The Food of Morocco
Reviewed by Mick Vann, Fri., Dec. 9, 2011
The Food of Moroccoby Paula Wolfert (Ecco, 528 pp., $45)
Paula Wolfert has been visiting the cooks and souk markets of Morocco for 50 years, and with The Food of Morocco, she has provided fans of culinary culture the definitive text – a zealous and infinitely more complete and detailed follow-up to her groundbreaking 1973 classic, Couscous and Other Good Food From Morocco. Quentin Bacon's spectacular and lavish photography reinforces Wolfert's scholarly, mesmerizing writing to produce a masterpiece of Moroccan cuisine.
The early sections of the book exhaustively cover the necessary tools, spices, and ingredients. Wolfert's recipes encompass the dishes both urban and rural, of royalty and peasant, and from all regions of this geographically diverse country. They are clear, unfussy, unambiguous, and bubbling over with Wolfert's passion and knowledge of the cuisine. There is no technique that isn't simplified and explained in detail, and she reveals logical shortcuts when they exist (like how to make instant couscous taste like the real thing). The headnotes, sidebars, and notes are loaded with history, concise explanations, and personal anecdotes; it all makes for an entertaining read, even if you never cook a single dish.
Composing a meal, you might start with one of the many salads, such as orange, radish, orange flower water, and cinnamon, or crushed olive dressed with bitter orange marmalade and cumin. You might follow with quail bastilla, made with warqa, using Wolfert's ingenious and simple method of painting batter onto a nonstick skillet. Next you might serve a nice, creamy soup of butternut squash and tomato with goat cheese.
Bring out the big guns with steamed grits with shrimp, onions, and glazed turnips, and follow with braised game hen with saffron, garlic, and almonds, or lamb with quince and okra. Have a platter of roasted cauliflower with tomato and olives on the side and finish with an apple-raisin tart with rose water. When you've finished the book and cooked from its pages, you'll understand the country, its people, its food, and the true flavor of the cuisine.