Moroccan dining is a very social event. Whether you're new to Moroccan food or not, it is helpful to be aware of the significant holidays that involve cooking and communal eating.
The most important holiday is Ramadan, which involves a month of fasting. Non-Muslims with Muslim friends will be familiar with it, and anyone who has been to Morocco will experience it as a national holiday. The exact date changes each year as Muslims use a lunar calendar. It can occur during any of the four seasons. However, the tradition remains the same: Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, between 11 to 18 hours a day.
You may wonder how food plays such a major part of this Moroccan holiday when they are meant to fast. After sunset, Muslims gather with family and friends to celebrate and break their fast with iftar (literally meaning "breaking fast"). Sometimes they will eat dinner a few hours later. Then, they have the last meal before dawn (suhoor) to prepare for the next day's fast.
The fare on Ramadan:
Harira. It is a spicy soup that includes tomato paste, lentils, chickpeas, onion, parsley, cilantro, and sometimes vermicelli noodles and beef. There are many different recipes for harira, so exact ingredients vary from home to home.
Msemmen. The fried flatbread is either unflavored or spiced with onion, parsley, tomato, and sometimes beef.
Dates. A sweet, dark brown, oval fruit from palms trees.
Chebakia. It is a crunchy flower-shaped cookie that is fried and covered with a mixture of honey, orange flower water, cinnamon and sesame seeds.
Briouat. A pastry of phyllo dough shaped into triangles, filled with almond paste, flavored with orange flower water and cinnamon, fried, then soaked in honey and orange flower water.
Marking the end of Ramadan is Eid al-Fitr, a three-day period of prayers, food, and sweets. Sweets are a big deal at this time. They are called gateaux in French, which translates to cookies.
Dishes enjoyed during Eid al-Fitr:
Feqqas. They are similar to Italian biscotti. They are crunchy cookies with lemon zest, almonds, and raisins. They can also have cranberries, pistachios, sesame seeds, and chocolate.
Ghriba. A round cookie with a texture akin to Scottish shortbread cookies, but crunchier. It is made with flour, soft butter, lemon and orange zest, almonds, cinnamon, orange blossom water, and other ingredients. The most popular version is the chewy almond macaroon. Another favorite is the cracked version.
Kaab al-ghazal. Meaning "gazelle ankle," these crescent-shaped cookies are called cornes de gazelle (gazelle horns) in French. Pastry dough is filled with almond paste flavored with orange flower water and cinnamon, baked, then optionally covered with orange flower water and a dusting of powdered sugar.
Food during Eid al-Adha:
Lamb is barbecued over a charcoal grill or steamed with onion and spices (such as cumin, salt, pepper, cilantro, and parsley) and eaten over tea. Organ meats such as the liver, kidneys, and heart are also barbecued over a grill or on kebab skewers.