Erfoud, on the edge of the Sahara in southeast Morocco, is a jumping-off spot for sunset/sunrise camel adventures. (Actually, our one-hump wonders were dromedaries.)At five PM, four wheel drive cars pulled up to the hotel, each with a turbaned driver in full Berber-esque gear (not a costume which was my first reaction –when it’s windy (which, thankfully it wasn’t)–the end of the turban is pulled over the mouth to keep out sand). We drove into the Erg Cherbbi desert at full throttle, mostly off-road, the cars weaving in and out to more or less stay together, our heads occasionally just missing the roof .
After about forty-five minutes, we pulled up to “visit” a Berber family in their tent made by lashing camel skins together. Authentic, yes; comfortable living no but Berbers have lived this way for centuries. Couldn’t bear to photograph the woman although she makes her living from tourist tips. Back into the cars and back on the non-road to the dunes, straight out of Lawrence of Arabia.
Mounting and dismounting a camel bears zero resemblance to doing so with a horse. A camel gets to its feet (and lies down) in three huge, unsettling jerks. Once on, we moved out, each set of four camels tethered together and led by a man on foot. The patterns of the dunes were magical as were the shadows thrown by the camels’ legs and the twenty-five minute ride was a delight. We arrived and blankets, carried by the dromedaries, were placed on the dunes so we could sit and watch the sunset. (All that was missing was champagne and cheese straws)
A crescent moon hung in the sky as stars popped out. The sand underfoot was silky which makes it hard to walk on; after a while it was time to remount. Our caravan made its way back down to the 4×4’s for another mad dash, this one even more fun as it was pitch dark. We returned to our hotel by ten PM, ready for dinner and thrilled (at least I was) by our adventure in the desert.
Moroccan food is fabulous with many dishes involving preserved lemons. I’ve made them before and plan to do it again soon. There’s practically no work involved and they keep for a very long time.
8-10 lemons, scrubbed very clean (many recipes call for Meyer lemons. They’re fine but regular lemons are perfectly OK)
1/2 cup kosher salt, more if needed
Extra fresh squeezed lemon juice, if needed
Sterilized quart canning jar
Place 2 Tbsp salt in the bottom of the sterilized jar (Note: running it through dishwasher sterilizes it.)
Prepare each lemon: cut 1/4 inch off the tip. Then cut each lemon as if you were going to cut them in half lengthwise, starting from the tip, but do not cut all the way– Keep the lemon attached at the base. Make another cut in a similar manner, so now the lemon is quartered, but attached at the base.
Gently pry lemons open and generously sprinkle salt all over insides and outsides. Pack lemons in the jar, squishing them down so that juice is extracted and lemon juice rises to the top of the jar. Fill up the jar and make sure the top is covered with lemon juice. Add more fresh squeezed lemon juice if necessary. Top with a few more tablespoons of salt.
Seal the jar (however it closes–no wax etc.) and let sit at room temperature for 2-3 days. During this time, turn jar upside down occasionally. Put in refrigerator and let sit, again turning upside down once in a while, for at least 3 weeks, until lemon rinds soften.
To use, remove a lemon from the jar and rinse thoroughly in water to remove salt. Discard seeds before using. You can use the whole thing or just the rind or cut rind into thin pieces to put on the top of the dish you use it in. Lemons keep stored in refrigerator for up to 6 months.
An add on if you like: add spices such as cloves, coriander seeds, peppercorns, bay leaf.
You don’t have to produce a tajine (of which there are many varieties) to use the lemons. Try them anytime a dish could use the zip of lemon; in grain salads (chop a little); in pasta dishes (chopped); in salad dressing (chop and blend in or toss dressing and some lemon into the blender; with sauteed veggies; mashed into butter and used on top of grilled fish or winter squash.
Rent the old Hope and Crosby movie, Road to Morocco and have fun.