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When a cookbook opens like this:
Some people set out to learn to cook. They pursue it. They look for teachers. They go to cooking school. They practice and study. I became a cook in a way that could scarcely have been more different from all of that, in a place so far from where I ended up that it feels like a beautiful, brightly colored dream. I learned to cook from memory. Let me tell you how. (p. 1)How can you not fall instantly in love? Mourad Lahlou's Mourad: New Moroccan, is a gorgeous cookbook: glossy paper with full-page photos that capture the food, colors, and ambiance of Morocco. It has everything that helps a cookbook stand out from the crowd, such as descriptions of ingredients, suggested brands, personal introductions to most recipes, mail-order sources, "Chef-to-Chef" tips, and a well-thought-out index.
And Mourad is a winner, but it's a winner mostly for ambitious cooks who live in California or a big city or who have the funds and inclination to mail order uncommon ingredients. I absolutely love the flavors in Lahlou's recipes: aromatic chiles, preserved lemons, cumin, seeds, and fresh herbs. In addition, this is a book I'll turn to again and again to learn about Moroccan cooking, dishes, techniques, and spice mixtures.
On the other hand, although I would order a dish like Steamed Lamb Shoulder with Saffron Butter and Cumin Salt in a heartbeat, I don't think I'd ever make it, despite the fact that I always have lamb in my freezer. And here's why.
The recipe is well written and very easy to follow, and Lahlou provides ample information about the hows and whys. But before I can make this recipe, I first need to make
- Aged Butter
- Lamb Stock
- Clarified Butter
- Chicken Stock
- Cumin Salt
Other recipes call for particular types of fresh figs and peppers, things like yuzu juice and liquid glucose, lovely citrus such as Meyer lemons and blood oranges, and other wonderful ingredients unavailable in my small town. It's a shame, really, because if I lived in New York or San Francisco, I'd be more inclined to give many of the recipes a try.
To be fair, if you were going to make a study of Moroccan cooking, then the time spent up front to make stocks, spice mixtures, and preserved lemons would be well worth it. You also would be willing to ship in what you couldn't get at home. But for a cook (like me) who wants make a Moroccan dish maybe every other month, the payoff drops off quickly.
Again, let me stress that Mourad is jam-packed with great information about Moroccan traditions and cuisine. It's a book I'll cherish because of the personal writing style and the look into a culture I know little about. Further, there are, in fact, a number of recipes that are straightforward and use readily available ingredients. The bread chapter calls to me, as do the soups and salads.
Here's a yogurt spread that looks delicious and easy to make.
Makes 2 cups
- 2 cups (476 g) whole-milk Greek yogurt
- 1 small or ½ large cucumber, preferably Armenian
- 1 tablespoon (15 g) fresh lemon juice
- 1½ teaspoons (4.5 g) kosher salt
- 1½ teaspoons (2.2 g) grated nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon (1.5 g) ground white pepper
- 1 garlic clove, grated on a microplane
- 2 teaspoons (2 g) chopped dill
For the spread: The next day, remove the yogurt from the cheesecloth and put it in a large bowl. Discard the liquid.
Peel and seed the cucumber. Grate it on the medium-fine holes of a box grater to produce a pulpy mush. Put the cucumber pulp on a piece of cheesecloth, pick up the edges, and twist the cloth over the sink to remove as much liquid as you can.
Stir the cucumber into the yogurt, along with the rest of the ingredients. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 3 days before serving.
To serve: [Lahlou] likes this best with warm grilled flatbread or pita chips.
Mourad was an Indie Next pick for December 2011. For more on Mourad Lahlou's type of cooking visit the website for his restaurant, Aziza.
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