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.
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.
Quince trees fruit every year -at least mine has done until this year. Maybe it depends on which variety you have.
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
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.
As a review of a review… I like it very much. Thank you!
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!
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.
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.
A huge compliment – thank you!
The snail wranglers of Sonoma? Priceless. Sounds like a tribe in Star Wars 🙂 The book sounds intriguing – I love both intricate detail and Moroccan food, so quite possibly my cup of tea.
…or the perfect title for a new comic novel. The Snail Wranglers of Sonoma, by Sly Mea. That aside, I think this book could well be your cup of tea, Jeanne.
Could I make an appointment for the snail wranglers to visit my garden?
I’ll have a word with them and see how they’re fixed!…
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.
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…