Nargisse Benkabbou is the image of a well-traveled, culturally-inspired cook. A self-proclaimed Moroccan girl who grew up in Europe but has always been inspired by the flavors of Northern Africa, Nargisse demonstrates what it means to live well, eat well, and enchant the senses. While she was exposed to exotic dishes early on thanks in part to her foodie parents, it was years later that Nargisse realized her hobby was something much more powerful: it was her calling.
Today, Nargisse spends her days documenting all of her delicious dishes, sharing her kitchen wisdom, and colorful travels on MyMoroccanFood. In addition to recipes that run the gamut from starters to desserts, Nargisse also shares her own “food for thought”, a personal commentary section of her site dedicated to exploring lesser-known Moroccan ingredients and experimenting with new cooking techniques and exotic kitchen tools.
Our sincere thanks to Nargisse for spending some time with YajiBox today, and for sharing why Moroccan food is such an important part of Africa’s culinary community. Thank you! (شكرا!)
So tell us, where is home for you?
I grew up in Brussels with my family but my parents now live in Rabat, Morocco. I also briefly lived in Paris for two years before moving to London in 2010. I would say home is somewhere between Rabat and London.
Do you cook for pleasure or as your profession? Both?
Both! Blogging has become my main profession, but I also have other titles: chef, food photographer, recipe developer, and cooking instructor focusing on Moroccan cuisine.
Where did you learn to hone your culinary skills?
I first learned to cook at home with my parents, but I loved it so much I wanted to go pro. I attended the Leiths School of Food and Wine here in London.
Cooking is one of the best ways to let your mind wander while creating something totally unique and delicious. When you’re idly chopping, stirring, and frying, what are you most often thinking about?
I usually think about how nice it will all come together, and of course, the moment I get to finally taste it! But it really depends. Sometimes cooking is less about the final result and more about the process, which allows me to relax and clear my mind.
Everyone’s got a kitchen tragedy – their stove went up in flames, they melted a spatula, dinner was ruined. Tell us about your last disaster (so the rest of us can feel a little better about ours!)
Rookie mistake: I used salt instead of sugar while I was baking. There’s just no coming back from that. It went straight to the trash!
Who do you credit for your love of cooking? If it’s someone special, tell us all about them.
My parents. They’re as foodie as it gets, and taught me at a very young age to try everything — even scary things like chilies. They love many different types of food, and I’m very grateful that they exposed me to “adult food” from an early age. It has no doubt influenced my current love of cooking, educating, and eating.
If we were to step into your kitchen right now (don’t worry, we’re not looking at the dirty dishes), what would you be cooking? What would we smell, taste, or hear?
Right now, I am about to make myself some lunch. It’s nothing too crazy, but I do love simple pan-fried chopped chicken with spices and zucchinis.
African food is very diverse, which makes it so mysterious for most cooks around the world. How would you describe African cooking to someone who lives somewhere totally different, somewhere like Iceland?
African cooking engages all the senses. It’s colourful, warm, beautifully spiced, and so fragrant. It’s very dependent on region as well, so when you eat African dishes, you’re eating food that’s likely been prepared for generations.
What’s your ultimate African “comfort food”, the thing that takes you back to being a little kid in a big world?
Are you the type of person to measure everything out, or do you cook more intuitively, “eyeballing” ingredients as you go?
It’s interesting, actually. When I’m working, I tend to measure, as I’m too afraid to make a mistake that I can’t fix. But when I cook for myself, everything I include in my dishes is spontaneous.
When someone takes that first bite of the tasty, delicious food you’ve prepared, what kind of reaction are you always secretly hoping for?
I secretly hope for a quiet table. When food is so good that someone stops talking and focuses solely on eating and experiencing the dish, it means that I did a good job. I love that moment.
My favorite kitchen tool is the Silicone Spatula – I’m amazed at how versatile it is in the kitchen. It mixes, it scrambles, it scrapes, it stirs, it folds… I can go on! What’s yours, and why?
I’d have to say the tongs.
Vanilla or Chocolate?
Chocolate all the way!
Where do you typically shop for your food?
It’s really a combination of the store, open market, or online. It depends on who I’m cooking for, when I’m cooking, and what type of ingredient I’m searching for.
In your opinion, what’s one of the most underrated ingredients used in African cooking?
Turmeric! Not only does it lend a gorgeous golden color and warm, peppery, ginger-y flavor to dishes, but it has anti-inflammatory properties that bring bodies back in balance. If you’re interested to learn more, I’ve written about turmeric over on My Moroccan Food. Have a look!
Some like it hot! Are you into sweating, panting, eyes watering spice in your food, or do you like mellow dishes?
I do like hot dishes, but not so much that it becomes all pain and no pleasure. Just enough heat to spice things up and not ruin the taste of the food.
What’s a spice you like to use that packs a TON of flavor in just a small pinch?
What’s one ingredient you love, but others may be scared to use?
I love garlic and onions. They’re foundational to African — really, all cooking — but they’re also intimidating if you’re not used to them!
Here’s a challenge! Tell us about your pantry – using only one sentence.
I’ll go one step further and give you one word: messy. I keep tidying it up, but it magically gets messy again in no time! A sign of a true cook, I think.
What is your main culinary pet peeve?
I don’t like dill.