Review: The Food of Morocco by Paula Wolfert

Eggs On The Roof Reviews

The Food of Morocco by Paula Wolfert

Pub­lished by Bloomsbury

Septem­ber 2012 — Price £35.00

When Paula Wolfert states unashamedly that her book is full of ‘pre­vi­ously uncol­lec­ted’ recipes rather than brand new ones, you know you’re in the hands of an expert. The Food of Morocco is the res­ult of Paula’s fifty years of research and, rather than fea­tur­ing showy twists and fancy trills on his­toric recipes or start­ling com­bin­a­tions of tra­di­tional ingredi­ents, it’s a glor­i­ous and exhaust­ive com­pen­dium of centuries-old Moroc­can cooking. To give you an idea of its heft, it was delivered to me, not in a pad­ded envel­ope, but in a large card­board box.

I doubt I’ll ever get through all her recipes — in fact, I fully intend to avoid some of them. Spiced Brain Salad with Pre­served Lem­ons or Liver and Olive Salad, sound ter­ri­fy­ing. I will how­ever, be try­ing the ingeni­ous recipe for warqa pastry, which comes with pen and ink draw­ings to explain the method.

As a long-time fan of the writ­ing of Paul Bowles, I can’t wait to make the recipe for Chicken Tagine with Prunes and Almonds in the Style of the Rif Moun­tains. Wolfert heard about the dish from mem­bers of the ‘Tangier lit­er­ary set’. The Moroc­can writer Mohammed Mra­bet had cooked it for them, but des­pite all their attempts to describe it to her, Wolfert couldn’t get the recipe right. ‘Finally Paul Bowles, who had dis­covered and trans­lated Mra­bet, recalled the meas­ure­ments for me from memory’. A recipe whose labyrinth­ine path took it from Tangier, via Mra­bet, trans­lated by the great Paul Bowles, is as appeal­ing to me as any­thing I’ve ever cooked in my life.

As the owner of three slightly unpre­dict­able quince trees, I’m delighted to find a book with so many quince recipes. Chicken with Car­a­mel­ised Quinces and Toasted Wal­nuts sounds and looks exquis­ite, as does Lamb Tagine with Quinces from Mar­rakech. Wolfert’s stun­ning col­lec­tion also includes an Avo­cado and Date Milk Shake, which is worth try­ing for its oddity alone. I intend to cook from this book for years.

The Food of Morocco radi­ates integ­rity, schol­ar­ship and expert­ise. It shim­mers with Wolfert’s pas­sion for her sub­ject. It’s so detailed that it should really be turned into a PhD thesis, but it also has a huge sense of romance and fun. When read­ing a book for the first time, I always look at the acknow­ledge­ments page. Authors often reveal their true char­ac­ters when they thank — or don’t thank — those that have helped them. Any writer who pays a spe­cial trib­ute to ‘the snail wran­glers of Sonoma and Napa’ — a group of Wolfert’s friends who attemp­ted to col­lect enough snails for her to make Mar­rakech Snail Soup — is ok by me. The soup may have been dis­astrous, but the exper­i­ence was a tri­umph — in other words, it demon­strates the per­fect atti­tude to life. Just because some­thing doesn’t work, doesn’t mean that it wasn’t worth doing.

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18 thoughts on “Review: The Food of Morocco by Paula Wolfert

  1. You have three quince trees –now that’s just show­ing off. How are they this year? Mine had all the blos­som blown off by April storms and there are no fruit at all which is some­thing of a relief to be truth­ful. I always check q in the index of a new cook­book before look­ing any­where else. This sounds like a book I might need.

    • The trees were planted last year and pro­duced stag­ger­ing quant­it­ies of fruit almost imme­di­ately. There’s noth­ing on them this year, but I gather they only fruit in altern­ate years. Is that right? I really do recom­mend this book — you’d love it.

        • Do they? I was cheer­ing myself with the thought that they fruit every two years. I’ll have to find out which vari­ety I have — thanks, Sue

  2. Great review of what sounds like a great book. It gives a very good idea of what one might expect from the book in your usual highly lit­er­ate and inter­est­ing style. One day maybe a per­cept­ive pub­lisher will ask you to write the book rather than the review.

  3. You’ve per­suaded me to try to cook once again from my two Paula Wolfert books rather than just read­ing them. They are detailed in their instruc­tions and the back­ground leaves you in no doubt that the recipes are authen­tic. It’s just when I’ve tried to make the dishes …sorry Paula…they haven’t over­whelmed me on the taste front. Per­haps I need to choose bet­ter. The ones you high­light cer­tainly sound deli­cious. I will pay greater atten­tion to the acknow­ledge­ments pages in the future.

    • That’s so inter­est­ing, Sally — I’ll let you know how it goes when I make the Paul Bowles trib­ute meal!

  4. Know­ing a little bird, as I do, I hope to soon have a copy of Paula’s book. If I didn’t, the last line about the failed snail recipe would be enough to pique my interest and make me part with my money. I love the idea of a failed adven­ture told within the book. I remem­ber see­ing the pre­views and talk­ing with the very excited pub­lisher who acquired the rights: it always soun­ded like it would be an incred­ible book.

    • What an inter­est­ing insight, Matt. I love stor­ies of fail­ure too. They’re such a relief after all the breezy, perky, chirpy writ­ing we’re sur­roun­ded by.

  5. This sounds like a must buy, or at least one to ask for as a present; and this comes from someone who usu­ally doesn’t get that excited about cook­ery books! Great read­ing of what sounds like a very good cook­ery book.

  6. My hus­band lived — and learned to cook — in Morocco for two years so Moroc­can cook­ing is a part of our every­day life but I need more recipes to vary from the same old rep­er­toire. I have long been curi­ous to check out expert Paula Wolfert’s book and your won­der­ful review has me sold. A must-buy…and read.…and cook.

  7. You should try the liver and olive salad. It’s my favor­ite liver recipe. But then again I grew up in Ger­many and was a big fan of brain saus­age when I was little…

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