Moroccan memories - taste odyssey helps cure homesickness
Think Moroccan cooking, and the image of colourful spices piled up in a bustling souk may spring to mind.
But you don’t have to be in Marrakech to be inspired by the rich flavours and aromas of the country’s centuries-old cuisine. For Mourad Lahlou, a native Moroccan who moved to San Francisco at the age of 17 to study, experimenting with food was a way of tapping into his family’s heritage and curing his homesickness, some-thing all expats can relate to.
“I had no recipes, only crystal-clear memories - a richly layered stew of flavours, smells, stories, people and voices,” writes Lahlou in his new cookbook ‘Mourad: New Moroccan’.
With the help of vivid daydreams - such as of his mother’s kefta (meatballs in tomato sauce) - and a lot of trial and error, he was able to crystallise his memories and conjure up dishes reminiscent of home.
“During my whole life in Morocco, I had never cooked a single thing,” he says. “Men just didn’t do that, at least not at home. But, it turned out, I had been cooking in my mind all those years. Suddenly I was understanding it and I loved it.”
After wowing friends with Moroccan dinner parties, Lahlou abandoned his plans to become an economist and instead opened a restaurant, ‘Kasbah’ with his brother. Five years later, they relocated, and called the new place ‘Aziza’, after their mother. It became the only Moroccan restaurant in the US awarded a Michelin star.
Lahlou soon realised he could not create Moroccan food exactly as he had eaten it in Marrakech, as the ingredients available to him in California made it impossible to do so.
“Before long, I was doing the Moroccan version of what so many inventive northern California chefs have done,” he says. “I adapted what I knew and loved to make it work with the beautiful ingredients I can get here, and then followed my nose, my heart, and my palate.”
Dry-fried okra, melted tomatoes
>> 53g grapeseed or canola oil
>> 425g thinly sliced red onions
>> 30g thinly sliced garlic
>> 1tbsp harissa powder
>> 2tsp ground cumin
>> 1tsp smoked paprika
>> 2tbsp minced jalapeno peppers
>> 500g canned diced tomatoes and juice
>> ½ cup water, 1tsp salt
>> ¼tsp ground pepper
>> 2tbsp, chopped parsley
>> 3 cups okra
>> Grapeseed or canola oil
>> 1tbsp extra virgin olive oil
>> ¼tsp harissa powder
>> Crunchy sea salt
Cooking Method (serves 6)
Pour a film of oil into a large saute pan over medium heat, add the onions, and saute for eight minutes, stirring occasionally, until near tender. Add the garlic and stir for five minutes. Turn the heat to medium-high, add the harissa, cumin, paprika, and jalapeno, and cook, stirring for about 1 minute, until fragrant. Add tomatoes and juices, water and salt and simmer until the mixture has thickened and the tomatoes melted. Add quarter cup oil and ‘fry’ the mixture for about one minute. Remove from the heat and stir in the pepper and parsley. Meanwhile, start the okra: Rub it with a towel to remove the sharp spines. Trim the stems, but do not expose the seeds. Heat a large non-stick frying pan over high heat until smoking. Add a film of grapeseed oil. When the oil smokes, add the okra in one layer and cook, until the bottoms are browned. Turn each piece to brown second side. Transfer to a bowl, add olive oil and harissa powder, and toss to coat.