Maghreb Tastes: Hajar Larbah
Name: Hajar Larbah
Hometown: Garden Grove, California
Current town: Irvine, California
Profession: Writer for POPSUGAR
Who is your favorite North African cook and why? No one in particular, just all the incredible women in my life who cook amazing food for their families - my mother, grandmothers, aunts, khalas.
Favorite North African dish to eat: This is a tough one but going to have to be basic and say it's a tie between shakshuka from Libya and msamman from Morocco. My mom always made shakshuka on weekend mornings growing up and I'd always eat it with my dad so it's very special to me. Msamman (very flakey and buttery bread) just tastes really good and it was my after school snack all throughout middle and high school.
Is there any N. African dish you hate? I'll definitely pass on any of our dishes with liver. They always smell so good and are seasoned well but I can't get pass the texture just yet but I hope I will eventually because organ meats are incredibly nutritious.
What is the first dish you ever made/learned how to make? The first dish I learned how to make is glaya which is just a Libyan meat stir fry. I started out just learning how to cook the meat and eventually as I got older, my mom taught me how to season it until I learned how to make it from start to end.
What is your go-to North African dish to cook: Embakabka/macarona jarya! It's a huge crowd pleaser and you can't go wrong with lamb and pasta together. Super comforting dish.
Favorite North African drink: Moroccan green tea with naanaa (fresh mint)!
Favorite North African sweet/dessert: Lugaimat! They're similar to fried donut holes and coated in a honey simply syrup or with date syrup. They somehow taste even better in Ramadan.
What one ingredient defines Moroccan food for you? Libyan food? One ingredient that defines Moroccan food to me is ras el hanout. This is a traditional Moroccan spice mix that is used in a lot of the cooking. It's a mix of the best spices a shop has to offer and so it varies a little by region and market. The one ingredient that defines Libyan food for me is lamb (surprisingly, didn't say harissa). Lamb not only plays a huge part in the cuisine but also in being hospitable.
If you live abroad, what do you miss most about Morocco and Libya? In Morocco, I miss all the street vendors and markets with endless aisles of spices, tea blends, and street food. In Libya, I miss the most beautiful beaches with the clearest water.
What do you miss the least? The late hours that all the shops open up.
What food do you miss the most from these places? I miss all the fresh bread from local bakeries in the neighborhood.
Your favorite place in N. Africa: From what I've seen so far, going to have to say the beaches again. Nothing like the Mediterranean Sea.
What is always in your pantry? Cans of tuna! Lots of Harissa! Never ending supply of honey and green tea. Tomato sauce and paste is a must. Of course, bags of rice, pasta, and couscous.
What is your favorite food/type of food? Any type of meat that's barbecued is my favorite. I love Brazilian BBQ, Afghan BBQ, and of course North African style meshwee.
Do you have a favorite cookbook? I've been loving Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat at this moment. It's an incredible book whether you're an amateur or professional chef. Rather than just throwing recipes at you, it takes you back to the basics to teach you the elements of cooking so you can master cooking, not master a dish. It's an essential book in any kitchen I believe. She takes the time to explain the reasoning/science behind certain techniques and the result when you implement it into your cooking is out of this world.
Any current movies, documentaries, or television shows about food that you're enjoying? I've always been a fan of Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown because he took the time to not only enjoy the food but also to understand the history, politics, and people of the regions he visited. I recently binge watched The Final Table on Netflix which is a cooking competition with chefs from around the world. Highly recommend. I also watched the series version of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat and absolutely enjoyed every second.
Anything else to add/share, food related or not? Go right ahead here! I started Moribyan Kitchen because I wanted to learn more about my culture since I was born and raised in California instead of Libya and Morocco. Only recently has there been more mentioning of North African cuisine abroad and it's important that people learn about the cuisine from North Africans themselves. There is so much to learn about a person and where they come from just by what they serve you on a plate. It's a piece of history, a chapter in a long book and that's where my inspiration came from in starting the blog.
Where to find more of Moribyan Kitchen:
All photos taken by Hajar Larbah