Paula Wolfert is the author of eight cookbooks on the food of the Mediterranean. She first traveled to Morocco 50 years ago and in The Food of Morocco shares her knowledge of the food, culture and people of that country. Her immense knowledge infuses the book from cover to cover. Recipe headnotes and essays throughout include the history of various dishes in addition to their importance in daily life or religious celebrations.
Recipes are divided into chapters on soups, salads, breads and pastries, cous cous, fish, poultry, meat, bean and vegetable dishes, desserts, and drinks. The introductory chapter on "The Essentials of Moroccan Cooking" introduces readers to techniques, equipment and ingredients that are used throughout the book, such as tagines, preserved lemons and spice mixtures like ras el hanout. Wolfert knows her Western readers well, and includes short-cut alternatives and suggestions for many of the more labor-intensive recipes, like an "express" meat confit.
Throughout the book are gorgeous photographs, which are not something I typically take into consideration when reviewing a cookbook. I appreciate their beauty, but they don't make the recipes any better. In The Food of Morocco however, Quentin Bacon's photographs of the markets, people, food, and textiles of Morocco make the recipes even more mouth-watering.
In a recipe for Oudi--a thyme-scented clarified butter that provides a unique flavor boost to many Moroccan dishes--Wolfert says she "uses country methods with modern kitchen devices," an approach found in many of her recipes. And while she writes about the superiority of Moroccan oranges, many recipes offer substitutions or supermarket brands like chicken thighs instead of squab or Muir Glen canned tomatoes.
The book has several dishes that may take considerable skill, time and patience. Like bastila--a meat and egg pie made by first making several sheets of flaky warqa pastry, then wrapping them around the filling and baking. There are semolina breads like berber and hacha, the latter of which can be stuffed with meat or cheese. There is harira, the traditional lentil stew, and dozens of hearty meat tagines. Some dishes take days, others less than an hour. After stocking my pantry with a few staple items, The Food of Morocco will likely have a permanent place in my kitchen.
Meet Paula Wolfert at a free book signing event at Book Larder in Fremont on Wednesday April 18 from 6:30 to 8 p.m.