(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)
I've always done my armchair traveling through cookbooks — whether it's Elizabeth David's Mediterranean, Fuschia Dunlop's Sichuan or Claudia Roden's Middle East. My copy of Paula Wolfert's original "Couscous & Other Good Food From Morocco"is stained and worn, with notes scribbled in the margins, marks of so many dinner parties through the years.
But so much changed since Wolfert published that book in 1973. Just think in terms of ingredients available now, such as argan oil, Moroccan cumin or real saffron. Her publisher urged her to revise the book, but Wolfert doesn't do anything by halves. She ended up rewriting and expanding it to more than 500 pages. In the process most recipes were tweaked, dozens more added and the book was renamed "The Food of Morocco."
I loved every dish, every tip and trick she offered. I actually made warka, the thin pastry leaves for a proper bestila (most people substitute filo) following a new and brilliantly easy technique she learned on Arabic YouTube. Basically, you paint the batter onto a nonstick skillet and when edges begin to curl, pick up the thin, transparent pastry leaf. And do it again. And again. The bestila itself is magnificent, especially the more savory Tétouan-style, brightened with preserved lemon.
I went into a frenzy of bread baking, turning out Marrakech tagine bread, Moroccan country bread, Middle Atlas flat bread and Tangier street bread on a daily basis. I still haven't located the super-fine semolina required for msemmen pancakes fried on a griddle and served with honey and butter, but that's next.
There are recipes for marvelous chicken and beef and lamb tagines — with prunes, with quince, with preserved lemon and green olives or smothered in tomato jam. And now that we have more real butchers in town, you should be able to find cuts like lamb shoulder more easily. She's got a brilliant array of those little cooked salads, too. And cookies, such as her double-baked anise ones to dip in tea and her impossibly delicious, crumbly semolina almond cookies, that I'll keep in my repertoire forever.
"The Foods of Morocco" by Paula Wolfert, Ecco Press, $45
— S. Irene Virbila
Lamb tagine with layered onions
Total time: About 3 hours, plus cooling times
Note: Adapted from "The Food of Morocco" by Paula Wolfert. She writes, "This is the Fes version of a famous layered onion tagine called qamamma. I love the way the onions are cooked down to a melting unctuous sauce then combined with tomatoes or raisins and/or honey. With my recipe you do most of the work 1 or 2 days in advance. Then on the day you serve it, you assemble and bake the dish, then switch the oven to broil, dribble over some olive oil, and cook until the onions turn crusty and lightly charred." Cubeb pepper is available online; additional white and/or black pepper can be substituted.
La Kama spice mixture
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cubeb pepper (optional)
A good pinch of grated nutmeg
Mix the ground spices. Sift through a fine sieve and store in a closed jar in a cool, dark place. This makes a generous tablespoon of the spice mixture.
1/2 teaspoon crumbled saffron strands
1 cup hot water
In a warm (not hot) skillet, dry the saffron strands. Crush again, then soak in the hot water and store in a small jar in the refrigerator. This will keep for up to a week.
For longer storage (my favorite method), quadruple the recipe quantities above: pour the saffron water into a plastic ice cube tray and freeze into cubes. Once they are frozen, shake out the cubes and store in a freezer bag. Each cube will be equivalent to 2 tablespoons saffron water or a good pinch of dried saffron threads.
Tagine and assembly
3 pounds thick lamb shoulder arm chops, bone-in, cut into 9 or 10 pieces
1 tablespoon La Kama Spice Mixture
2 tablespoons Saffron Water
1 tablespoon liquid honey, preferably a floral honey such as orange blossom, lavender or acacia
1 medium red onion, coarsely grated (1/2 cup)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 cups water
2 tablespoons clarified butter, divided
3 pounds onions, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
1 (2-inch) cinnamon stick
Freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup golden raisins, soaked in warm water for 15 minutes and drained
2 tablespoons turbinado or other raw sugar
1 teaspoon ground Ceylon cinnamon
3 pita or Indian naan breads
1 tablespoon chopped parsley for garnish