Review: The Food of Morocco

Editor’s note: It’s no secret Pen & Fork’s book reviewer Linda Avery loves Moroccan food, so she was thrilled to get her hands on Paula Wolfert’s new 528 page cookbook, The Food of Morocco. Take a look and see what she thought, then try the delicious chicken dish with fragrant spices and tomato “magic.”


The Food of Morocco

by Paula Wolfert
photos by Quentin Bacon
drawings by Mark Marthaler

Facts: Ecco, an imprint of Harper Collins, 528 pages, $45.00 (or Amazon at $22.50)
Photos: More than the number of recipes (and that’s saying a lot!)
Recipes: 192
Give To: friends who belong to a cookbook club, anyone wanting to explore Moroccan cuisine

Decades ago I did a brief touch-and-go in Tangier. I’ve wanted to return to Morocco but never so much as now, after reading The Food of Morocco. Although a few have complained that this book has many recipes found in Paula Wolfert’s Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco (originally published in 1973 and inducted into the James Beard Cookbook Hall of Fame in 2008), I find this is yet another cookbook with a travelogue dimension.

Within the book’s introduction lies a fascinating map of Morocco listing notable dishes and ingredients indigenous to various areas e.g. Marrakech: rabbit tagine; Casablanca: camel meat; Tangier: Kalinté, a chickpea flan; Fes: the famous preserved lemons, etc.  Paula Wolfert has no doubt personally experienced each and every dish noted.

Wolfert then lays a foundation for the recipes by explaining the curious eathenware tagine, the Moroccan larder, the most used spices and secondary spices, and how to make basics like preserved lemons. The recipes in the ten following chapters would paint bright mental images even if there weren’t fabulous photos. Colorful salads with oranges, dates and raisins; green and red peppers complement fish, poultry, meats and vegetables. Fruits are plentiful in this diet, including dessert couscous with pomegranates and poached pears with prunes.

There is no doubt that in addition to a love of complex and unique flavors, Moroccan people don’t mind spending time achieving those results. The recipes in this book require a commitment whether in terms of time, learning or both. This is particularly true if you decide to tackle bastila (AKA pastila, bisteeya, or bestela) making your own warqa, their pastry akin to phyllo dough. It would take me most of the day and I’d only have a first course completed!

This would be a fun book for a supper club whether the club cooks all dishes together or divvies up recipes among your membership and comes together for the dinner. BTW, if you have a recipe calling for a tagine and are without one, Wolfert says a deep straight-sided large skillet with a tight fitting cover and a sheet of parchment paper placed directly on the food will give you good results. And SHE is indisputably the queen of Mediterranean food.

Chicken Smothered with Tomato Jam

photo © by Quentin Bacon

Recently I asked my daughter, Leila, to test this recipe, since she remembered it from her girlhood in Tangier. She was thrilled with the results, telling me that two of her friends liked it so much “they actually licked the bottom of the tagine pot.”

Please remember to transfer a hot tagine to a wooden surface or a folded kitchen towel on a serving tray to prevent cracking.

Serves 6

For the Tomato Magic
(Makes about 1 1/2 cups)
One 6- to 8-ounce jar sun-dried tomatoes packed in olive oil
One 28-ounce can organic tomatoes, preferably Muir Glen fire-toasted tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon salt
Extra virgin olive oil

For the chicken
6 large fat chicken thighs (about 3 pounds), preferably organic and air-chilled
2 large garlic cloves
Coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons saffron water (see note)
1/3 cup grated red onion
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon ground Ceylon cinnamon
2 1/2 pounds red-ripe tomatoes, peeled, halved, seeded, and chopped
1 tablespoon Tomato Magic or tomato paste
2 tablespoons thyme or floral honey
2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted

Make the tomato jam
1. Combine the sun-dried tomatoes, with their packing oil from the jar; the canned tomatoes, with their juices: the salt; and 2 tablespoons water in a food processor or blender and puree until smooth.

2. Scrape the puree into a wide heavy-bottomed saucepan, set over medium-low heat, and cook, stirring often, until reduced to a thick jam, about 30 minutes.

3. Scrape some of the tomato paste into a clean, dry jar for more immediate use. Cover with 1/4 inch of olive oil, close the jar, and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 month. For longer storage time, divide the remaining paste into 1- or 2-tablespoon balls and place them side by side on a flat tray. Set in the freezer for 10 to 15 minutes, until firm, then place in a freezer bag and store in the freezer.

Make the chicken
1. The day before: Rinse the chicken thighs and pat dry; trim away excess fat. Slide your fingers under the skin to loosen it from the flesh. Crush the garlic and 2 teaspoons salt to a paste in a mortar. Mix with the pepper, ginger, olive oil, and saffron water, and rub under and over the skin of the chicken. Let stand, covered, in the refrigerator overnight.

2. The next day: Place the chicken with its marinade, in an 11- to 12-inch tagine set on a heat diffuser. Add the grated onion, cilantro, 3/4 teaspoon of the ground cinnamon, and 1/2 cup water and mix thoroughly with the chicken pieces. Cook, covered, over low heat, stirring once, for 20 minutes. Then begin to slowly raise the heat to medium and cook, uncovered, for 20 minutes.

3. Add the tomatoes and the Tomato Magic or tomato paste to the tagine and continue to cook over medium heat, uncovered, turning the chicken pieces often in the sauce, until very tender, about 20 more minutes. Take the chicken out and wrap in foil to keep warm and moist. Allow the tomatoes to cook down until all the moisture evaporates, stirring occasionally to avoid scorching, about 1 hour. The tomatoes will begin to fry and the sauce will thicken considerably.

4. Add the honey and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon to the tomatoes and cook for several minutes to bring out their flavors. Reheat the chicken parts in the sauce, rolling them around to coat evenly.

5. Remove the cover, scatter the sesame seeds on top, and serve hot or warm.

Note: To prepare a small jar of saffron water, dry 1/2 teaspoon crumbled saffron strands in a warm (not hot) skillet. Crush again, then soak in 1 cup hot water and store in a small jar in the refrigerator. This will keep for up to a week.

1 reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.