Thursday, January 9, 2014

Greetings from Agadir, Morocco!

Greetings from Agadir, Morocco!

Alas, the greetings are not my own but rather from a reader, Anita, who sent me some photos from sunny North Africa. (I'm in NYC, where a snowstorm has closed the Union Square Market, chased away even the hardiest of street vendors and even emptied the supermarket shelves of their dubious produce options.)

Anita writes,
I'm on the last bit of a tour of Morocco that includes Casablanca, Marrakesh and Essaouira. I thought you'd appreciate this picture of the central market in Agadir, a city on the Atlantic Coast. This market was actually featured on our tour!

Many people know Moroccan cuisine for its tajinescouscous and cinnamon - infused dishes. Despite some desertification, Morocco is also a big producer of produce - melons, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, olives, figs, dates, and, most prominently of all, citrus fruits. Just about the only Moroccan fruit I've ever seen for sale in the U.S. are Royal Moroc clementines.

Anita writes, 

I saw avocados; nice-looking strawberries and raspberries; gorgeous, huge persimmons; small bananas; squash and eggplant; big navel oranges. Clementines are ubiquitous.

Perhaps Morocco's best known agricultural product is argan oil, which has been used for culinary and cosmetic purposes within Morocco for millennia. More recently, it's become very popular all over the world as an anti-oxidant powerhouse hair and skin conditioner. Argan trees, native to Morocco, grow fruits that contain kernels (not unlike cashew apples) that are harvested for oil.  Argan oil's popularity has been good for the environment - the hardy trees are fighters against desertification - and for women's economic development in Morocco, since much of the argan oil industry is based upon women's cooperatives

Argan fruit extremely popular with another group, whom Anita photographed on the road between Essaouira and Casablanca chowing down in the trees: goats. 

It's nice to know that even these famously non-discerning eaters occasionally eat right!

Thanks, Anita, for sharing your trip with me. I feel warmer already.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Winter Melon One Pot Wonder

I'll admit it - even after years of shopping for produce in Chinatown, I still encounter mysterious vegetables that intimidate me. Winter melon is a good example. 

I guessed from its looks that winter melon was a kind of summer squash, but I was at a loss thereafter. Good thing my friend Thom, a Hong Kong native, is there to break it down for me!

She said, "Winter melon is like a cross-bred hairy cucumber and zucchini. The seeds inside are edible, so you don't have to pick them out. Winter melon is heartier than a cucumber, and it's popular in many Chinese stews and soups."

Thom likes to feature winter melon in this recipe. As she notes, it can be a side dish, or with the simple addition of mung bean vermicelli (aka cellophane noodles), a main course. Best of all, "It's a one pot wonder!"


  • 1 winter melon
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed, or 2-3 slices of ginger
  • 1/2 cup broth (Note: since this is a vegetarian blog, I will suggest vegetable broth)
  • Dash of soy sauce
  • Optional: mung bean vermicelli, softened for 1 minute in boiling water then immediately drained

1) Cut off both ends of the winter melon and peel off the skin to get rid of the fuzz.

2) Cut the winter melon in sections, then cut it into wedges. Keep the size of the wedges consistent so that the winter melon will cook evenly.


3) Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large pot. Add the garlic and let it infuse the oil, making sure that the garlic does not burn. If you do not like garlic, you may use a few slices of ginger as a substitute.

4) Add the wedges of winter melon and a pinch of salt, stirring to ensure that all of the winter  melon is coated with the seasoned oil.

5) Add 1/2 cup broth and let simmer for about 5-7 minutes. Note: If you plan to add vermicelli to your dish, add extra broth at this point. The noodles, which you will add after the winter melon is cooked, will soak up any excess liquid in the pot. Cook until the winter melon turns translucent. 

6) Add soy sauce, perhaps adding a bit more to taste. If you're cooking winter melon as a side dish, you're done! 

7) If you're making the winter melon with noodles, add the drained vermicelli to the winter melon, turn off the fire and keep the lid on for 2 minutes. Try to keep the noodles on one side of the pot.

Enjoy! A great start for winter and the new year!