A New Taste of Marrakesh

On my first visit to Morocco, I was unimpressed by the food, which, thanks to my budget and lack of experimental vigor, was limited mostly to couscous and tagine. This time, I sought to remedy that. For breakfast, I ate harira, a spiced vegetable soup, and fried eggs (and, as with every meal, mint tea). For dinner, bastillas, savory-and-sweet pies of flaky dough, generally made with chicken or pigeon; and, most memorably, tangia, a Marrakeshi specialty like a tagine, but cooked in a different sort of pot (think urn rather than circus tent), and more brothy, flavored with ras el hanout and preserved lemon. It originally was cooked overnight in ovens adjacent to hammams (ritual steam baths) over the bath’s residual embers. My favorite version, served at one of two outposts of Zeitoun Café, where I dined with Ms. Cherkaoui, was made with chameau — camel. (The flavor and texture is somewhere between lamb and beef.)

But it was an experience the next day with Ms. Cherkaoui that left the most lasting impression. We drove about a half-hour outside the city to Bourrous, a village that is home to the Coopérative du 3ème Millénaire. We were greeted at a plain, white-tiled space by about a dozen women in white smocks and scarves, and Hafida El Falahi, the 56-year-old matriarch of the group and a force of nature.

Ms. El Falahi had founded the co-op in 2010, and Ms. Cherkaoui began working with her a year later. Their focus is semolina, the basis for couscous, the unofficial national dish. I had thought semolina was always made from wheat. But Ms. Cherkaoui explained that they actually made it from more than 30 different ingredients, including cactus, lentils and flaxseed. We watched the women create couscous by rubbing the small pieces of semolina together, occasionally adding spoonfuls of water. “The taste is individual,” Ms. Cherkaoui said. “Not like industrial products.”

A few of the women brought in a large tray, singing a joyful prayer as they did, and we sat down to a feast of couscous. We dug in as Ms. El Falahi, told us her tale.