Not long after food blogging first cropped up on my radar, I discovered Julie Powell’s blog, the Julie/Julia Project. I thought the idea was great – to document her attempts to cook the recipes in Julia Child’s classic cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking in just one year – but I didn’t much like Julie’s blog persona and I never went back. How times change. A couple of years later, I couldn’t put down the book that she wrote, much of which was taken directly from her the same blog entries that had annoyed me.
When the weather is good no one wants to spend time in the kitchen and, when the Boyfriend arrived home from the supermarket the other day with a large box of button mushrooms, I didn’t much feel like frying them or using them in an omelette strognoff or making a mushroom stroganoff or risotto or any one of the thousand and one things I use mushrooms for. I normally prefer the meatier, large flat Portobello mushrooms but, after spending the weeks in Morocco poring over Claudia Roden’s salad recipes in A New Book of Middle Eastern Food, I had an idea for these styrofoam buttons.
The Tax Advisor had decided to have another bring-a-course dinner party and, because the Boyfriend and I have plenty of space in our current Dublin flat – as well as small but useful items such as cooking utensils, crockery, chairs and a table – I volunteered us as hosts. Although there were to be eight for dinner, we decided to avoid having as many courses as last time, and limited it to just an opener, mains plus salads, and deserts. There were still the usual “who’s cooking what ” emails doing the rounds and, only being just back from our travels, I decided to make something Moroccan.
Lonely Planet’s World Food MoroccoDoes exactly what it says on the tin. Having travelled and eaten our way around Thailand and Malaysia with the respective versions of these small, incredibly useful books, I recently added their Moroccan edition to my collection. Dense with information on everything from food customs to street foods and including recipes for traditional Moroccan dishes like couscous and tagines, they’re an invaluable resource while travelling. A mine of fascinating facts on argan oil, which is used to make the nutty breakfast spread called amalou; details of the ubiquitous mint tea and other drinks; regional variations in foodstuffs; and the utensils used in the Moroccan kitchen. A selection of great photos help you to identify ingredients and – Lonely Planet are nothing if not thorough! – it also has a dictionary of culinary terms, a glossary and useful phrases in both Arabic and French. As well as our well-used Malaysia & Singapore and Thailand books, the Lonely Planet World Food series also covers places like Portugal, Vietnam, Ireland (but, to the Boyfriend’s disgust, no New Zealand!), Greece and New Orleans. An invaluable travelling companion.
Honey – Moroccan honey is the most un-honey-tasting honey that I’ve ever eaten. We often had it for breakfast, the rich caramel sweetness drizzled across English muffin-styled Moroccan pancakes called beghrir or the flaky, multi-layered m’semen. Accompanied with a tall glass of freshly squeezed orange juice and a café crème, it made the perfect start to the day.Spices – although I’ve been really happy with my old blend of ras el hanout from Greg Malouf‘s Moorish, I couldn’t resist the chance of picking up some more to compare and contrast it with what I use. I also got turmeric, ground ginger and two types of chilli powder(at least I think that’s what piment fort/piment doux means!).Olives – a kilo of green olives in what the shopkeeper described as “piquante” flavouring and another half kilo of wrinkled sweet black olives. I loved how each meal in Morocco started with a small bowl of these olives and a basket of flatbread as we perused the menu. They never lasted long.Dates – considering the variety and quality on offer, I was restrained and came home with only a half kilo of the sweet, plump fruit. One dish that kept turning up in the books that I read while travelling there was of a roasted fish, stuffed with almond-filled dates. Must try and keep a few true Moroccan dates to try out that recipe.Preserved lemons – while picking up the olives and dates in a small shop near the Casablanca train station, minutes before we had to get the train to the airport, I couldn’t resist getting a few of these glorious-looking lemons. This, despite the fact that I’d made a jarful from some organic lemons before I left Ireland! Another thing for the compare and contrast experiments, methinks.Garlic – the small bulbs of garlic available in Morocco are much sweeter than the stuff that you can find on sale in Ireland. I love to use raw garlic but it can be very off-putting if, instead of gently cosying up to the other ingredients, it decides to loudly broadcast its presence. I brought some good quality garlic home from Paris and it lasted me ages so I couldn’t resist grabbing a couple of bulbs in Casablanca when I got the chance.
After two weeks of sunshine and heat in Morocco we’ve returned to an amazingly summery Ireland – perfect for last night’s sun-soaked family party to celebrate my Gran’s 90th birthday.Just in the door of our Dublin flat so sour milk has to be thrown out of the fridge, fresh supplies to be bought and the raw clay Berber tagine that we lugged through a couple of taxi trips, two flights, three airports and a pair of train journeys needs to be unpacked, along with assorted spices, dates, olives, tea, honey and god only knows what else from our travel-beaten rucksacks.And then I’ll have time to sit down and write about the meals, tastes and flavours that I’ve encountered during my time in Morocco!