Moroccan chef Zeinab Mustafa specialises in Moroccan cuisine. However, she prefers to be called Zouzou and avoids the title of chef. “There are a lot of big names and celebrity chefs more deserving of the title than I am,” she says.
She loves many different Arab and European cuisines, “but of course, the Moroccan cuisine is much more than that for me. It is my heritage and history,” she explains. “I am an adventurous person, and I love journeys and discoveries. I have a lot of good memories of all the cities in Morocco.”
Mustafa has been in the culinary field for more than 10 years working for a well-known restaurant group in Egypt. She has been in the media for only one year, but her Egyptian cooking show Bel Seha wal Raha (Health and Comfort) on the CBC Sofra food channel is the most popular cooking show in the country.
Even though a graduate in business, her main love in life has always been cooking, and she developed her talent by studying at the Academy for Culinary Arts in Morocco. Her mother also taught her cooking when she was young. “I remember my mother, a gourmet who showed me how to cook. I used to stand beside her in the kitchen. She taught me the secrets and techniques of Moroccan cuisine,” Mustafa says.
“I loved cooking and spent a lot of time in the kitchen. Today, I love creating my own recipes and also updating and changing original recipes for different kinds of food. I deal with a recipe as if I am dealing with a work of art,” she adds.
The main characteristic of Moroccan cuisine is the culinary secrets inherited from aunts, mothers and grandmothers in addition to special Moroccan spices. Moroccan cuisine is enriched with flavours and a wide range of ingredients. Another characteristic is the colourful cookware it uses, including tagines, and recipes not found in other cuisines, especially its famous desserts and pies.
“Egyptian cuisine is one of the oldest in the world and one of the most loved,” Mustafa notes of her adopted country. “There are similarities with Moroccan cuisine because the ingredients are often the same. What the Moroccan adds are the spices that make all the difference,” she says.
Some delicious Moroccan dishes by Mustafa:
Moroccan couscous with vegetables and meat
photos courtesy of Chef Zeinab Mustafa
1½ kg couscous
1 kg meat (shank or neck cuts preferred)
3 onions, finely chopped
2 fresh tomatoes, finely chopped
5 teaspoons freshly chopped parsley and coriander
1kg courgettes cut into halves lengthwise
1kg carrots sliced into long strips
½ kg fresh pumpkins, unpeeled and cubed (seeds and fibres removed)
2 green chili peppers
1 cup cooked chickpeas
Salt, black pepper, ginger and turmeric
2 vegetable stock or broth cubes
Mixture of butter and olive oil or vegetable oil
Samn (Moroccan clarified butter) or ghee (samna baladi)
In a large pot, heat a mixture of vegetables and olive oil on the stove, sautéing the onions for half to one minute. Add the tomatoes, parsley and coriander. Put a single hot chili pepper cut into halves in the middle to give a spicy flavour. Add the meat and stir. Season with turmeric, ginger, salt and black pepper, then add the stock cubes. Reduce the heat to medium and sauté the mixture to release the water from the onions and tomatoes for a few minutes. Then pour one litre of hot water over the mixture. Simmer on a medium heat for 30 minutes. Add the vegetables according to how much time they need to cook. Add the pumpkin, carrots and green chili pepper for 20 minutes. Put the courgettes and chickpeas in for 10 minutes.
Place the couscous in a bowl and sprinkle it with water while gently rubbing between the palms to keep it fluffy. Place the couscous inside a steamer and put it on the boil for 20 minutes. Remove it, put it in a large bowl, and separate the grains again while adding two or three teaspoons of olive oil and water. Return the couscous to the steamer. Repeat the previous step after 20 minutes, but this time with olive oil, water, salt and Moroccan samn. Place the couscous on a large serving platter, form a hole in the centre, and place meat in it. Then, add the pumpkin and other vegetables on top. Add the sauce until it is soaked through. Enjoy.
Richmond (Moroccan cookies resemble snowballs)
Moroccan couscous with vegetables and meat
125 g sugar
125 ml oil
1 packet baking powder (7-8 g)
1g vanilla or 1 sachet vanilla sugar
Flour (quantity and quality vary)
For the garnish:
Finely grated coconut
Add the oil and eggs to a standard mixer and combine for a few minutes until the mixture becomes creamy. Then, add the sugar and vanilla and continue to mix. In a bowl, combine the flour and baking powder together. Gradually add the flour to the mixture on a low speed until you have a soft texture and fluffy dough. Shape the dough into small balls. Line a baking tray with parchment paper and lay the biscuits on it. Bake them in the middle rack of a preheated oven on 180-200 degrees for 15 minutes until golden. Let them cool down before garnishing.
Garnishing the cookies: place the apricot jam and flower water in a small saucepan over a low heat. Stir for a few minutes until the jam melts and turns into a thick syrup. Dip the cookies in the hot apricot jam syrup and wipe off any excess jam. Remove two, pressing their bottoms together.
Roll them in the coconut and serve.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 8 August, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Moroccan cuisine in Egypt