on January 14, 2004
The problem with the first major book on a cuisine being the best is everyone writing books afterward feels they have to change things, usually for the worse.
For instance, if I were to write a Moroccan cookbook today, the best I could do is one line, directing the reader to buy this book instead.
Otherwise, I would have to try to simplify recipes to their detriment, clutter them up with disastrous result, or scrape the bottom of the barrel for more original recipes that aren't particularly good.
So even though this book has few illustrations and was written in the 70's, if you actually want to cook Moroccan food you really don't have any choice. You simply must buy this book and cook through it because every other author on the subject has done the same and cowers in the shadow of this achievement.
on October 2, 2002
Reading this book is a joy for a Moroccophile because Ms. Wolfert is so passionate about not only the foods of Morocco but the kingdom itself. Although her recipes for couscous, tagines, and desserts are often time-consuming (Moroccan cooks spend long time in their kitchen --- I reserve those dishes for a special dinner or dessert party), they always give excellent results. I have tried cooking couscous in the oven and in the microwave, but they didn't come close to the light and fluffy couscous I made with a couscousiere following her instruction. Her Moroccan salads can be assembled relatively quickly, and they make excellent side dishes for any Mediterranean-style meals.
A local Moroccan restaurant owner highly recommended this book.
Wonderfully written; for the experienced cook.
These recipes have come alive in my kitchen. My husband and I are experiencing food on a new level under the tutelage of P.Wolfert's masterpiece. Enjoy the wonderful stories, intricate recipes and hints provided by an obvious master in her art!
Buy the book for the recipes, but love it for the Flavour.
I've made almost everything in this book: from stuffed chickens/squabs, to Couscous Moroccan style to charcoal grilled Mechoui (in my backyard fire pit over charcoal!). Wolfert does a good job of supplying possible substitutions for strange ingredients, but I advise you to have a stocked spice cabinet. I made Ras El Hanout according to her 26 ingredient recipe. It was something of a trick to get everything I needed! But WELL worth it.
I can smell the smell 0f 7 vegetable Couscous cooking in my kitchen now, and it's miraculous!
Also, the bread recipes are straight forward and to the point, but the bread is wonderful. Different from Canadian breads in a way that is enchanting and unusual.
Enjoy your kitchen escapades in Moroccan cooking from Wolfert's gracious cook book.
on January 26, 2001
I can not praise this book enough! It deserves more than 5 stars! The recipes are wonderful and truly AUTHENTIC; the ingredients are simple and easy to find in any market or store. And the recipes are delicious! They take me back to Morocco! I love the fact that the book is not only recipes but little facts, stories, adventures and knowledge about Morocco as well. It reads as a cookbook and a story book all in one! I envy all the years she got to spend there and the knowledge she learned from the other cooks in Morocco! This book is a MUST for anyone who loves to try different foods and especially if you have a Moroccan friend, fiance or husband. They will be suitably impressed with your skill and will wonder where you learned how to make the food! My husband absolutely loves that I have learned how to cook some dishes that he is used to eating in his homeland. I also recommend if you get this book, get Kitty Morse's as well; they go hand in hand like a set. You will have a good Moroccan food base to cook for quite some time to come!
on February 17, 2001
I was taken on a business dinner to a Moroccan restaurant in the Bay Area where we removed shoes, given a large turkish towel, and sat on the floor on cushions. Among the exquisite food eaten and the tea and wine we drank was a pie dish, with layers of chicken and lemon and a cinannomon crust. I have yearned to have the dish again.
Found it here in Wolfert's classic --- bisteeya! It is unbelievable. Dive in with your hands and its just the best. She even recommends how to do this.
Besides the bisteeya, love the tagines,especially new to my taste, Fish Tagine with Celery in the Style of Safi (bamboo canes line the casserole) and the Lamb Tagine with artichokes, lemon and olives. Of course, the kabob offerings are world class and famous and delicious. Only wish (we are so spoiled) that this would have the normal color photos of the dishes that we're becoming so used to.)
on February 17, 2003
This book is the "Western-wife-of-Moroccan-husband" dream come true, & is the most well-researched, comprehensive manual on Moroccan cuisine I've seen. The high point is Wolfert's very detailed lesson in properly preparing & steaming Moroccan couscous grains (a far cry from our boxed couscous), a lesson often lacking in other cookbooks. Another gem is her extensively-researched compilation of ras el hanout components. She clarifies western-translation of Moroccan ingredients, provides useful preparation shortcuts, & helpfully suggests alternative ingredients & equipment for the western cook. Importantly, she points out ( & even provides a map with detailed examples) regional differences in preparation of many dishes - differences of which many Moroccans themselves may not be aware. This information is vital for the western wife attempting to prepare her Moroccan husband his favorite home-cooked meal.
The book is also a great read, esp. her stories of life in Morocco, & excellent cultural/religious background information. It has tons of useful reference material, including complete menus, specialty-food suppliers in the US, a full discussion of the spices/herbs/waters used in Moroccan cuisine, et al.
Most importantly, after some practice on my part, my picky Moroccan husband has been thrilled with the results!
I would also highly recommend Robert Carrier's "Taste of Morocco" (see his shebbekia recipe); & for helpful, color photos (& recipes of course), Kitty Morse's "Cooking At The Casbah" & Fatema Hal's "The Food of Morocco" (from the "Food of.." series).
on December 22, 2003
This is Paula Wolfert's first book, originally published in 1973, which makes the case that Moroccan food comprises one of the world's great cuisines, on a par with French, Italian, Indian, Chinese, and Japanese. I am not certain she has succeeded, but she has certainly done an excellent job in presenting the case. In laying out her discussion, she contributes a major addition to the dialogue on how great cuisines arise. Her claim is that four conditions are needed:
1. A great variety of local food sources.
2. A wide variety of cultural influences.
3. A great civilization, in this case, the juncture of Islamic Arabs and local Berbers joining to form a group vital enough to conquer medieval Spain.
4. A local palace culture to serve as an impetus to creating new dishes.
Paula claims that Morocco fulfills all conditions and if I believe her presentation is accurate, I am willing to believe her case. My only uncertainty is due to my inexperience in other North African cuisines, so I cannot tell if Morocco stands head and shoulders above, for example, the cuisine of Tunisia or Egypt. Of one thing I am sure. Her contention about the four conditions for a great cuisine make a major contribution to my thinking on the subject. It expands greatly the simpler claim of John Thorne that what you need is the memory of a great civilization. If one applies this criterion to all the cuisines I list in the first paragraph, it is clear this list has the ring of truth about it. My main argument against the case for Moroccan cuisine is that aside from couscous, there are no other distinctive world beating food products, unlike Italy's riches in types of cheese, wine, vinegar, breads, and cured meats.
For the sake of this book, the value of the argument is not so much in the validity of the conclusion as it is in the passion Ms. Wolfert brings to bear in making the case. Every cuisine should have as vital and knowledgeable an advocate as we see here.
The book begins with a brief history of how the mix of peoples created the current Moroccan population and where the centers of Moroccan food culture lie. (I am surprised that Casablanca, the city best known to Americans, seems to play virtually no part in the story of Moroccan history or cuisine. All the real action seems to revolve around Fez, Marrakesh, Tetuan, and many other inland cities.) She opens discussion of Morocco today with a description of the Souks or open air markets common in all Moroccan cities. This includes an enumeration of the spices and herbs most important to Moroccan cuisine. The first thing which surprises me is the geographical distribution of the sources for all these spices. Few are native to the African Mediterranean or Atlantic coast. This chapter has some of the few items which date the book. The first observation is the use of the term 'salad oil', common in the US through the 60's, but probably quite foreign to labels in today's supermarket. A second oddity is the statement that the reader may have a hard time finding cilantro (in 1973). In 2003, with the popularity of both Mexican and Southeast Asian cuisine, you can hardly miss it in the most modest supermarket. The opening chapter includes general discussions of other basics such as oil, eggs, butter, chickpeas, honey, preserved meat, and couscous grain. Detailed chapters cover:
Salads and Vegetables
Next to couscous, the star of this book is an extremely elaborate dish named Bisteeya which for all the world appears to be the model for the song line 'Four and Twenty blackbirds baked in a pie', as it includes the bodies of many pigeons plus exactly 24 hens eggs! But this is just a footnote to the real drama surrounding Wolfert's discussion of this dish. Others have suggested that Bisteeya originated in Andalusia, as if so complicated a dish must originate in Spain, on European soil. From both linguistic and culinary arguments, Ms. Wolfert makes the case that the dish is purely Moroccan, with the pastry, warga, while very similar to strudel dough and Phyllo dough is actually derived, probably through the Arabs contact with Persia, from the method for making Chinese Spring rolls. Who knew! The technique for making warga is not for the uncommitted so, thankfully, commercially available strudel or phyllo dough will work just fine.
The recipes in this book do not require a lot of hard to find ingredients in today's markets and they do not require a lot of special tools except for a couscouserie, which can be improvised from a colander and a stockpot. Also, while Paula does all that is needed to make the recipes at home in an American kitchen, I almost believe that one should not dip into this book casually. The best approach to cooking from this book would be to invest in a real couscouserie and track down a source for some of the more obscure ingredients and a good source of organic free range poultry and prepare several different recipes over the course of a few months. One warning is that most recipes tend to be written for a relatively large number of servings, based on the Moroccan style of eating from a central plate with your fingers and the famous Moroccan hospitality of plenty.
This book is a treasure, if you have the least scintilla of interest in the subject. Without even that, being exposed to Ms. Wolfert's passion about food in its full flower is worth the price of admission. I can only wish I would know someone with her feelings about food.