Café Mozaic Recipe Glossary

Some recipes & cooking websites use the Arabic words or ingredients without explanations or translations which can be confusing, so here is a glossary of terms used in Moroccan & other Arabic cuisine. It is not an exhaustive list but includes the most commonly used words.

Braiwats: similar to the Greek Tiropetes or Indian Samosas. Tissue-thin Warka pastry oiled or generously buttered & filled with savoury mixtures then folded & deep-fried & served crisp & hot. Often served in Ramadan.

Chorba: generic name given to any thin soup.

Couscous: classic Moroccan dish of Berber origin. The name is derived from Berber seksu (meaning well rolled, well formed, rounded). Couscous granules are made by rolling & shaping moistened semolina wheat & then coating them with finely ground wheat flour. Different cereals may be used regionally to produce the granules. Traditional couscous requires considerable preparation time & is usually steamed. Couscous is traditionally served warm under a meat or vegetable stew but also cold (e.g., the Lebanese side dish of Tabbouleh). This is traditionally eaten in N. Africa on a Friday at lunch after prayers at the mosque.

Djej: the Arabic word for chicken.

Doqq: the Arabic word for salt-preserved lemons. Moroccan Jews often prepare Doqq by preserving their lemons in oil as well as salt. Indispensable to Moroccan cuisine.

Gameela: Moroccan Arabic for a stew. Every day food.

Harira: one of the most famous of Moroccan soups, a meal in itself. Each region has its own variation. It is usually made with browned pieces of lamb, lentils, noodles & vegetables spiced with ginger, coriander, & pepper. Large bowls of this are the usual meal to break the fast during of the month of Ramadan.

Harissa: a Tunisian hot sauce whose main ingredients are chilli peppers & olive oil. It is a standard ingredient of North African cuisine as an accompaniment to couscous, as a marinade & flavouring for tagines.

Hummous: the Arabic word for chick peas. Also a dip or spread made from cooked, mashed chickpeas, blended with tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, salt & garlic. It is a popular food throughout the Middle East & elsewhere.

Kebab: small morsels of lamb threaded on skewers & grilled usually over charcoal.

Kefta: the Moroccan version of minced meat used in meatballs or kebabs.

Khobz: the Arabic word for bread & like pasta in Italy or rice in Asia, it is the staple part of Arabic cuisine. Baked fresh daily, usually in communal ovens.

Leban or Laban: the Arabic word for buttermilk. This is traditionally drunk after couscous at Friday lunch.

Mechoui: Moroccan specialty of spit-roasted whole lamb or sheep generously. The word comes from the Arabic word šawa, which means "grilled, roasted". This dish is very popular in North Africa & usually found at weddings, parties & religious celebrations.

Pastilla, or Bastilla: one of the most important Moroccan dishes, of Berber origin & usually part of any feast. A large sweet & salty circular pie composed of many layers of pastry (Warka) enclosing chicken, eggs, & topped with cinnamon & almonds. Traditionally, it contained pigeon but nowadays people tend to use chicken.

Ras el Hanout: a blend of spices used in meat & game dishes whose combination varies from vendor to vendor.  Literally means “head of the shop” & sometimes mystical properties are attributed to Ras el Hanout, & is said to contain legendary aphrodisiacs!

Rghaif: Moroccan version of thin dessert pancakes or crepes. Often eaten in Ramadan.

Smen: clarified butter. The Moroccan version is often salted, spiced, or herbed & frequently has been preserved until it has the appearance & odour of very old cheese. Small amounts may be added to soups or Couscous.

Souk: the Arabic word for an outdoor market.

Tagine: a Moroccan dish named after the special pot in which it is cooked over a fire or charcoal. The traditional tagine pot is formed entirely of clay & is sometimes hand painted or glazed. It consists of 2 parts: a base unit that is flat & circular with low sides & a large cone or dome-shaped cover that rests inside the base during cooking. This design allows the return of all condensation to the bottom so all flavours & aromas are kept in the pot.

Warka: thinner even than Greek filo pastry, the Warka is made from flour & water & most closely resembles the technique for making Chinese spring rolls. Layered together, the final effect is similar to the French puff pastry.

Zaytun: the Arabic word for olives.

Zebda: the Arabic word for fresh butter.