28 June 2008

Moroccan Night (First Attempt) and a Book Review: Couscous and Other Good Food From Morocco

We recently had Moroccan night straight out of Paula Wolfert's Couscous and Other Good Food From Morocco. The book is a classic and deservedly so. It's the most interesting cook book I've read in a long time. Not only are the introductory sections filled with food history and footnotes to obscure old (really old) food and travel books, but she keeps the book interesting throughout recipe descriptions and chapter introductions. It's a bit less versatile than I would like, with only a few vegetarian recipes—a handful of salads and some breads and pastries. And it's not easy to get a sense for how to make vegetarian versions of some of the couscous dishes either, even though she suggests that such dishes are commonplace in Morocco.

A Prerequisite: Preserved Lemons

Paula writes:

There is, and I cannot emphasize this enough, no substitue for preserved lemons in Moroccan food. ... To not use preserved lemons is to completely miss the point, and also to miss a whole dimension of culinary experience.
Not wanting to miss out on "a whole dimension of culinary experience," I dutifully preserved a batch of lemons. The basic recipe is readily available, but it takes a month or more for the lemons to cure, so you have to plan well ahead. On the other hand, I see preserved lemons in Whole Foods now, so that may be an option. Also, I used myers lemons, which seemed at the time to be an appropriate choice, but I wouldn't use them again. While the lemon flavour was certainly strong, it had a certain tinge to it I didn't care for and that wasn't present in any other preserved lemons I've ever tasted.

The lemons were needed for her excellent Chicken with Lemons and Olives Emshmel. We also made an orange and black olive salad and a salad of roasted peppers and tomatoes.

Tomato and Green Pepper Salad, Fez Style
Adapted from Paula Wolfert, Couscous and Other Good Food From Morocco (1973)
  • 3 green peppers
  • 4 tomatoes
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed with some 1/2 tsp. of salt
  • 1/4 tsp of sweet paprika
  • 1/2 freshly ground cumin
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 1/4 preserved lemon, rinsed, flesh removed, peel cut into a dice.
Grill the peppers over a flame until blackened, then remove their skins, stems and seeds. Cut the peppers into smallish chunks. Plunge the tomatoes into boiling water for a few minutes to remove their skins. Slice the tomatoes open and remove most of the seeds before also cutting into smallish chunks. Mix the tomatoes and peppers with the remaining ingredients other than the lemons, which are sprinkled on top. This was excellent.

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