M'qualli is a Moroccan word that loosely translates to our word "fried."It is the most common method of cooking Moroccan foods, and it applies not only to a cooking method but also to some of the food's characteristics.
The unique cooking method is used for both special occasions like weddings, as well as for everyday meals, although the sauce may be thinner for daily meals.
Here in the U.S., we think of frying as a quick cooking method which imparts a crispy texture to foods like chicken or fries. In Morocco, it's more akin to a long sauteing process, wherein the food is infused in broth or sauce and then seared toward the end of cooking to lock in all of the juicy goodness.
There are two chief spices which define M'qualli, and those are saffron and ginger. Turmeric is also typically included and is mainly responsible for giving M'qualli foods their distinctive yellow hue. Then, depending on the dish, other flavorings such as garlic and onions, parsley and cilantro will be added, along with olive oil or a mixture of olive and vegetable oils. In other cases, the cook will use less savory flavorings and instead focus on the sweeter taste of cinnamon.
The Special Sauce
McDonalds' fast food restaurants famously coined the phrase "special sauce," referring to the sauce used for its "Big Macs," but all kidding aside, there is a special sauce that makes M'qualli cooking stand out, and it's known as Daghmira.
A sauce made primarily with onions becomes oily as it separates and becomes "waqfa" or "set." The sauce can then be used to further saute meats for special occasions or thinned down to create "marqa," a runny sauce that Moroccans love to use as a dip for their bread during a meal at home.
Making a good Daghmira is an art unto itself, and although it requires patience, the reward is a sauce that's so richly flavored that it's said that if given a choice between the meat or the sauce—but not both—most would choose the sauce. It's that delicious!
Meat in M'qualli
Chicken is the first meat that comes to mind, thanks to the famous Moroccan chicken dish with olives and preserved lemons, but other types of meats are used as well, including lamb, veal, beef, goat, rabbit and even fish.
Daghmira lends its rich flavors to many dishes thanks to its slow cooking which concentrates its delicious flavors! It's also one of the primary sauces used in Tagine --the famous (and varied) Moroccan stew (and the pot it's cooked in!).
M'qualli is One of Four Basic Styles of Moroccan Cooking
M'qualli is one of the four quintessential types of Moroccan cooking, and as Nada Kiffa for Taste of Maroc puts it, "Once you've mastered its logic and it's meaning, you will own the key to dozens of Moroccan dishes."
For countless others, however, you'll also need to study and practice the other three.
- Qadra - A delicate style of cooking famous in cities such as Fez, Meknes, Marrakech, and Rabat.
- M'hammar - A style of sauteing or oven roasting known for its distinctive red color and often reserved for special occasions.
- Mchermel - A style that requires marinating the main ingredient --whether it's meat, fish or vegetables and then using the remaining marinade as a cooking sauce as well.
But M'qualli is a great place to begin if you're starting to explore Moroccan cuisine, and you can experience some of the very best M'qualli-style dishes at Kous Kous Moroccan Bistro and Lounge in San Diego, California!