By Kitty Morse
Never before have the words "Come with me to the Kasbah" been more appropriate. In her new book, Cooking at the Kasbah, Kitty Morse introduces home cooks to the exciting, exotic, and fragrantly delicious secrets of Moroccan cooking. Based on ancient traditions of recipes orally passed from mother to daughter, Moroccan cuisine tantalizes the senses with elegant blends of herbs and spices. Moroccan cooking is often considered inaccessible to American cooks, but with Morse's easy-to-follow recipes in Cooking at the Kasbah, any good cook can recreate these delicious dishes and capture the authentic flavors of this exquisite culinary tradition.
As with the cuisine of Morocco's Mediterranean sister countries, Moroccan food uses many wonderful, healthy ingredients such as garden-fresh fava beans, seasonally ripe vegetables, a medley of legumes (chickpeas, kidney, navy, and lentils), and frequently feature nuts. Pasta dishes include couscous, vermicelli, orzo, and other small varieties. Whether combined with chicken, lamb, beef, or fish, or served as elegant vegetarian dishes, these ingredients create sensational, exotic meals.
What sets Moroccan cuisine apart from other Mediterranean cooking is the liberal use of spices. Turmeric, saffron, cinnamon, cumin, and sweet Hungarian paprika lend dynamic flavor and give the dishes a rich, warm color that enhances the meals' stunning visual quality. Almond paste, ginger, harissa, mint orange-flower-water also add to the exotic flavor.
At the core of Cooking at the Kasbah are five basic recipes for ingredients unique to this cuisine such as Preserved Lemons, Aged Butter (smen), North African Hot Sauce (harissa), and Moroccan Spice Blend. Easy to prepare, few of these recipes require advance planning (such as Preserved Lemons and Aged Butter) to secure the rich, pungent flavor of Moroccan cooking.
The 70 recipes in the book start with delicious appetizers made of delicately spiced cooked or raw vegetables and include the refreshing Diced Carrots with Cinnamon-Orange Dressing or Spiced Tomato and Honey Coulis. Nutritious soups can be Ramadan Soup of Fava Beans and Lentils (the traditional soup served during the month-long observance of Ramadan) or Saffron-Vegetable Soup. Salads include Hearts of Romaine, Orange and Date Salad; Cooked Eggplant and Tomato Salad; or a refreshing Minty Cucumber and Tomato Salad.
Savory pastries and breads are a hallmark of Moroccan cooking. Nothing is more widely known than B 'staila, which is regarded as the crowning dish of Moroccan cuisine. Morse not only provides the traditional Chicken B'stila but one made with seafood. There are also other recipes for Anise and Sesame Seed Buns; Briouats of Shrimp and Chinese Rice Vermicelli or Barely Bread with Cumin.
Tagine—Moroccan stew—is Morocco's most common dish. Cooking at the Kasbah offers a cornucopia of wonderful Tagine recipes. Find a pungent Tagine of Lamb with Prunes; Tagine of Chicken and Lentils with Fenugreek; Garlic Beef with Cracked Green Olives; Stuffed Cornish Hens in Sweet Paprika Sauce; Tagine of Fish, or a Sephardic Sabbath Stew. Vegetarians will love Baked Pumpkin with Caramelized Onions, Cinnamon, and Almonds or an Egg Tagine with Olives, Onions and Cilantro.
Couscous is to Moroccans what pasta is to Italy. Here, the author doesn't skimp on fabulous recipes: Couscous Casablanca Style; Barley Couscous with Lamb and Turnip; Fish Couscous Qualidia; Couscous Timbales with Shrimp and Chicken; Couscous with Raisins, Almonds, and Pine Nuts.
Beverages and desserts are sweet sensations with Sweet Almond Milk; Fresh Pomegranate and Orange Juice; Sesame Cookies; Dates with Almond Paste Filling or Phyllo Pastries with Orange-Flower Custard and Fresh Berries.
Perhaps Cooking at the Kasbah's biggest treat is the author's passionately energetic and informative text that explains in fascinating detail the history of Moroccan culture, rituals, and cuisine. She transports the reader to the Souk - the open-air market—where vendors engage housewives and farmers to buy their spices, meats, or produce (even a dental extraction or haircut). Morse says things haven't change much since her grandfather's day when "camels and asses walked majestically by as their owners yelled out Balek! [Make way!] ... and fishermen with baskets filled with live fish on each arm, and over all the smoke of grilled shish kabobs cooked right there on the grounds, mixed with the fragrance of fresh mint leaves." Morse also shares her dizzying experience of a Diffa (feasts on special occasions) where platter upon platter of steaming sumptuous dishes are offered, leaving guests drunk with the heady satisfaction of guiltless eating.
The flavors of Morocco have been a part of the author's life since childhood. She has dined with Berber families inside goat-hair tents, in the exclusive restaurants of Marrakesh and Fez, and worked with superb cooks of Morocco. From them she has "acquired and adapted many of the recipes included in this book," says Morse. "I simplified and lightened when possible, taking great care to preserve the essence of the original dish."
Food photographs by Laurie Smith and location photos by the author's husband are so colorful that they transport the reader to the exciting sounds and tastes of the Kasbah. The popular adage "First you eat with your eyes," has never been more appropriate than here.
Cooking at the Kasbah
Recipes From My Moroccan Kitchen
By Kitty Morse
156 pages, 50 color photographs.
Information provided by the publisher.
This page created January 1999
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