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.