals prepared with love and care.
In my family, these tools and spices are not just utensils or ingredients; they are carriers of history, of stories told around the dining table, of laughter shared over a pot of mint tea. They connect me to my heritage, to the women who have shaped my culinary skills, and to the rich culture that I am proud to call my own.
In embracing these time-honoured kitchen essentials, we not only pay homage to Moroccan culinary traditions but also invite the warmth and richness of Moroccan cuisine into our homes, one dish at a time.
Whether you're an avid cook or a curious food enthusiast, incorporating these Moroccan staples into your kitchen repertoire will surely elevate your cooking and bring a taste of Morocco to your dining table.
You may not need every element of Moroccan cookware on this list, but it would be great to invest in a few of the items that suit your style of cooking or the type of cooking you enjoy, such as a Mortar and Pestle which really helps bring the flavours out of ingredients, remember you can still cook the best Moroccan meals without all these items.
If you enjoyed learning about the Moroccan kitchen then please check out our other blogs.