Monday, 23 February 2015

Moroccan cracked olives: Meslalla

The olive tree is a big thing in Morocco. They grow all over the country with some concentrations in specific Area. There is a belief that whoever uproots an olive tree and let it die could be cursed and damned.

Moroccan picholine is the most common olive which seems to represent more than 95% of the national production. It's also the one with a high extraction percentage of oil.

Besides Moroccan picholine comes the Meslalla, Dahbia, Hamrani and a few other varieties mostly shared with Spain and the rest of the Mediterranean countries.

Meslalla before treatment, just after being picked

In Fez, everyone is expecting the beginning of the harvest season with excitement and a lot of expectations. Many households still cure their olives at home and most of the family know someone who would extract the olive oil they'll be using for the next year. I don't even know if any Fassi has ever bought an industrially extracted and bottled olive oil. It all comes from traditionally extracting facilities called "Ma'assras".

Separating the olives by colour, the purple ones will be slit 
and left in a brine while the green-looking one will serve for meslalla recipes. 
They could also be left as part of meslalla mix

Meslalla is an olive for olive-addict people and not for amateur looking for sweet or acidic olives because it's not an acidic olive (as opposed to the usual green olive) nor sweet. It's slightly bitter and that's what most of people like cooking with it and marinating it for days. There is that extra layer of taste that makes it exceptional.


Brining Meslalla

After picking the olives, we separate the green ones from the others (discard the black ones if any). The olives are washed and left to dry for a few hours. We usually leave them out in the air.

The green-looking olives should be smashed using a small rock or a heavy pestle. It's important not to break or shatter the stone inside. The fact of smashing the flesh of the olive helps it maturing in the brine, slitting is not the best option for meslalla.


Delicately smashing the flesh of the olive without breaking the stone inside

Meslalla olives are mixed with salt (optional) or and lemon wedges and placed in a big jar or a deep container. We cover the whole thing with water and seal.

The reason why some people add salt is to help tenderizing the olives faster. In case you don't need the whole bulk immediately, you can omit the salt. As for the lemon, it's meant to keep the olives from darkening.

Because we usually handle about 15 kgs of Meslalla in the beginning of the harvest season, my family prefers to keep them in their initial brine and only treat a small quantity (kilo by kilo as we go) for immediate use.

Meslalla olives are very bitter and no one can really eat them as they are. So here is how we handle this.

After the first brine where we prefer to keep the bulk of Meslalla, we only take what is going to be used for the next month and we handle it as follows:

Handling the bitterness of Meslalla


To get rid of the Meslalla's bitterness, we leave the olives in water and we change it a few times throughout a period of 8 to 15 days, depending how we like them. My mother likes an slightly bitter after taste while I prefer them with hardly  bitterness noticeable.

The desired amount of Meslalla is placed in a deep container and it should be covered with cold water.

After 2 days, we discard the water and cover with new  cold water. We repeat this operation 3 to 5 times.


At this stage, Meslalla is ready for cooking or marinating.

Marinating Meslalla

Meslalla is usually marinated and left to infuse in a nice lemony chermoula and crushed preserved lemons (see how to make chermoula here).

You could chermoula-marinate Meslalla lightly or heavily to your liking
We usually serve chermoula-marinated Meslalla as part of an olive spread in the beginning of a meal including for breakfast.

Chermoula-marinated meslalla can keep for a good month in a fridge or a cold part of the house, properly covered.

Dry chermoula marinated Meslalla

A lemony chermoula-marinated meslalla with a generous amount of preserved
 lemon in the mix
Now that Meslalla is ready for use, let's discover what it is good for, in the next posts.



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