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Griggs: Dateline Morocco 2015

on November 2, 2015 - 8:14am

Author David Griggs and three ladies from Dublin, Ireland, cooking Vegetarian Tagine last month at Amal Women’s Training Center and Moroccan Restaurant in Marrakech. Courtesy photo

The finished product: a steaming platter of Vegetarian Tajine. Courtesy photo


Formerly of Los Alamos

Some write “tajine”, others write “tagine”. I say “delicious” ... my introduction to Moroccan cooking at Amal Women’s Training Center and Moroccan Restaurant.

Last May, during a chance encounter at a Farmers’ Market in Roanoke, Va., I met three people from Morocco. We chatted about my interest in Ibn Battutu, the 14th century Moroccan traveler who logged three times as many miles as Marco Polo. They encouraged me to visit Morocco, and we exchanged email addresses.

Five months later, my KLM flight landed in the bright afternoon sunshine at the Marrakech Menara Airport in Morocco. Within a few days, I was able to connect with one of the three, Moulay Hassan Aladlouni. What a small world! He treated me to a delicious lunch on the patio of Amal Restaurant in the La Ville Nouvelle. I dined on fruit salad with basil and olive oil, lamb tajine with lemon, green beans, and potatoes, and quince pie for dessert. The full name of the establishment is Amal Women’s Training Center and Moroccan Restaurant, a non-profit of which Hassan is the director.

Amal was founded by Nora Fitzgerald Belahcen, a Moroccan American who earned her college degree at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In 2012 she founded Amal (which means “hope” in Arabic) to open windows of hope for women by providing them with job training and life skills. The trainees come from such disadvantaged backgrounds as divorced or single mothers, former child maids, widows, and orphans.

Ten women are selected every four months to participate in the extended training program. After graduation, the trainees are placed in jobs around Marrakech.

The training program encompasses food service activities in the kitchen, pastry making, and service. Language classes are provided in French, English, and Arabic. Internships are arranged with outside businesses such as riads, hotels, cafes, and restaurants. Also provided are personal and group therapy with a professional psychiatrist, life skills coaching, and arts and crafts classes. Even after graduation, on-going help is provided in further job placement and support.

The restaurant at Amal is open every day for lunch from 12-4:30. In addition to generating cash flow and publicity for the non-profit organization, the restaurant also provides the trainees with real life experiences.

Amal also offers cooking classes in traditional Moroccan cuisine in Arabic, French, English, or Spanish. In addition to having lunch twice at Amal, I had the joy of taking a cooking class last week. Twelve of us gathered at 10 in the morning to learn how to cook tajine, the Moroccan delicacy baked in the iconic ceramic dishes with cone-shaped lids.

A family of four from near Inverness in Scotland worked on a beef tajine. A young man from Glasgow and his friend from the Netherlands and two ladies from Italy prepared two dishes of chicken tajine. Three charming ladies from Dublin’s fair city (where girls are so pretty) and I teamed up to assemble a fantastic vegetarian tajine. I will be glad to perform demonstrations on request.

Amal has just received a grant of 25,000 euros that will allow the organization to embark on an exciting project to provide start-up funding for some of the women who want to start their own food service businesses.

For further information about Amal, visit their website at

The proud certificate recipients at Amal Women’s Training Center last week. Courtesy photo

Editor's Note: Since retiring from Los Alamos County in September 2013, David Griggs has been traveling the world. He is now a foreign correspondent for the Los Alamos Daily Post, submitting stories and photographs of his travels for publication.