Orange-flower water: This potent, fragrant elixir is used in Middle Eastern cooking and has a stronger flavor than rose-flower water. Typically, just a few drops of the liquid―made from the distillation of orange blossoms―is enough to complement salads, drinks, vegetables, rice dishes, or desserts. Look for it on the international aisle of your supermarket or at your local Mediterranean or Middle Eastern grocery. You can also purchase it online at www.kalustyans.com or www.kalamala.com.
Spices: Morocco is known for ras el hanout, the spice blend containing up to 27 spices, depending on the cook’s preferences or the spice vendors’ recipe. Common in the blend are cumin, paprika, fennel, ginger, and pepper. Charmoula, another aromatic Moroccan mixture of cumin, coriander, hot chiles, and garlic, accents a variety of dishes.
Couscous: Made from wheat, these quick-cooking pastalike granules are a staple to North African cooking. In Morocco, couscous can be a meal in itself and is often cooked in a couscoussière―a double-tiered pot in which vegetables braised in the lower tier steam the couscous in the upper one. Couscous also figures into tagines―hearty stews often cooked in clay pots with conical lids, also called tagines. Find couscous in most grocery stores in the cereal or grains aisle. Whole wheat couscous is available in some supermarkets and cooks just as quickly as the regular version.
Bulgur: Cracked wheat, perhaps best known in the Lebanese preparation tabbouleh (a salad of bulgur, parsley, and tomatoes), is used widely throughout the Mediterranean. This nutty whole grain can be used like brown rice in salads and pilafs, or simply cooked or steamed and drizzled with oil and sprinkled with chopped herbs. Mediterranean and Middle Eastern markets carry bulgur, or look for it in the grains section of large grocery stores.
Preserved lemons: A quintessential component of Moroccan and North African cooking, preserved lemons add bracing, salty sourness to dishes. Many Middle Eastern markets carry jarred preserved lemons; be sure to buy those that don’t have additional flavorings like flower petals or spices. It’s well worth the effort to make your own, though it requires some advance planning.
Fresh herbs: Mint is typically associated with North Africa because of the mint teas that are served as a sign of hospitality to visitors or at the end of a meal. Besides fresh mint, cilantro and parsley are used in salads, stews, and turnover fillings.