I picked up the old-fashioned (and extremely beautiful) bellows and crouched down on the pavement to encourage the hot coals in my brazier. I was taking a tagine workshop, of all things, and one that just happened to be in paradise. Two colleagues and I were cooking and eating our way through Morocco under the knowledgeable eye of Peggy Markel, whose culinary tours extend to Tuscany, Sicily, Elba, and Thailand as well. At the guesthouse Jnane Tamsna, we had each been given an individual tagine, the North African earthenware casserole dish with a conical lid, in order to make our own delicious stews, which go by the same name. The form of the pot follows its function so elegantly: The tall lid collects the condensed steam and returns the moisture to the stew, the knobby handle stays cool, and the dish is wide and shallow, to facilitate eating à la marocaine, with the first three fingers of the right hand. My stew would go perfectly with the couscous that Bahija Lafridi, the house chef, was going to show us how to make next, and I was already looking forward to handling warka—the paper-thin pastry sheets integral to the classic pigeon or chicken pie called b’stilla—the following day. Jnane Tamsna, owned by interior designer Meryanne Loum-Martin and her husband, ethnobotanist Gary Martin, was a great base for trips to the Medina, with its labyrinth of small shops selling everything from carpets and sequined slippers to lemons, mint, and ras-el-hanout, an intoxicating, complex blend of myriad spices. We spent the rest of our days exploring ancient Berber traditions (bread baked in a clay oven, for instance), hiking in the High Atlas Mountains, seeing goats climb into argan trees, and sampling the superb grilled fish in the white-and-blue coastal city of Essaouira, where the sun seems to shine especially brightly. (800-988-2851; peggymarkel.com; $4,595, double occupancy, for nine days, including all meals)
What I Learned
That a really good exotic spice blend like ras-el-hanout can have a profound impact on the way you cook. I use it all the time now to roast vegetables and to broil meats, fish, and birds.
The health properties and culinary uses of argan oil.
Before You Go
Pack extra tote bags. You’ll want to bring back lots of goodies.