From Tagine to Pastilla: Three Moroccan Cookbooks

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The food of Morocco is deceptively complex. Glancing at a menu or visiting a welcoming Moroccan’s home for a meal appears to offer merely variations on tagines, couscous, bastilla, and fresh salads. But after wandering through the souks for an afternoon and spying the tins of deep scarlet, electric yellow, and terracotta spices or smelling the sweet and earthy fragrance from a modest pot of soup offered out of an equally modest store-front, one knows that the local cuisine in anything but simple. After one sweet and savory bite of a lamb and apricot tagine, it is clear that Moroccan food is nuanced and unique – and a reflection of the heritage and people of this North African nation.

For those who aren’t lucky enough to talk technique with a local chef or join one of the many excellent cooking classes, there are three new cookbooks that provide not only authentic recipes, but also photographs, stories, and the history of the food and culture of Morocco.

From: New Moroccan by Mourad Lahlou (Artisan Books), © 2011. Photographs by Deborah Jones.

Mourad: New Moroccan by Mourad Lahlou is a beautifully photographed full-color cookbook with personal stories from the chef’s childhood in Doukkala, notes from Lahlou about his essentials of Moroccan cooking, as well as classic and updated recipes – all written in the chef’s distinctive voice. I loved this book for the personal connection Chef Lahlou makes between his upbringing and the food he cooks, as well as the lessons he provides on the essential ingredients and the cultural significance of Moroccan cooking. The recipes he shares range from easy preserved lemons to a spice-rubbed eight-pound rib roast that could feed a family. This cookbook is required reading for any fan of Chef Lahlou’s award-winning San Fransisco restaurant, Aziza, which was the first Moroccan restaurant to receive a Michelin Star, but it is also worthy of coffee table status thanks to the gorgeous photography, courtesy of Deborah Jones, whose sparse styling and saturated color perfectly capture the magic of the culture.

From: The Food of Morocco by Paula Wolfert (Ecco),(c) 2011. Photographs by Quentin Bacon.

Paula Wolfert’s The Food of Morocco is another beautiful full-color cookbook with stunning photography. Paging through the sections – separated, roughly, by course – images that recall a walk through the spice market or a drive along the fields of argan trees are accompanied by recipes offering variations on the salads, tagines, and soups, among other classic Moroccan dishes. Where Mourad is part personal narrative, part cooking lesson and part cookbook, Chef Wolfert keeps us focused more firmly upon the recipes of this country, whose cuisine she clearly adores and reveres. The images are equally reverential, thanks to Quentin Bacon’s ability to capture the essence of a place – and a dish – so exquisitely.

Le Riad Monceau: A Palace of Moroccan Gastronomy, also combines full-color photography with culture and recipes. With text in both French and English, Le Riad Monceau takes the reader on a virtual tour of the history and architecture of the riad, tells the story of its renown restaurant, offers recipes from their highly regarded chef and provides an exclusive guide to Moroccan wine. Owned by the French artist Isabelle Aubrey and her husband Ludovic Antoine, who also took the photographs for the book, Le Riad Monceau is a tribute to its namesake, a temple of classic Moroccan hospitality.

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