Greg likes to cook and I like to eat, which is one of many reasons ours is a marriage made in heaven. Over the years, we’ve amassed quite a collection of cookbooks and, on our cookbook shelf, Paula Wolfert’s various works take up a fair bit of room.
Wolfert’s credentials are impeccable. As her website proudly proclaims,”She has won the Julia Child Award three times, The James Beard Award five times, The M. F. K. Fisher Award, The Tastemaker Award and been a finalist for the British Andre Simon Award.” Craig Clayborne, Alice Waters and Mario Batali, among hordes of others, are fans who sing her praises.
Her early books, Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco (1973) and Mediterranean Cooking (1976) are based on her experiences in Morocco in the late 1950s through the 1970s. In an article titled “Paula Wolfert’s Pursuit of Flavour” Peggy Knickerbocker wrote: “In 1959 her husband’s job took the couple to Morocco, the beginning of a 10-year sojourn abroad. It was an exotic and exciting time for this young woman from Brooklyn. They socialized with co-expatriates Jane and Paul Bowles, William Burroughs and Tennessee Williams; and little by little Wolfert became fascinated with the richly flavored local dishes and Mediterranean ingredients.
It wasn’t until more than a decade later that she decided to write a Moroccan cookbook at the urging of her second husband, the Edgar-winning crime novelist William Bayer. They moved to Tangier in 1971 and stayed for five years, during which time she wrote Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco (1973) and Mediterranean Cooking (1976).”
Julia Child’s seminal work, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, wasn’t even published yet when young fellow-American Paula Wolfert first arrived in Morocco in 1959. Can you imagine the adventure Wolfert had, embracing the exotic Moroccan culture and cuisine, going from white sliced bread, processed cheese, and well-done roast beef to rasul el hanout, tagines and couscous? The Moroccan recipes she learned and then shared in her books changed how and what many of us cooked and ate in our own homes. Before Paula Wolfert, few North Americans cooked with spices like cumin, cinnamon and saffron or braised lamb and chicken with preserved lemons, dates or apricots.The healthy Mediterranean emphasis on olive oil and fresh vegetables was a revelation at a time when many households still subsisted on margarine and canned vegetables. Thank you, Paula Wolfert!
Last year, we added Wolfert’s latest book to our collection, The Food of Morocco. The recipes are very good though perhaps a bit more finicky, but none that we have tried has topped our favorites from her very first book, dishes which include Chicken Kdra with Almonds and Chickpeas (which we make with chicken thighs) and Tagine of Lamb with Lemons and Olives.
As a side note, it is fascinating to compare Wolfert’s latest book to her first, because they are good examples of how cookbook marketing has evolved over the decades. Couscous was written for North American home cooks. Our copy is a small paperback (now battered and stained), printed on rough stock, with page after densely-written page of delicious recipes. I suspect few of the Instagram and Pinterest generation would give it a second glance. Wolfert’s The Food of Morocco, on the other hand, is a gorgeous hard cover book, colorfully printed on heavy stock pages, worthy of proud display on the coffee table.The target group has apparently moved from the amateur cook to embrace a much wider market: the consumer of food porn, people who watch the Food Network and who fantasize about food but who don’t necessarily turn on the stove very often. The recipes are beautifully laid out and the book is full of exquisite photography that give you a wee taste, not only of the food, but also of the country itself. See below for yourself.
If you haven’t discovered Paula Wolfert’s cookbooks, you’re in for a treat. That’s true especially if you like to cook and eat good food. She’s amassed quite a body of work for you to choose from, including Mediterranean Grains and Greens: A Book of Savoury Sun-Drenched Recipes, The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen: Recipes for the Passionate Chef, Mediterranean Claypot Cooking, The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean, and The Cooking of SouthWest France. Check out her website for links to various resources for spices, cookware and information about Morocco.
If Wolfert’s delicious food and beautiful photographs inspire you to go to Morocco to experience the food and the culture first hand, even better. Morocco is every bit as fascinating and enchanting as she suggests.