But I was pleased to find a wide variety of meat-free food on offer, and a colourful array of vegetables included in most meals. To my surprise, Moroccan food is much fresher and lighter than I expected and I was able to avoid surviving on a diet consisting solely of flatbread.
Here are the seven best vegetarian dishes I tried throughout my 11-day trip.
1. Vegetable tagine
Whether you’re vegetarian or not, tagine is a staple with most Moroccan meals (like rice and curry in Sri Lanka or bread and olive oil in Italy). While the North African stew is often associated with beef or chicken, it can be made meat-free with delicious results. Commonly cooked with onion, garlic, ginger, pumpkin, carrot, zucchini and chickpeas, a tagine is seasoned with spices like cinnamon, cumin, turmeric and saffron and often topped with dried fruits or nuts for a bit of crunch and sweetness. Be warned – a truly authentic tagine must be cooked in a thick bottomed clay tagine pot, to ensure the flavour is just right.
A pastilla is one of the most unusual combinations of flavours I have ever tasted. Fellow Aussies will be familiar with the concept of an individual savoury pie and pastillas are a Moroccan version of that. They are commonly served as a starter to an important meal and are a uniquely Moroccan treat.
Pastillas come in all sorts of meat varieties (traditionally made with squab), but I opted for a vegetable version. Imagine a range of savoury vegetables cooked in broth and spices, encased in a thin, crispy werqa dough (like pastry) – sounds great, right? But here’s where it gets weird… topped with powdered sugar and cinnamon!? I have to admit, every mouthful confused me, so perhaps the combination of sweet and savoury is an acquired taste, but it’s undoubtedly an experience worth having.
3. Moroccan salad
A colourful, fresh salad is the perfect starter or light accompaniment to any Moroccan main – and rest assured you will find a Moroccan salad at most restaurants. A simple combination of ripe, red tomatoes, green capsicum, red onion, coriander and olives chopped with cumin and a mixture of olive oil and vinegar, you could be forgiven for expecting to find this salad on an Italian menu. But, the dish was actually born out of Morocco’s clash of North African and European cultures, combined with their bountiful crops of fresh produce.
4. Berkoukech soup
Berkoukech soup (or Berber soup as my local leader called it) is a traditional dish of the nomadic Berber people of Morocco. While it is traditionally made with red meat, some places will do a vegetarian version. The basis of the soup is pearl couscous, chickpeas, an assortment of vegetables, spices and fresh coriander in a tomatoey broth. Warm, hearty and classic Moroccan flavours – you can’t ask for much more on a cold night in the desert!
Briouats are triangular fried pastries with a sweet or savoury filling, making them one of the most diverse Moroccan foods. In look they may remind you of an Indian samosa, but the flavours are distinctly Moroccan. The vegetable ones I ate were full of grated veggies including beetroot, carrot and pumpkin combined with a Moroccan spice mix. The crispy parcels are normally served as a starter, but they’re so tasty I had them as an entire meal once or twice.
6. Berber omelettes
While omelettes may conjure up images of crowded hotel buffets for some, Berber omelettes are cooked in a clay tagine pot, which makes the egg fluffy on top and crispy on the bottom. While like with any omelette you can customise the toppings, you will traditionally find onion, cumin, paprika, saffron, tomato and possibly olives and preserved lemon in a Berber variety.
7. Spiced couscous
Spiced couscous is practically the national dish of Morocco, and with good reason. This fragrant, filling dish is part of most staple meals due to the readily available ingredients and all-round tastiness. The couscous is cooked with a selection of seasonal vegetables, orange juice, stock, spices, fresh mint, chickpeas and some raisins for sweetness, meaning every mouthful is full of flavour.
Our Morocco Real Food Adventure can be tailored to suit dietary requirements – so even if you’re vegetarian you’re sure to have a tasty time! Moroccan not your cuisine of choice? Check out our full range of Real Food Adventures.
Hero image by Amy Foyster.