Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Food, glorious food!

OK, anyone who knows me knows that traveling and eating go hand in hand. And while this is supposed to be a travel blog, traveling leads to eating for me in an interesting way. I go somewhere, like Marrakech or Cordoba, and eat something that is amazing. When I come home, I try to recreate the amazing things I ate, to recapture my travel experiences. Food, in short, can transport me to the place I was when I was in those places.

For example, back in March while in Cordoba, Spain, we ate at El Churrasco ( Therese had a white gazpacho with pine nuts that absolutely floored her. She talked about it the whole rest of our trip. She told me she wanted me to make it for her for her birthday in October. Well, I went on the internet, and whaddayaknow! I found the exact recipe used at El Churrasco: I made it, it came out really good, Therese was in heaven. Now any time I want to take us back to Cordoba, if I just make that gazpacho, we are better than halfway there!

Earlier on that same March trip, we spent a week in Marrakech and fell in love with tagines, those dishes that take the name of the earthenware vessel in which they are slow-cooked. We talked about buying a tagine (every kitchenware store worth anything sells them in New York City), but something held us back a bit. Then for Christmas, Therese gave me Paula Wolfert's book "Food of Morroco" ( I looked through it, and I was inspired. Now I wanted more than anything to make tagines in, well, a tagine.

Luckily, I work at the new Hell's Kitchen/Hearst Building Sur la Table, the best kitchenware store in NYC, and we had just lowered the price on our large tagines. Plus one of my co-workers, Dorit, is from Tunisia, and she was going to buy a tagine. So we both bought tagines, and I got a heat diffuser as well since Ms. Wolfert recommends using them on the stovetop with an earthenware tagine. My tagine, by the way, is a lovely deep orange color, made from terra cotta I believe, and has all the imperfections in it of things that are made by hand. I love it!

So now for the important question: out of the dozens and dozens of mouthwatering recipes from Ms. Wolfert's book, which one should I make for my first tagine? My first choice was chicken with prunes and almonds, but Therese said she didn't like prunes, how about raisins? I countered with how about apricots and pine nuts, but she said, well, I've been eating lots of carbs and sweets this week (she's on the road, poor thing), could you make something more savory? Hmmm. My next idea was to do chicken with onions, fennel, preserved lemons and olives, but hey! that recipe doesn't use the tagine... Then I thought, wait, one of Therese's favorite meals was a seven vegetable tagine, maybe I could do one of those. Sure enough, Wolfert has a seven vegetable that uses boneless lamb, so I thought, I should be able to do that with boneless chicken thighs instead, right?

Sure enough, it came out great. One of the best things I've ever cooked in my life. Rich, complex, with a little heat provided by cayenne and white peppers. Technically, it was only a six vegetable since I couldn't find long thin turnips, but the flavor of the cabbage, onions, zucchini, sweet potato, carrots and parsley was heavenly. Even the leftovers, heated up with the couscous a few days later in the microwave, tasted magnificent.

So my friends, all I can say is, if you love Moroccan food, get yourself a tagine. And if you don't know anything about Moroccan food, look for your local Moroccan and/or Mediterranean restaurant, and give it a try. It'll take you halfway to Marrakech, Casablanca and Fez. If you're lucky, better than halfway.

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