Sunday, May 11, 2014

Moroccan Orange Salad

simple orange & date salad just oranges, cinnamon & dates

When I finally emerged from Marrakech Menara Airport, it was around 3 in the afternoon and nearly thirty degrees celsius. I was wearing jeans and already sweating and was still impressed by how good all the Spanish people in the plane had smelled, even though they were almost all wearing dark clothes, blazers, and long pants. I followed my taxi driver across the parking lot and into his taxi, which looked like it had had parts of it stolen or sold. The dashboard was an ode to minimalism and there was definitely no AC.

I was running on about two hours sleep, but I wasn't even sure if the several hours I'd spent on my overnight flight across the Atlantic with my eyes closed constituted actual sleeping. The Spanish man next to me had been extremely chatty and oddly enthusiastic about helping me communicate with the flight attendants, all of whom spoke perfect English. I'd had my contacts in for over 24 hours and I was half convinced they had fused to my eyeballs and become one with me. I felt like I'd passed the point of exhaustion and entered into a new phase of alertness as I stared out the window and watched the scenery flash by and tried to converse with my taxi driver, who spoke about as much English as I spoke French, so it interesting ride.

This was almost a month ago, in April, when I flew to Morocco for a week. I'd been dreaming of travelling for months, and got my passport renewed in January. "It's a sign!" my roommate told me. "Now you have to go somewhere!"

Ben Yousef Museum Moroccan tiles the Medersa
in the basement of a Moroccan rug shop Moroccan mint tea ruins of the palace guest rooms

She was right. I knew she was right, but I was terrified. Not of anything specific, but just the idea of going off somewhere on my own was enough to make my gut twist and anxiety wash over me. I've always been shy of taking risks or making myself vulnerable - I dislike being out of my element. I'm a perfectionist, and as a result I've developed an extreme fear of failure. It's often held me back and prevented me from doing things, or from even attempting to try new things. I realize it's more than a little ridiculous; failure is an essential part of life, and when it does happen, it's never as scary as my mind makes it out to be. But my problem has always been that I believe my own mental bullshit. I let my anxieties immobilize me.

Jumping in has always been the hardest part.

I grew up on a lake in northwestern Ontario, and I lived my life in it throughout most of the summer. Getting into the water, though, was almost always something of a challenge. The worst thing you could do was to stand at the edge of a dock, looking down into the dark, cold water as it lapped at the edge. The more you waited and stared, the harder it was to get in. Dip your toe in and you would shock yourself with the cold and jump back, even less inclined to dive in. You could get stuck for a long time on a dock, contemplating the water and slowly working up the courage to jump.

Jmaa el Fna at night in the smoke of the cooking tents the night market
Koutoubia at dusk preparing Moroccan mint tea, "whiskey Berbere" Jmaa el Fna at night

So I developed a tactic to get around this horrible dare I don't I phase. I refused to let myself think about it. I would walk straight down to the dock, drop my towel, and start running. In the five seconds it took me to doff my clothes, run to the edge of the dock, and launch myself into the air, all thoughts of the water, what it would feel like, how far the drop was, would be suspended. I would turn my mind off (as much as I was able to), and in a very Nike-esque fashion, just do it. The fear only existed in the moments before I was in the air. Once I was airborne the fear was irrelevant. In the air, there was nothing but exhilaration and adrenaline, and when I hit the water, the shock was only momentary. The coolness of it would surround me and become my new world, more welcoming than the air.

When I purchased my plane tickets to Marrakech, I didn't really think about it. I randomly picked the city, almost as randomly as sticking my finger on a spinning globe. I googled flights, picked the cheapest round-trip I could find, then grabbed my credit card. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, in less than five minutes I'd guaranteed myself a trip across the Atlantic and back. It seemed very surreal to me, and I spent the next hour saying, "I'm going to Morocco! I'm going to Morocco?" while my friends laughed. It continued to feel surreal until I found myself in that un-airconditioned cab, driving along the streets of Marrakech.

foothills of the Atlas Mountains the Atlas Mountains Ait Benhaddou
spot of colour in Ait Benhaddou alfalfa fields farm fields

That first night in my hostel, I had one brief moment of panic. I was alone, didn't know anybody, had no friends, what the hell was I thinking? I was going to be stuck hanging out by myself in a strange city for a week, what kind of fucking vacation had I embarked on? But the panic didn't last long. You can never underestimate the friendliness of travellers, and when everyone's a stranger, there's no point in being shy. There were very few times in the seven days that I was gone that I felt alone, and none in which I felt regret.

The moments up until the one when I booked my flights, those were the hardest. My trip through five airports (as stressful as that was, in certain ways) and one taxi were just part of the fall. Hitting the ground was the easiest part, and once I was in Morocco, I didn't want to leave.

Sahara Desert the Sahara Desert sunset in the Sahara
sunrise in the Sahara after the morning ride camel crossing

But enough sentimentalizing. This is about food.

This dish in particular is one of my favourite food memories of Morocco. It was served to us as dessert, or a "fruit course." Sunny slices of oranges sprinkled with cinnamon and topped with dates. It seemed so simple as to almost appear boring, but as soon as I tasted it, I was in love. I think I ended up eating half of the damn thing. (Everyone else was groaning and full of tagine.)

The bright citrus is refreshing, while the cinnamon adds warmth and the dates provide richness and sweetness. It's so easy to make that I almost feel guilty calling this a "recipe." Oranges, cinnamon, and dates. It's all you need. So jump in!

Moroccan orange salad

Moroccan Orange Salad
This dish is something of an ode to oranges, which Moroccans are obsessed with. It's simplicity itself, but the flavours are bright, clean, and refreshing. You can make it in any quantity you desire, just use about 1 orange per person.

navel oranges
ground cinnamon
honey or medjool dates, pitted

navel oranges sans pith & peel suny rounds

1. Slice off the rind and pith from the oranges. Start by slicing off the tops and bottoms, then stand them up and run your knife along the contour of the orange, slicing off the rind and pith. Discard rinds & pith. Slice peeled oranges into thin circles and place, face up, on a plate.

2. Sprinkle oranges with ground cinnamon.

3. Place a pitted date on top of each orange. Serve immediately.

a plate of sunshine


  1. A simple yet very beautiful and delicious fruit salad!

  2. You're an inspiration Liz! Have you caught travel fever now?

    1. Thanks so much! And yes, I definitely have! In fact, I'll be leaving the country very soon to go travelling for three months. I'm terrified/excited!

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