TASTE OF CASABLANCA
Hanane Daoud, Beirut’s only Moroccan chef, serves up bastilla worth writing home about.
Lebanese spices just won’t cut it for Hanane Daoud, a Moroccan-born chef who lives and works in Beirut. She orders all her spices, herbs, and even teas, directly from her home country. Her tagines? Naturally, those too, all came from Maghreb. “I had bought some others in Lebanon,” she said. “But they broke.”
She’s pouring me and my friend tea from a Moroccan tea pot in her home near Dekwane, which is decorated with prints from her travels. She’s careful to pour the tea from the maximum height possible, so that it creates a bubbly foam at the top of the cup. “Tea without foam?” she says, shaking her head, implying that a tea without foam would be like a day without a sun.
Daoud was raised in Casablanca and moved to Beirut nearly six years ago, with her husband, a fellow chef whom she met while they were both working for a chocolatier in Dubai. Right now, she’s the only Moroccan chef working in the city.
I’d contacted her after having made a half-hearted attempt to cook Moroccan couscous on my own. How hard could it be, I’d reasoned, full of hubris. It took watching only a few youtube tutorials before I realized that the task of cooking the perfect couscous and chicken dish would require far more skill and equipment than I possessed in my kitchen. Fortunately for people like me, Daoud also gives regular lessons in Moroccan cooking via Kitchenlab. And tonight, she’s invited me and a friend over for dinner.
On the menu is home-cooked Moroccan bastilla – a sweet and savory tart that seems invented for the chilly December evening we’re eating it on. Like much Moroccan cuisine, the dish has Spanish origins that can be made with seafood and pigeon – though tonight Hanane has made it with chicken. Succulent and spicy on the inside, with a perfect flaky crust like philo dough (but thicker), it’s topped off with powdered sugar and a generous helping of cinnamon – a symphony of flavors that seems to make it an entrée and dessert all in one. Though she studied cooking at culinary school, Daoud says this particular recipe was handed down to her from her mother, who still lives in Morocco. In turn, the recipe was handed down from her mother — each bite, then, is loaded with history, a connection to a previous generation of chefs.
Of course, skills handed down over generations can’t be learned overnight. For now, I’m happy to eat her bastilla and call it a day.
In addition to offering courses at Kitchenlab, Daoud runs the bakery Sucre et Miel, where she serves up a combination of international baked goods and cakes as well as Moroccan specialties. Those hungry for her Moroccan entrees will regularly find her at Mótto, the popular “pay-what-you-think-is-fair” cafe in Mar Mikhael that hosts a rotating roster of chefs and cuisines.
For those interested in a more customize dining experience, Daoud also works with clients via ChefxChange, a UK based company that allows users to hire personal chefs in various cities including Beirut, London, Washington D.C. and Dubai. Guests can select a menu from offerings that include chicken or quail tfaya and succulent Moroccan briwat, a Ramadan favorite.