On my first trip through Morocco, I packed not only a guidebook but also a cookbook: Paula Wolfert’s 1973 classic, “Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco.” Filled with rich culinary and cultural anecdotes, her book helped me navigate the country’s markets, medinas and menus in ways that no traditional travel guide could. Back at home it enabled me to recreate countless aromatic, North African specialties. When I learned of Wolfert’s colorful follow-up, “The Food of Morocco” (Harper Collins, 2011), I doubted that I could cherish this cookbook as much as I had her first. And yet I do.
In “The Food of Morocco,” the James Beard award-winning author expands upon the delights that she had covered decades ago. She updates many classics and introduces new favorites including date, almond and apple truffles and cheese- or meat-stuffed flatbreads. Throughout the book, she shares invaluable insights, techniques and recipes garnered from 50 years of traveling and cooking in Morocco.
Wolfert begins her latest book by looking at the basic ingredients and tools of Moroccan cuisine. She explains how to make such pantry staples as preserved lemons, meat confit and the spice blend ras el hanout. She also discusses how best to use these items in everyday dishes. These early chapters provide a solid foundation for newcomers and a nice refresher for old hands at Moroccan cooking.
Fundamentals established, Wolfert moves on to salads, breads, soups, dairy-based foods and those tiny grains of semolina that we know as couscous. The chapter on couscous is particularly beneficial to anyone who, like me, purchased, dragged across North Africa and then lugged back home a couscousiere — the two-tiered pot traditionally used in Morocco to steam couscous. Wolfert takes readers step-by-step through the process of hand-rolling thousands of semolina grains, steaming them in a couscousiere or colander and then raking them through your fingers until they become light, airy couscous. Lush color photographs and detailed illustrations further assist with this and other kitchen tasks.
No cookbook devoted to Morocco can be without a tagine recipe or two. Prepared in the eponymous conical, earthenware pot, these rich, succulent stews are found throughout the country as well as “The Food of Morocco.” Fans of Wolfert’s first book will recognize her chicken with preserved lemon and olives, meat with carrots and celery and meatballs or kefta with herbs, spices and lemons. These timeless dishes appear alongside such original, delightful offerings as baby calamari with red pepper and tomato and lamb with prunes and almonds. Wolfert gives readers a mix of the old and new, delivering a wealth of sumptuous meat- , poultry- , fish- and vegetable-based tagines to tantalize the taste buds.
Along with the quintessential North African foods, there are some dazzling modern creations here, especially in the realm of desserts I particularly appreciate the aromatic, orange flower water-laced tarte tatin, crumbly semolina almond cookies and creamy avocado and date milkshake.
In addition to presenting her unsurpassed knowledge of Moroccan cuisine, Wolfert brings her skills as a storyteller to “The Food of Morocco.” Whether in a head note, sidebar or essay, each of her recipes tells a tale of Moroccan life. By the end of the book I felt as though I, too, had spent decades journeying through and cooking in this sensuous land. Who knows? Maybe a few readers will be inspired to tuck this tome into a backpack and set out to make their own memories of Morocco.
Whether you’re a longtime fan of or latecomer to Moroccan cooking, you’ll find “The Food of Morocco” inspiring and delightful. Creative, engaging and informative, it’s a welcome addition to any kitchen.
Kathy Hunt is a syndicated food writer whose work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun and VegNews, among other publications. She currently is working on her first cookbook.
Top photo composite:
Author Paula Wolfert and “The Food of Morocco” book jacket. Courtesy of www.paula-wolfert.com
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