“Mother especially disliked the idea of a fixed lunch hour. She always was the last to wake up, and liked to have a late, lavish breakfast which she prepared herself with a lot of flamboyant defiance, beneath the disapproving stare of Grandmother Lalla Mani. She would make herself scrambled eggs and baghrir, or fine crepes, topped with pure honey and fresh butter, and, of course, plenty of tea. She usually ate at exactly eleven, just as Lalla Mani was about to begin her purification ritual for the noon prayer. And after that, two hours later at the communal table, Mother was often absolutely unable to eat lunch. Sometimes, she would skip it altogether, especially when she wanted to annoy Father, because to skip a meal was considered terribly rude and too openly individualistic.” from Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood by Fatima Mernissi
It’s hard to imagine a life where a grown woman cannot cook when she wants to or eat what she likes in her own home. Of course, she is not in her own home; she is in the harem. Fatima’s mother’s only consolation was that her daughters would have the life that she could not:
“Then she would tell me that whatever else I did with my life, I had to take her revenge. ‘I want my daughters’ lives to be exciting,’ she would say, ‘very exciting and filled with one hundred percent happiness, nothing more, nothing less.’ I would raise my head, look at her earnestly, and ask what one hundred percent happiness meant, because I wanted her to know that I intended to do my best to achieve it. Happiness, she would explain, was when a person felt good, light, creative, content, loving and loved, and free.”
Berber Omelette Tagine
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
1 medium green pepper and 2 medium tomatoes, both seeded, deveined, and finely chopped
3 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, pressed
8 large eggs
2-3 heaping tbsp of cilantro, finely chopped
2-3 generous pinches cumin
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat the olive oil in your tagine over medium heat. Add the onions and peppers and saute until tender. Add the garlic and saute another minute. Add the tomatoes and 2 tbsp of water and cook until the tomatoes have softened, about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. In the meantime, whisk 6 of the eggs to even consistency. Break the remaining two eggs and gently swirl into the mixture without breaking the yolks. Poor the eggs over the vegetables being careful to distribute the two yolks away from the center. Sprinkle with the cilantro and cumin. Cover and reduce heat to its lowest setting. Cook about 15 minutes until the eggs are set but still moist.
Resist at all costs the temptation to take the lid off the omelette. I couldn’t do it, so be stronger than I am. My omelette burned a tiny bit on the bottom and I’m choosing to blame this on the fact that I peeked a few times too many. Still, the burned part stayed stuck to the tagine and the omelette itself released deliciously. I was surprised by how much I loved this omelette despite it’s lack of cheese (I can’t remember ever having an omelette without cheese). The combination of cilantro and cumin really made the meal for me. You can also add olives around the edge of the tagine before you put the lid on, but I don’t like olives. I would also probably whisk the cilantro and the cumin into the 6 whisked eggs, just so that I don’t cover up the beauty of those two unbroken yolks with their swirl of egg white.
All in all, this was a healthy, delicious meal that made me appreciate the freedom to cook what and when I please.
I am dying to make that baghrir as soon as I get over my reluctance to cook with yeast (it has ended badly before)…