(Photo by Rachel Newcomb)
BY RACHEL NEWCOMB
Rachel Newcomb is a professor of cultural anthropology at Rollins College and the author of "Women of Fes: Ambiguities of Urban Life in Morocco." She first visited the country on an SIT semester abroad program while in college and decided to make Morocco the focus of her life's work.
You may have heard of argan oil, since it’s the latest trendy fountain-of-youth product to be added to cosmetics and hair care products. Argan comes from southern Morocco, where the climate is very dry and the landscape is mostly sand, rocks, and scrubby little trees. The Argan tree does well in dry climates and produces nuts that are then pressed into oil: cosmetic or culinary. People use it for their hair and skin, and it’s high in Vitamin E and considered to be an extremely healthy oil. Argan nuts have to be cracked by hand, however, and women are the primary producers. They often work in cooperatives where the goal is for them to receive higher pay for their work so they can contribute to their family’s income. The region of Morocco where argan is produced has high unemployment and migration out of the region, so in many cases, argan producers are the primary source of income for their families.
I’ve taken some of my college students to Morocco on a couple trips to visit cooperatives outside the town of Sidi Ifni, and they really enjoyed observing the process of making the oil, especially trying to crack the hard shells of the argan nut with rocks. It’s not easy to do, but the women are good at it, the shells making an echoing thwack as the women deftly pound them between smooth rocks. Here’s a video about argan production where you can hear the cool noise the nuts make as they’re broken: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ON1FZI_FvU
So with the growing world interest in argan, how do you know that what you’re getting truly benefits the communities of southern Morocco? With shampoos and cosmetics, it’s impossible to know, but if you’re buying argan oil itself, I can vouch for one business in particular. My friend Renda, who lived and studied in Morocco for a few years and spent much of that time working with women in an argan cooperative, has started The Argan Project, to sell the products from one cooperative and ensure that the women are getting a fair price. Like me, Renda is deeply invested in Morocco. But how does their argan oil taste? I recently ordered a bottle from her and can attest that the oil is of the finest quality.
Argan has a nutty, unique flavor and works well in citrus vinaigrettes. It can’t be heated to a very high temperature without degrading, so you don’t want to fry anything with it, but it adds a layer of complexity when drizzled over finished dishes such as roasted fish or vegetables. Another amazingly delicious Moroccan treat (which The Argan Project also sells), is amlou: argan, almond butter, and honey mixed together. It’s wonderful on toast for a breakfast treat.
Argan pairs nicely with kale, and this is an easy kale salad with argan dressing, dried apricots and almonds. First, get some green kale or lacinato kale and rinse it well. Slice it into thin ribbons. Drizzle a spoonful of argan oil over it and begin massaging: this may sound like some hokey foodie affectation but it truly makes kale easier to chew. For about a minute, rub the leaves together in your palms and between your fingers. The salad will reduce in size. Salt and pepper the kale to taste, and add a dash of balsamic vinegar (less than the oil you added) and a tiny squirt of honey. Toss with almonds and apricots and add a bit of grated parmesan on top (feta also works nicely).
So consider giving argan oil a try, if you’d like to both support a woman's cooperative and also find a new way of livening up your salads (and maybe even make an amlou butter and jelly sandwich).
Link to original post: http://www.edibleminimalism.com/?p=205
edible minimalism is a (mostly food) blog dedicated to creating a simple and intentional life, full of food that is mindful of nourishment and flavor, with minimal processed ingredients.