We spent this past weekend in Marrakech and even though it was HOT (allegedly up to 45 C or 113 F) we had a wonderful time. Omar and I stayed at an intimate riad in the Marrakech medina. What is the riad? Since this is neither an architectural blog nor a true travel blog, I’ll be brief.
A riad is a traditional Moroccan palace or home. Central to the structure is an interior, open-air courtyard, usually with a water feature in the center. The rooms of the riad are situated around the perimeter of the courtyard. The water feature, usually a small pool or fountain, serves to circulate the air and cool the home. Often within the courtyard there is a small garden that may include trees. Perhaps what I find most fascinating about the riads I’ve seen since my time in Morocco is how plain, unassuming, and even unattractive the exterior of a riad may be. For example, in the medina (the “old city,” more on that in another post) riads usually have simple mud or clay exteriors. From the exterior, there is nothing eye catching to lure you inside. In fact, I forgot to take a picture of the little alley way where our riad was situated because it was so unassuming. Step inside however, and the interior of restored and well-maintained riads are breathtaking. Detailed woodwork and tiling capture the essence of Moroccan architecture. Nowadays riads are often renovated and serve as restaurants or hotels. We stayed at Riad Djebel, a small riad consisting of just five rooms and the warmest hospitality.
Compared to Rabat, Marrakech is bustling with activity. We were in Marrakech for just two short days. We eased ourselves into the trip with a nice dinner at La Foundouk and a visit to the tranquil Jardin Majorelle. Then, later in the afternoon and evening (when it was cooler) we browsed the souks and I marveled at snake charmers at the famous Djemaa el-Fna plaza. Despite warnings from travel guides and our compatriots from countries with strict food safety standards, we delved right in and embraced our status as residents of Morocco by quenching our thirst with freshly squeezed orange juice and jumped from stall to stall dining (ok, braving) the night market food at Djemaa el-Fna. After our dinner, following the advice of my mother to drink alcohol with “risky” foods, we enjoyed a bottle of wine on the terrace of our riad. I’ll admit that I went to bed hoping that neither of us would wake up in the middle of the night finding ourselves with a nasty stomach bug, but even if we did, the food and the experience were worth it. The exotic, sites, smells, sounds, and clustering of locals just can’t be experienced in sanitized dining environments.
We made it without a hiccup and after two days of indulgence in heavy, meat based meals, I made a veggie packed rice and lentil dinner to get us back onto our regular meals. The rice and lentil concoction is a staple in our house, a one-pot meal that we easily stretch for 2-3 meals. Back in the US, I’ve even made this with a slow cooker just by tossing everything in and cooking on high for 3-4 hours. I often make it with chicken bouillon, but you can easily make this recipe vegan by using vegetable broth instead. It’s a cozy, stick-to-your bones, home cooked meal and it’s perfect after a long day of travel without loading up on unhealthy foods. What’s your go-to meal after arriving home from travel?
LENTILS WITH VEGETABLES AND BROWN RICE
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, roughly chopped
2 large carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
1 stalk of celery, roughly chopped (add other vegetables as you like, as long as they can tolerate long, slow cooking, I’ve added bell peppers, zucchinis, and mushrooms to this recipe before.)
2-3 cloves of garlic, smashed
1 teaspoon dried cumin
1 teaspoon dried coriander
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
1 – 1.5 cups of brown or green lentils, rinsed and picked over
½ – 1 cup of brown rice (I usually use less rice and more lentils, so I’ve even used up to 2 cups of lentils with ½ cup of rice before)
1 24 oz. can of crushed tomatoes, with juices
3-4 cups of chicken or vegetable broth (A good rule of thumb is about 1.25 cups of broth for every cup of rice or lentils.)
SLOW COOKER: If you make this in a slow cooker, put everything in the pot and just enough broth to come up to an inch below the top of the veggies and/or follow the 1.25 cups of broth suggestion above) 3-4 hours on high will do it, and ideally, a little stir half way through is good just to get the veggies poking out above the surface, but not necessary.
STOVE TOP: In a large heavy bottom pan or Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add all the veggies and garlic. Saute the veggies for about 5-7 minutes until fragrant and softening.
Then add the spices, rice, and lentils. Coat everything evenly with the spices.
Then add the crushed tomatoes and broth, then bring to a boil. Once boiling, turn down to a simmer, cover and cook for about 25 minutes or until the lentils and rice are tender. Keep an eye on it and add broth or water if it starts to look dry before the lentils and rice are tender.