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"The food of Morocco" by Paula Wolfert


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#1 seabream

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Posted 09 January 2013 - 10:12 PM

Has any of you cooked from this book? Do you like it? Are there any specific recipes that standout? A friend just lent it to me and I'm deciding whether it's worth investing in a tagine and the ingredients needed to start cooking from it.

#2 SylviaLovegren

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Posted 10 January 2013 - 06:58 AM

Wolfert's recipes are always good and well developed. I haven't used this particular book of hers but have tried many others and she is absolutely dependable.

#3 mkayahara

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Posted 10 January 2013 - 07:24 AM

I've made a few recipes from this book and her earlier Moroccan one, Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco. I recently made the bisteeya and it was wonderful. I've made several of the tagines and they're always tasty. And don't overlook the salads! The beet and carrot ones are my favourites.

If you're not sure whether or not you'll like the recipes, don't invest in a proper tagine; most of them can be cooked in a regular pot just as well, though you may want to reduce the amount of water going in at the start. I'm not sure what ingredients you'd need to "invest" in, other than spices. The barriers to entry in Moroccan cooking are pretty low, and most of the ingredients are things you can use in other cuisines as well.
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#4 patrickamory

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Posted 10 January 2013 - 07:48 AM

I made the tagine of glazed chicken with apricots last weekend and it was wonderful, just leave yourself more time than you think you need, pictures in the Dinner thread:

http://forums.egulle...49#entry1904249

#5 seabream

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Posted 10 January 2013 - 07:57 AM

patrickamory: Wow - that chicken tagine looks amazing. Thanks for the details and photos.

mkayahara: I was thinking of doing just that - cooking a couple of dishes that don't require a tagine or earthenware, or Moroccan ingredients (argan oil, harissa paste, ras el hanout) and then decide if I should dive deeper. My guess from flipping through the book is that I will want to dive deeper.

#6 seabream

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Posted 10 January 2013 - 08:13 AM

Basic question: what would you serve the glazed chicken with apricots with, traditionally? Rice? Bread?

#7 Syzygies

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Posted 10 January 2013 - 08:39 AM

what would you serve the glazed chicken with apricots with, traditionally? Rice? Bread?

I only know through books, but one eats tagines in general traditionally with bread. I wouldn't go with rice.

Nevertheless, tagines are great on couscous, and no one you serve will be any the wiser. Paula Wolfert's account of making couscous is the best. Her details can be overwhelming if one is unfamiliar with making couscous: What one remembers without the book is to mix in some water, steam for a while with the lid off (cheesecloth over the holes of a pasta steamer insert works well if you don't have dedicated equipment), remove to cool a bit and mix in butter or olive oil with your fingers, steam some more, serve. Or just make not-as-good couscous in a rice cooker. As a counterpoint to Wolfert's detailed instructions, couscous is basically indestructible and you'll get steamed food no matter what you do. Some fat makes it more savory, and the dance I describe makes it lighter. With these goals in mind one can improvise.

Before buying any book, locate some preserved lemon and make any online version of Chicken with Olives and Preserved Lemon. This is one of the top dozen dishes from any cuisine, and it doesn't challenge the "fruit in my dinner" envelope as other Moroccan dishes do.

Mourad: New Moroccan is the best read, for an orientation into Moroccan food, tradition and spices. The food itself leans Keller, and their kitchen more so, directly in the French Laundry diaspora. A great meal, but I cook more traditionally. Anything by Kitty Morse is the most straightforward; execution is up to you. I love the Momo cookbook, but I should have finished my cocktail and just left when the restaurant hinted I should order something I hadn't made.

If Moroccan cooking is unfamiliar, you will be pulled into too obedient a stance, cooking the recipes. You have to take charge, figuring out the spices, and all that matters is what tastes best to you; your tastes will evolve. It might be better to work up to full spices, rather than making overspiced pumpkin pie and giving up on the category. It's particularly hard not to use too much saffron. Momo gives the excellent advice to measure from a saffron solution, but this is impractical if you use saffron irregularly.
Per la strada incontro un passero che disse "Fratello cane, perche sei cosi triste?"
Ripose il cane: "Ho fame e non ho nulla da mangiare."

#8 Smithy

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Posted 10 January 2013 - 02:09 PM

I have the book (as well as many of Paula's other cookbooks) and like it. I agree with most of what's been said here: her recipes work, but can seem a bit intimidating; you can usually get good results - perhaps not the perfection she intends, but still good - without following every single step listed; you can get good results without investing in a tagine right off the bat; and there aren't many specalized spices that can't be used in other cookery. I also agree that the spices can be adjusted to taste, and you have to develop your own sense of what works for your tastes.

Incidentally, you can make your own preserved lemons - there's even a hurry-up recipe or three so you don't have to wait 3 or 4 weeks. Depending on where you are, making your own may be easier then buying.

I haven't seen the book's bread mentioned yet, so I'll note that recently I tried the Marrakesh Tagine Bread, without benefit of food processor for mixing the dough. It was dead-easy, quick, delicious, and made me wish I'd cooked a tagine of some sort for the bread to accompany. That particular bread is the first in her section on bread, and I'd recommend that for serving with a tagine if you have time.

Edited by Smithy, 10 January 2013 - 02:09 PM.

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#9 Smithy

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Posted 10 January 2013 - 02:42 PM

I found the link to the discussion on preserved lemons: it's http://egullet.org/p76944, over in the Middle East Cookery section. Rather than try to point to a specific method or recipe - there are several - I'll let the interested reader go through the 6 pages (and counting) of fun discussion and notes.

Having said that, I'll also note that there's a recipe for preserved lemons on page 21 of _The Food of Morocco_ (at least, it's page 21 in my copy) and that there's a 5-day hurry-up version on that same page.

Nancy Smith, aka "Smithy"
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"Every day should be filled with something delicious, because life is too short not to spoil yourself. " -- Ling (with permission)

"There comes a time in every project when you have to shoot the engineer and start production." -- author unknown


#10 Okanagancook

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Posted 10 January 2013 - 03:57 PM

Just made the Berber Meat Tagine with Seven Vegetables. Nice flavours and very easy to make.

#11 JoNorvelleWalker

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Posted 10 January 2013 - 04:42 PM

I've done a number of dishes from Food of Morocco (and from Jeff Koehler's Morocco) as discussed here:

http://forums.egulle...ng-help-needed/

Dinner tonight is left over pil-pil, the round bread for which is rising now. It was on Wolfert's suggestion in Food of Morocco that I obtained Basque Piment d'Espelette from France for the pil-pil, as according to her Piment d'Espelette are similar to Moroccan peppers.

My only dissatisfaction with Food of Morocco is that I wish the photographs were reproduced better. They seem low contrast and washed out. However that does not affect the recipes.

For preserved lemons I recommend the brand Roland. I paid $6 something (probably closer to $7) for a jar of about twelve lemons. I cannot buy fresh lemons for that price, even if I could find the round Moroccan lemons to buy. Roland preserved lemons are a product of Morocco and they are very good.

For cookware, I bought two tagines: one made of unglazed earthenware from Morocco sold by Bramcookware in Sonoma, the other a 31 cm Le Creuset. People (including Paula Worfert) have said bad things about the Le Creuset tagine. However, for what it's worth, the Le Creuset tagine has my recommendation. I like it because it is very large and is easy to clean. The Moroccan tagine I have is smaller and holds only about half as much. But the lid of the Moroccan tagine fits perfectly on the Le Creuset and this is how I usually cook with the Le Creuset. The glazed top of the Le Creuset does not work as well as the unglazed top. For recipes that call for it I can put the bottom of the Le Creuset under the broiler or in a very hot oven. For smaller recipes that cook entirely on the stovetop I use the unglazed earthenware tagine.

I love Wolfert's recipe for chicken mechoui, however I cook the chicken on a spit, not in a pan as she suggests. If I had to name one favorite recipe from Food of Morocco it would have to be lamb tagine with dates. And yes, I do use argan oil for it.


Edit: I forgot to say I took Wolfert's suggestion to have my butcher cut up a whole lamb shoulder in to about 1 1/2 to 2 inch cubes.

Another favorite recipe is chicken with pine nuts and apricots, though I have found it works better for me to do the final browning of the chicken individually. Otherwise the very sweet sauce in the pot becomes like hard taffee. However if you were serving a number of people all at once this would not be an issue.

Edited by JoNorvelleWalker, 10 January 2013 - 04:56 PM.


#12 seabream

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Posted 10 January 2013 - 04:51 PM

For recipes that call for it I can put the bottom of the Le Creuset under the broiler or in a very hot oven. For smaller recipes that cook entirely on the stovetop I use the unglazed earthenware tagine.


Does that mean you can't place the bottom of an unglazed tagine under the broiler? (After being hot from the prolonged cooking.)

#13 JoNorvelleWalker

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Posted 10 January 2013 - 06:42 PM

Does that mean you can't place the bottom of an unglazed tagine under the broiler? (After being hot from the prolonged cooking.)


It may or may not. Theoretically if the tagine is hot you could put it under the broiler. On the other hand I have heard first hand stories of cracked tagines. My Moroccan tagine is beautiful. I choose not to take the chance.

#14 Syzygies

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Posted 10 January 2013 - 07:37 PM

For preserved lemons I recommend the brand Roland.

Commercial preserved, homemade preserved, and fresh lemon are three very distinct tastes. I do like Roland for a deep note one gets in commercial preserved lemons that's missing from homemade. When I ate at Aziza (http://www.aziza-sf.com) their house made preserved lemon was definitely in the homemade camp, and with a spectacular liveliness. The closest I can come to buying that style is the preserved lemon from The Cultured Pickle Shop in Berkeley, CA (http://www.culturedpickleshop.com). They also sell a best-ever Indian pickle.

The elephant in the room is fruit selection, if one is making home made preserved lemon. Unless home grown or organic, pesticides in the peel are a question. And lemons vary widely. I grew and provided the Meyer lemons in season for a friend's homemade batch, but I wouldn't be happy starting from anything I saw at the grocer (even Whole Paycheck) on a random day.

Another favorite recipe is chicken with pine nuts and apricots

Beware of Chinese pine nuts, they have an inclusive notion of species and some cause a mild poisoning where everything tastes like metal for two weeks. Better to pay at least $50 a pound for Italian pine nuts, and treat them like truffles.
Per la strada incontro un passero che disse "Fratello cane, perche sei cosi triste?"
Ripose il cane: "Ho fame e non ho nulla da mangiare."

#15 patrickamory

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Posted 10 January 2013 - 07:46 PM

I used Lebanese pine nuts in that recipe... $34.99 a pound, but I only bought $3 worth which was plenty for the garnish.

And I made preserved lemons with supermarket Meyers last winter, and they came out great. Maybe I lucked out. Or maybe washing them well was sufficient.

#16 JoNorvelleWalker

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Posted 10 January 2013 - 09:37 PM

Beware of Chinese pine nuts, they have an inclusive notion of species and some cause a mild poisoning where everything tastes like metal for two weeks. Better to pay at least $50 a pound for Italian pine nuts, and treat them like truffles.


The pine nuts I have been using for a while are Alessi. They state "Product of China or Turkey". I don't have a lot of choice of locally available pine nut brands. Do you have a suggested source of Italian pine nuts?

That being said the Alessi seem OK to me.

#17 Smithy

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Posted 10 January 2013 - 09:38 PM

I understand and appreciate the reservation expressed above regarding the use of commercially-grown and -packed lemons. Speaking as a child of a California citrus rancher, however, I'd like to add these points:
1. The pesticides approved for use on crops in California (and, I think, in the USA) break down after some period of time - and they must be applied well in advance of when crews would be present to pick the fruit, in order to allow the pesticides time to break down before humans are exposed to them. After the crops are picked they're sent to a packing house where they get the bejesus washed out of them before they're sweated, treated with a fungicide, and packed. Maybe when people object to pesticides they're really worrying about fungicides, now that I think of it. Either way, I wouldn't worry - and I don't - about the trace residuals that *might* be present in the peel.
2. If you are still worried about pesticides, buy organically-grown fruit. According to my friends in the business, the certification is rigorous enough that it should give you peace of mind about the lack of chemical application.

When I have a choice I take fruit I've picked myself from the tree, but that's because I think the quality suffers in the packing house - more's the pity! But that's another discussion topic.

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"Every day should be filled with something delicious, because life is too short not to spoil yourself. " -- Ling (with permission)

"There comes a time in every project when you have to shoot the engineer and start production." -- author unknown


#18 JoNorvelleWalker

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Posted 10 January 2013 - 09:42 PM

Maybe I am paranoid but I have read Tomatoland.

#19 Syzygies

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Posted 11 January 2013 - 03:39 AM

When I have a choice I take fruit I've picked myself from the tree

I agree that the chemical exposure risk is probably minimal. By analogy I don't expect to get mad cow eating any beef in the United States. At the same time I think twice sourcing a beef cheek. I don't expect to get poisoned eating any citrus here either, but I think twice when making limoncello from the rinds of 40 lemons.

Fruit selection for making homemade preserved lemon is mainly about quality. I found exactly the same thing making limoncello: I might see lemons somewhere that called for a change of plans that day, time to make limoncello, but I couldn't decide to go buy lemons on a given day for limoncello, and end up with anything I really wanted to drink.

We grow several kinds of lemons and limes in our backyard; I have a frost shelter, Christmas lights spray-painted black, and an outdoor thermostat protecting my kaffir lime from frost. On a good year I get 300 kaffir limes, and I mail out a few dozen care packages to Thai food friends I met through http://www.thaifoodandtravel.com. But by far my favorite is our Bearss lime tree, with ripe yellow fruit unlike anything I can buy.

Now I'm wondering if I should put up the last of our crop (if not already freeze damaged) as preserved lime? Were this Indian pickle, one would be broadly opportunistic about what to use...
Per la strada incontro un passero che disse "Fratello cane, perche sei cosi triste?"
Ripose il cane: "Ho fame e non ho nulla da mangiare."

#20 Hassouni

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Posted 11 January 2013 - 09:51 AM

Go to a Lebanese shop for pinenuts, I doubt you will get anything not Product of Lebanon!

#21 seabream

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Posted 23 January 2013 - 11:49 AM

I just wanted to let everyone know that I started a topic about cooking with this book on the African cooking forum: http://forums.egulle...paula-wolfert/. Hope I'll see you there!