Moroccan recipes inspired by Muhammad’s healthy diet

Muhammad encouraged people to enjoy eating, but not to excess. He also highlighted the benefits of eating barley, figs, melon, milk, mushrooms, pomegranates and yogurt, foods that are now universally recognized as healthy.
Feb. 20, 2024
Muhammad highlighted the benefits of barley, figs, melon, milk, mushrooms, pomegranates and yogurt, among now-universally recognized healthful foods. Photo: Getty Images.
Muhammad highlighted the benefits of barley, figs, melon, milk, mushrooms, pomegranates and yogurt, among now-universally recognized healthful foods. Photo: Getty Images.

Seven years ago, I taught a course about what some famous people in history might have eaten, given the times and places in which they lived. So, for example, “What Charlemagne Ate” would have been a rich nobleman’s diet, befitting Charlemagne’s station in his highly tiered society of the early Middle Ages. He was, after all, an emperor.

“What Jesus Ate” would have been the foods of Roman-occupied Palestine such as flatbreads and garum, a salty fish sauce. “What the Buddha Ate,” the victuals of the 6th century B.C.E. of Northern India, some preparations of which, especially those vegetarian, have lasted to this day.

I didn’t teach about “What the Prophet Muhammad Ate,” simply because I knew so little about the food traditions of the Middle East during Muhammad’s lifetime (around the year 600 A.D.) But subsequent reading and study has impressed upon me Muhammads perspicacious approach to eating (and drinking). Also, how his thinking about diet is so intertwined with his religious understandings — much as the Buddha in his day considered the nexus of religion and food, more so than did Jesus of Nazareth and certainly the emperor Charlemagne.

I think of this especially now because this year’s Ramadan is upon us, especially for those who are Muslim.

This year Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, runs from March 10 through April 9. During Ramadan’s 30 days, among other practices, Muslims fast from dawn until dusk and break their fast with the “iftar” or evening meal.

Other great tips and recipes from Bill St. John.

“Eat and drink,” the Prophet said, “but not to excess.”

He was spare in his diet, eating along with people, at their pace. But to accommodate slow eaters, he would eat bit by bit until the end of any meal and was the last to finish, conscious as he was of not embarrassing or shaming such slow eaters.

He famously proclaimed — when once told that all the food that his family had at the moment was vinegar — “What a good food is vinegar.” About olive oil, which he ate with vinegar (as a condiment or dressing), he said, “Use olive oil in food as also for anointing, for this comes from a blessed tree.”

He favored the benefits of barley, figs, melon, milk, mushrooms, the pomegranate and yogurt, among now-universally recognized healthful foods.

He used to breathe three times in the course of a single drink of water and used to say that drinking in this manner is more acceptable, more thirst-quenching, and more wholesome. Muhammad preferred cold water, what he called “sweet,” pure water, although because of its coldness, did not think it advisable right after exercise or taking a bath.

He used to drink water while sitting. He forbade drinking water standing and even forbade drinking with one hand.

He also had a liking for sweets and honey. He especially liked dates (raw, ripe or dried), once writing that “A house without dates has no food.” He is reported to have eaten chicken, duck, and mutton, but not fish. Like the people of his day, he also ate camel meat.

Another form of The Prophet’s Chicken, in classic French cooking called “Poulet au Vinaigre” and with crisper, pan-fried skin, appears here: Poulet au Vinaigre.

Other dishes that can be prepared and eaten for Ramadan include the Prophet Mohammed’s (allegedly) favorite stew, Tharid, an Emirati lamb preparation, and Harira, a thick soup much favored by Moroccan Muslims to break the fast come Ramadan time.

The Prophet never found fault with the food. If he liked it, he ate it; otherwise, he did not touch it.

All in all, Muhammad ate what appears to be a diet in moderation, peaceably consumed, the administration of which he applied to his body for conditions other than mere hunger.

The two recipes here are fitting for breaking the fast during Ramadan, mostly because they are profitably prepared ahead of time, even much time. One is skinha (skee-nah), a form of a casserole-like dish called tangia in Morocco, a dish that requires long, slow cooking, therefore could be prepared early in the morning for heating during that day (and while the cook is fasting), to be eaten when the Ramadan fast is broken at the evening meal.

As such, a non-Muslim could prepare it as a “casserole,” using the same cooking methods and timing. In Morocco, a pot of skinha or tangia is often cooked for hours, its pot on the bottom floor of the hammam, directly above its infernal heat source.

The second dish comes from Samin Nosrat, one of my favorite writers about cooking (especially her book, “Salt Fat Acid Heat,” Simon & Schuster, 2017). Nosrat is an Iranian American and cut her teeth on a recipe for “Chicken with Vinegar” when cheffing at California’s Chez Panisse.

I include it here because it uses one of the Prophet Muhammad’s most lauded pantry staples, vinegar, and I call it The Prophet’s Chicken. To be strictly Muslim, substitute “light” apple juice for the white wine.

An assembled Moroccan Skinha (or Tangia), ready to be cooked. Photo: Bill St. John, for UCHealth.
An assembled Moroccan Skinha (or Tangia), ready to be cooked. Photo: Bill St. John, for UCHealth.

Skinha (or Tangia), Moroccan Hotpot

Adapted by Bill St. John from,, and You may substitute lamb ribs in the same weight or measure for the beef ribs. Many a Moroccan tangia does not include vegetables or grains, but this recipe includes both. Enough for 6-8.


3-4 beef marrow bones

2-3 bone-in beef short ribs, browned if desired

2 whole chicken legs (drumstick and thigh, connected)

1 medium yellow onion, chopped roughly and broken apart

10 pitted dates or dried apricots

1 cinnamon stick

1 teaspoon dried Aleppo, Urfa or Spanish paprika pepper flakes

1 large bay leaf

1 teaspoon coarse salt

A serving platter of prepared Moroccan Skinha (or Tangia). Photo: Bill St. John, for UCHealth.
A serving platter of prepared Moroccan Skinha (or Tangia). Photo: Bill St. John, for UCHealth.

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon ground turmeric powder

1 pound small waxy potatoes (fingerlings work well), peeled if desired

1 head of garlic, in peeled cloves

1 small bunch chard, tied together at the stem end

3-4 small ribs celery, leaves attached if present

1 cup dried chickpeas (about 1/2 pound), soaked in water to cover overnight, drained

2 large eggs

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Up to 2 quarts chicken broth, “light” apple juice or cider, or water (or combination; do not use white wine)

2-3 large meatballs, made of turkey, lamb, beef or chicken (or combination), prepared and cooked ahead, set aside and for serving


In a large casserole or Dutch oven (or, if using, the crock of a slow cooker), place all the ingredients in layers, as listed: After the meats, scatter the onion pieces and dates, strew the seasonings evenly, imbed the potatoes and garlic cloves as a layer, arrange the celery, chard and chickpeas as another layer, and gently imbed the two eggs.

Pour in the olive oil and then the cooking liquid until it reaches just to the top of the pot.

Assemble to skinha in the early morning and cook the pot in or over low heat in any of several ways: If using an oven, at 190-200 degrees; if using a stovetop, over a heat diffuser and a low flame; if using a slow cooker, on “Low” throughout the time.

Disassemble the skinha using tongs, ladles and slotted spoons, arranging its elements on a large platter from which to serve. Peel and halve the eggs and add the cooked meatballs. Defat the cooking liquid, if desired, and serve it alongside the skinha.

Did you know that vinegar was one of the Prophet Mohammed’s favorite pantry staples? That’s why this “Poulet au Vinaigre” is re-named “The Prophet’s Chicken.” Photo: Bill St. John, for UCHealth.
Did you know that vinegar was one of the Prophet Mohammed’s favorite pantry staples? That’s why this “Poulet au Vinaigre” is re-named “The Prophet’s Chicken.” Photo: Bill St. John, for UCHealth.

The Prophet’s Chicken

Adapted from Samin Nosrat’s “Chicken with Vinegar,” from “Salt Fat Acid Heat” (Simon & Schuster, 2017). Serves 4-6.


1 chicken, about 4 pounds

Kosher or sea salt freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 medium onions, sliced thinly

3/4 dry white wine or “light” apple juice

6 tablespoons white wine vinegar

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh tarragon leaves

1/2 cup heavy cream, crème fraîche or Greek-style plain yogurt


The night before, cut up the chicken into 8 bone-in pieces (2 thighs, 2 drumsticks, 2 breast halves chopped crosswise into 2 pieces each), saving the backbone, ribcage and wings to make broth. Generously salt and pepper the chicken pieces and place in a container or zippered plastic bag in the refrigerator overnight.

When ready to cook, dredge the chicken pieces, on all sides, in the flour, shaking off the excess and lay either on a wire rack or a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Heat a large skillet or Dutch oven on medium-high heat, adding just enough of the olive oil to coat the pan.

Brown the chicken pieces, in batches (to avoid overcrowding and “steaming” versus browning), beginning skin side down, about 4 minutes a side, until the pieces are nicely browned all over. Place aside the chicken pieces as they brown, then carefully discard the fat and wipe out the pan.

Return the pan to medium heat and melt the butter. Add the onions with a generous pinch of salt. Stir often until browned and softened, 20 to 30 minutes.

Increase the flame to high, add the wine (or apple juice) and vinegar, and scrape the pot with a wooden spoon to deglaze. Add half the tarragon and stir. Return the chicken to pan, skin side up and lower the heat to a simmer. Set the lid ajar on the pan and continue to simmer.

Remove the breast meat when it is cooked, after about 12 minutes, but let the dark meat pieces continue to cook until they are tender at the bone, 35-40 minutes total.

Transfer the chicken to a platter, increase the heat, and add the chosen dairy. Let the sauce come to a simmer and thicken. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt, pepper, and a little more vinegar if needed to perk up the sauce. Add the remaining tarragon and spoon over the chicken to serve.

Reach Bill St. John at [email protected]

About the author

For more than 40 years, Bill St. John’s specialties have been as varied as they are cultured. He writes and teaches about restaurants, wine, food & wine, the history of the cuisines of several countries (France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, and the USA), about religion and its nexus with food, culture, history, or philosophy, and on books, travel, food writing, op-ed, and language.

Bill has lent (and lends) his subject matter expertise to such outlets as The Rocky Mountain News, The Denver Post, The Chicago Tribune, 5280 Magazine, and for various entities such as food markets, wine shops, schools & hospitals, and, for its brief life, Microsoft’s In 2001 he was nominated for a James Beard Award in Journalism for his 12 years of writing for Wine & Spirits Magazine.

Bill's experience also includes teaching at Regis University and the University of Chicago and in classrooms of his own devising; working as on-air talent with Denver's KCNC-TV, where he scripted and presented a travel & lifestyle program called "Wine at 45"; a one-week stint as a Trappist monk; and offering his shoulder as a headrest for Julia Child for 20 minutes.

Bill has also visited 54 countries, 42 of the United States, and all 10 Canadian provinces.