This is truly a Moroccan cookbook love year. First it was Paula Wolfert’s Food of Morocco and then [amazon_link id=”1579654290″ target=”_blank” ]Mourad: New Moroccan[/amazon_link] from Mourad Lahlou. There have been many articles like this one, and this one, and this one, in the press about the way that each of these authors present Moroccan food. It boils down to this. Paula presents authentic traditional food, the food that I’m going to find on my mother in law’s table and the only way MarocBaba thinks of the food of his homeland. Mourad presents Moroccan food the way I dream it could be.
Mr. Lahlou is a Marrakech native (added plus) and his book is full of images from all over the country but especially Marrakech, a fact that I adore. (If you check out page 248 the olive stall he’s buying from is the same one I bought my olives at during our last trip. The gentlemen operating the booth was a sweetheart and held my 5 kilos of olives while we finished shopping!) He owns and is head chef of Aziza in San Francisco and took on Cat Cora in 2009 in Battle Redfish on Iron Chef America – winning by the largest margin in the shows’ history! His cookbook embraces the technique he employs at his restaurant. Lahlou is a self-trained chef and originally began cooking Moroccan food as a way to combat homesickness when he was an economics student in the US.
The firs thing that struck me about this cookbook is its structure. The first one-hundred pages of the book tell his story and give you the basics. It includes text about and instructions on how to make staples such as spices, how make preserved lemons, harissa, and couscous. These aren’t full blown meals but a how-to to begin preparing your kitchen to make the items that will come later. As someone who cooks Moroccan food very regularly I skimmed this section but have 99% of these things on hand already. But, for someone who wants to stock their kitchen with all of these items, and doesn’t want to pay premium price for them pre-made, this section will be a lifesaver!
Things then progress to the bigger and more complex recipes. I love the cheeky chapter titles like; “Back to the Beldi,” “Sides, Front, and Center,” and “Tea and Me.” Mourad covers all of the bases from appetizers to really lovely desserts. But they are not traditional Moroccan recipes and in many cases I think they are even better. He writes from where he is (which is California) the ingredients available are of course different than they are in Morocco. Instead of trying to substitute or hunt down the actual ingredient, or grow it himself he re-creates dishes with what is available. Something I’d be remiss not to note is that there is very little frying of food in this book, making the dishes in my opinion healthier than a lot of traditional Moroccan fare.
Above all what I can appreciate about this cookbook – I can make anything and eat it. There’s no pork in any of the ingredients. Early in the book he does state that he cooks with wine making sure to cook off the alcohol. I’ve heard debates about whether or not all alcohol is cooked off when heated. So you’ll have to be your own judge on that issue. Just to further in debt me to him, on page 267 there’s a recipe for lamb bacon! He writes “Not serving pork at the restaurant but wanting to experience the magic of bacon everyone’s talking about …” let me sing his praises for giving us a bacon recipe! Here are a few more of the recipes that caught my eye.
- Short Rib Tangia, aged butter, and preserved lemons p 278
- Almond Cake, Plum Sorbet, Cardamom Yogurt, Toasted Almonds p 314
- Black Cod, Potatoes, Saffron Broth p 224