Moroccan restaurant in Abu Dhabi

We learn to cook Maghrebi munchies at Agadir at the Westin Abu Dhabi Discuss this article

© ITP Images
View slideshow
  • Picture 1 of 2

The Berber, the Moor, the Mediterranean and the Arab. This is not the opening lines of a dodgy joke. It’s just some of the cultures which have, over the centuries, enriched the culinary art that is Moroccan cuisine. Defined by its richness and diversity, when we think of Maghrebi munchies, we think slow cooking, we think giant earthenware tajines and we think exotic ingredients found only under a full moon on the other side of the legendary Mount Qaf. But thanks to a very special cooking class at the Westin’s Agadir, with chef Hakim Ait Ben Adi, all of that has changed.

Agadir runs its classes every Saturday and, to date, they’ve proved rather popular. In the time that we spent with chef Hakim, we understood why. This jovial Moroccan man has a love of food that is contagious and a way of making it all very easy. So that in the end when he eventually said: ‘Now you can cook it at home,’ we were convinced we really could, even though we have neither a tagine nor the means to slow-cook anything in our pitiful excuse of a kitchen. But we’re getting a bit ahead of ourselves here. Let’s race back to the beginning.

Our class commenced with a lesson in making the starter, and there was pastilla bil d’jaj on the menu. This, in English, is chicken pastilla, which is a sweet and savory pastry dish with a very rich filling. Ordinarily it’s family-sized but we were making an à la carte version. Chef Hakim took us through the various ingredients and spices we were using and explained that they could be bought anywhere. Then he got us to chop up some onions and give them a once over in the frying pan with the chicken and all the herbs we’d thrown in. Lots of water followed and we left it all to boil while we turned our attention to making the saucy-scrambled egg concoction.

When the chicken was done we tore it all up into little bits which became the middle layer of filling in our little pastry parcel. Under that went the ground almonds, and on top of it all the scrambled eggs. We wrapped it up nice and tight, buttered the top and popped it into the oven.

The main was a lamb tagine and chef Hakim showed us how it could be done without a giant stone oven or an earthenware pot. A steal pot is what we used instead and we eyed this a little cynically as we filled it with our lamb and spices. How can something you cook over the stove do justice to the authentic, slow cooked variety? The answer is simple, it can’t. But chef Hakim’s simplified, alternative method (for people other than traditional Moroccan grandmother’s who can spend half the day cooking) makes a very good case of how you can come pretty close. The key was to turn down the heat when it’s boiled, cover it up with foil, and let it simmer for an hour. During this time we busied ourselves with preparing the caramelised prunes and fragrant syrup that would go on top. Then we killed more time covering our baked pastilla with icing sugar and cinnamon. Chef Hakim invited us to tuck in while it was still hot, and with things smelling so good around us, we didn’t argue.

If we had any doubts about the sugar content in this dish (there was that instant when chef Hakim told us to pour in half a bowl’s worth after we’d attempted to get away with two pinches) they were gone the moment we had our first mouthful. Pastilla is like something that’s part way between a starter and a desert, but it is divine.

Once our plate was swept clean with nothing left to take home, we turned our attention to the main course. The lamb tagine got ladled out of the pot, seasoned with the prunes, topped with almonds and served up with traditional Moroccan bread rolls. Once the steam had stopped wafting off the top of our plate, we discovered the fruit of our labours to be tender, flavoursome and an impressive attempt on the part of someone who was new to the Maghrebi kitchen. Our teacher had taught us well.
The Moroccan cooking class at Agadir is held every Saturday from 11.30am-4.30pm. Prices are Dhs350 per person and lessons are strictly limited to 12 people. Agadir, Westin Abu Dhabi Golf Resort & Spa (02 616 9999).

By Elest Ali
Time Out Abu Dhabi,

Add your review/feedback

Subscribe to weekender newsletter



Explore by

Our favourite features