Far beyond the humble chick pea

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There are few cuisines in the world that are as tasty and simultaneously good for you as Moroccan. The culinary experience is very diverse due to the nation’s centuries-old interaction with the outside world. Main influences are Mediterranean, Arabian, Berber and Moorish.

Since the country produces a large range of fruits and vegetables – including tropical varieties – most Moroccan dishes abound in colour. Add to this the countless spices the nation is famous for and you’ll experience a true feast of the senses: saffron and karfa (cinnamon), orange and lemon pickle, cumin and turmeric, ginger and mint, aniseed and paprika – the spice list is endless.

A typical Moroccan meal begins with a series of hot and cold salads including zaalouk (an eggplant and tomato mixture) and taktouka (tomato, peppers, garlic and spices), followed by tagine (a slow-cooked stew containing beef, chicken or seafood as its base). And couscous. Lots of couscous.

Casablanca-born and California-based chef Mourad Lahlou takes such traditional dishes and presents them with a modern twist in his sturdy cookbook simply called ‘New Moroccan’. For example, he takes the classic ‘rghaif’ – a crepe-like pastry – and stuffs it with all manner of fillings, from lemon and cheese, to sweet/spiced onion and raisin, to the more exotic shredded braised oxtail, turning even the most basic dish into something altogether new and exciting.

As for the popular known Moroccan tagine, again there are the classics but Lahlou experiments with ingredients like adding carrot juice to his tomato puree, using grapeseed oil instead of olive, or using egg yolks and throwing out the whites for a custardy consistency to his sauces.

The author’s own eatery, Aziza in San Francisco, is the only Moroccan restaurant in North America to have been awarded a Michelin star, most likely because here is a chef who is unafraid to gamble in that area between tradition and innovation. Lahlou blends stories of a colourful childhood in with his recipes, making ‘New Moroccan’ a kind of biography meets must-have cookbook of North African delights. 

 

‘New Moroccan’ is published by Workman and distributed through Hardie Grant Books (RRP $49.95).