As a child I loved to read and often positioned myself with my book somewhere in our busy household where I might go unnoticed and not be interrupted by my parents or siblings. Then, like now, a good book and the gift of a child’s imagination, had the magical ability of transporting me to far off lands.
I still love books, and I especially love cookbooks, often reading them cover to cover like a novel. My favorite cookbooks go beyond recipes to include historical information about the source of the food, or the recipe, or of the particular culture the book might represent adding another dimension to the cooking/eating experience.
Today while reading my recently purchased book on Moroccan food, “Tagines and Couscous” by Ghillie Basan I was so motivated by the stories behind the traditional dishes of Morocco that I was compelled to visit our fabulous local Central Market to search for the ingredients I needed for 3 basic dishes. Craving some exotic flavor, I chose to prepare the spicy eggplant and tomato salad, chicken k’dra with turnips and chickpeas, and the plain, buttery couscous. Interesting name as the recipe was anything but plain. The couscous was infused with the flavor of toasted almonds, olive oil and butter…yummy! For those of you who love couscous the book is worth buying just for the two page description of the history of couscous and the art of making it (not cooking it) which is very labor intensive. I learned that Moroccans believe couscous is a food that brings God’s blessing upon those who consume it and I can see why!
Don’t be put off by the title of the book, even if you don’t own a tagine you can re-create the recipes in a covered casserole. I used a Le Creuset 5 quart covered casserole for the chicken dish, “braising” the chicken similar to a tagine. It is best to review the recipes first and make a list of the spices needed to duplicate the Moroccan flavors. The spices, while not hard to find, may not be a staple in your kitchen pantry and there is nothing worse than starting to prepare a dish and not have what you need…plus searching for the ingredients is part of the adventure no?
The photos in this cookbook are beautiful too! There are colorful and tempting photos of the food and local pottery. I served the couscous and the eggplant in Chilean pottery I purchased years ago in Pomaire a small village west of Santiago Chile where the pottery is still pit fired (heated in the ground vs. an electric kiln). While Chile and Morocco are thousands of miles apart there is a strong similarity to their traditional clay pots. Not surprising really…if I’ve learned anything from my travels one thing stands out and that is that regardless of differences in geography, culture, language, religion or race, people and the things they care about share more similarities than differences. We just need to be open to the possibilities. The same goes for food.
I’ve been wanting to go to Morocco for some time and it has moved up the ladder on my bucket list of places to see before I die. But for now reading the cookbook and trying as many recipes as possible will have to be enough. The food is amazing! Enjoy!