We’re neither trendsetters nor those who follow them. We don’t fall for the hype, or believe what we hear and read and we can definitely recognize the “emperor’s new clothes” when we see it.
But none of these are reasons why we waited so long to visit one of San Antonio’s most popular ethnic restaurants. Particularly one that a very dear friend first wrote about and touted last year in a local magazine. And one that was more recently featured on “Triple D” or what you might know as “Diner’s, Drive-Ins and Dives.”
Yes, that crazy blonde food nut Guy Fieri spent a few days in San Antonio earlier this year visiting a handful of restaurants. We have visited most of those that were on his hit list…three of which we approve (Dough, El Bohio and Taco Taco), three of which we are not fans (Beto’s, Bun ‘n Barrel and Magnolia Pancake Haus) and one sadly that we had never been to.
We had talked about going to this place on so many occasions, it just never panned out. But that was then and this is now and we fixed that.
We recently had to drive way out 410 west and thought it a perfect opportunity to visit Moroccan Bites. This authentic Moroccan restaurant is situated in a strip center at the corner of Wurzbach and Evers, but when you walk in, you swear you are somewhere else.
Moroccan music is piped through the speakers, lanterns and hookahs are used as decor, Moroccan tiles cover the pillars in the room and at each end of the long restaurant there is a Moroccan-styled private dining room that is available for groups. And what a party it would be.
The restaurant is impeccable. I could have eaten off of the floors (and would have had I needed to). Even the bathroom floors. Being Islamic, they comply with the rules of halal, much of which is derived from cleanliness and God knows how I love cleanliness. It also means they do not serve pork or alcohol.
Mama is in the kitchen and daughters, Wafa and Nadia, are all over the restaurant helping customers and then back to the kitchen helping Mama. Their effusive spirit and love for what they do is palpable.
You can feel it in the restaurant and you can taste it in the food. They created Moroccan Bites so they could cook for their friends what they cook at home and home cooking it is.
Though I was torn between a vegetable tagine and vegetarian appetizers, the hummus won out and I ordered several appetizers including eggplant, lentils and hummus. David ordered half a chicken.
Despite sharing the same name, the hummus at Moroccan Bites is not the hummus you are probably thinking of. This hummus is made with whole chickpeas stewed with tomatoes, onions and garlic. And I could have eaten two bowls rather than just one. The lentils are cooked to perfection and perfectly seasoned. The eggplant with tomatoes and garlic, well, let’s just say that next time I think I am going to order double eggplant over rice.
David’s chicken was sublime or so I was left to believe since only bones remained.
And the mint tea is a must. The ceremonial way they serve this traditional tea and the intense minty flavor will impress you.
So inspired by this exquisitely prepared Moroccan food was I that I decided to try making a tagine at home using fresh okra from the farmers market and chickpeas. The recipe was a bit more complicated than I am used to and while it was good, it was even better the next day as leftovers. But, really, why go to all the trouble when Mama, Wafa and Nadia’s food is so much more amazing and authentic?
Below is the recipe I made, but I also encourage you to venture out into the world of ethnic food and take a bite of Morocco at Moroccan Bites.
Okra and Chickpea Tagine
- 1 lb. fresh okra stem ends trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (generally a basket of okra at the farmers market weighs 1 lb.)
- 10 sprigs fresh cilantro plus more leaves for garnish
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 red bell pepper finely diced
- 1 medium onion finely diced
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 3 plum tomatoes diced or 1 cup canned diced tomatoes, drained
- 1/2 cup vegetable broth or reduced-sodium chicken broth
- 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 15- ounce can chickpeas drained and rinsed
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
- 1 teaspoon harissa or hot sauce to taste
Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Add cut up okra pieces and cook for 2 minutes. While the okra is in the boiling water, prepare a big bowl with ice and cover it with water. Then, using a slotted spoon, transfer the okra to the bowl of ice water. Let the okra cool and then drain.
Tie cilantro sprigs together with kitchen string.
Heat oil in a tagine dish over a heat diffuser or simply use a large saucepan and place it over medium-high heat. Add the bell pepper and cook, stirring often, until soft, about 2-5 minutes. Transfer bell pepper to a bowl.
Next, add the onion, garlic, ground ginger and pepper to the pan, stirring until the onion is soft, about 3-6 minutes. Mix in the tomatoes, broth, cumin, okra and cilantro sprigs and half the bell pepper. Reduce the heat to medium and partially cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the okra is soft, about 10-15 minutes.
Then stir in the chickpeas and salt and cook for 4 minutes until heated through. Remove from the heat, discard the cilantro sprigs and stir in harissa or hot sauce. Garnish with the remaining bell pepper and cilantro leaves and serve.