Today, March 1st, is the day I set out to publish my very first proper post on this site and looks like I’ve done it. Time to tea party!
Tea is something I hold very dear to my heart, but we’ll come back to that in detail another day. To start off a monthly series of posts I’d like to title “tea party inspiration”, I’ve decided Moroccan mint more than deserves to be the first in line.
To many born in the Nordic countries, mint often associates with the short moderately sunny summers spent at grandparents’ country cottages as children. The scent of the drying bundles hanging above the wood fired stove and the fresh leaves picked from the garden for nibbling or decorating desserts. As a staple herbal remedy, peppermint tea has always been offered to soothe a troublesome stomach, an aching head or calm a busy mind.
In northern Africa, however, mint tea holds an important social and cultural status. The preparation and pouring of this sugary gunpowder and fresh mint infusion, also known as Maghrebi mint tea, is a form of art in itself as well as a wonderful spectacle. Throughout history it’s always been the man of the house in charge of the ritual, and tea is served to warmly welcome all guests. Traditions as this are becoming a rarity in this ever changing modern world.
Moving on towards east, mint is skilfully used to season savoury dishes in order to add a layer of refreshing complexity. Take tabbouleh (herby bulgur salad) in the Middle East or tzatziki (yoghurt based sauce often served with meat) in the Balkans. Closer still, who doesn’t love a delicious pea and mint soup, and let’s not forget the true match made in dessert heaven – mint and chocolate!
Feel like celebrating this versatile herb yet? Throw a Moroccan themed gathering complete with homemade hummus (make it pumpkin or beetroot for a dash of colour), flatbreads, lemon marinated olives, spicy nuts and plenty of dates. Halloumi or chicken skewers with harissa dressing always disappear in a matter of minutes. If up for a more challenging feast, lamb tagine (or butternut and cranberry?) is a foolproof crowd pleaser (garnish with mint!). For the most indulgent of the courses, bake an orange polenta cake or why not try your hand at making pomegranate sorbet?!? Not much of a sweet tooth? Go for a classic cheese platter topped with quartered figs, a drizzle of honey and seeded crackers.
As for the tea itself, the options are endless. If eager to stay true to tradition, prepare a rather strong gunpowder tea (4 tsp tea per 1 litre of water at 85ºC infused for 3-4 minutes) sweetened with sugar or honey, and pour over bunches of fresh mint leaves arranged in the glasses beforehand. Now the jury is still out whether or not the tea leaves should be boiled. Some say boiling reduces the bitterness, but I suggest trial and error to find the flavour best suited to one’s liking. To modernise things, try just spearmint (dried or fresh). Speciality tea shops nowadays offer many many innovative blends, so head on out there and ask for a suggestion!
When styling your Moroccan party, more is more. That is more colours, textures, patterns, shapes etc. Second hand and vintage stores are well worth exploring for the tableware. The shopping list could include golden, silver or copper trays, wooden boards, bold bright ceramic plates and bowls, candelabras, lanterns, delicate glassware, ethnic linen, feathers, roses, cinnamon sticks, pots of mint, exotic fruits and so on. You get the idea!
If unable to find authentic Moroccan tea glasses or keesan, choose any colourful and/or patterned kind. Doesn’t matter if they’re different shades or shapes, if anything going mismatched will only compliment your setting.
And while mint is the guest of honour at your party already, I believe a mojito (or perhaps a mint julep) also earns a spot on the menu.
Love films? Put on good old Casablanca even if just for background noise to enhance the dramatic mood.
*** All the recipes for the above mentioned snacks and dishes are readily available online. My go to pages for inspired recipes are as follows: