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Cookbook Review: Mint Tea and Minarets: a banquet of Moroccan memories

Mint Tea and Minarets: a banquet of Moroccan memories


Kitty Morse was born in Casablanca of French and British descent. When she turned seventeen, she immigrated to the United States. Kitty began catering Moroccan banquets while studying for her Master’s Degree at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. This turned into an educating opportunity for her as she began to teach the intricacies of Moroccan cuisine at culinary schools, spas, and gourmet cooking stores nationwide.

Ground sirloin and ground lamb for kefta
Ground sirloin and ground lamb for kefta
OC Food Diva

For the last 25 years, Kitty has been a food writer, cooking teacher, and public speaker with nine cookbooks under her belt. She has even cooked alongside Julia Child to benefit the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP). She has also appeared on Food Network, CNN, Discovery Channel, as well as Moroccan national television. She also organized and led annual culinary tours of Morocco including cooking demonstrations at Dar Zitoun from 1983 to 2007. Her husband, Owen, documents the journeys through photography in each cookbook.

Mint Tea and Minarets: a banquet of Moroccan memories takes you on a multi-sensory tour of Kitty’s life in Morocco, from the place where she was born to experience life through her senses using beautiful photographs and also involving your sensory experience as you cook these wonderful recipes in your home.

In Chapter 1, Homecoming, Kitty recounts her heart-wrenching story of flying back to Morocco with her daddy’s ashes and fear of her losing him when she landed in Morocco. His last wish was to lay to rest at his home, Dar Zitoun. He spent 20 years restoring this majestic Moorish home. I can see why this chapter contains Kefta (Ground Meat Brochettes) and Harissa (North African Hot Sauce). It’s a comfort food dish and one of my favorites. The recipes are very straight forward. The only thing you night have a problem finding is preserved lemon pulp. We have a large Persian community in Orange County. We went to three Persian markets to find this. The last store used to stock it, but the vendor they got them from went out of business. I used my Hawaiian roots and made my own mock-preserved lemon on the fly by mashing up peeled lemon and added some champagne vinegar. I found out later that Moroccan preserved lemon is preserved with salt not vinegar. Kitty has a cooking demonstration video on YouTube showing how to make Moroccan preserved lemons. You will need to make these 4-6 weeks in advance of the recipe. The kefta turned out tasty nonetheless. The flavors of beef and lamb combined with onion, cilantro, parsley, cumin, and garlic were the perfect blend. The parsley and cilantro gave it a refreshing green flavor. The barbeque gave it a charcoal grilled flavor. Definitely watch the grill and don’t overcook. The fat content is less in the sirloin and lamb so it can get dry or overcooked very fast. Harissa had a beautiful vibrant orange/red color. I used the NutriBullet to combine the ingredients together into a sauce in less than 30 seconds. The flavor is intense and vibrant with sweet, slightly spicy, and has a creamy texture. The harissa worked well with the kefta adding another flavor profile that became a symphony to the tastebuds. I would definitely add more chili kick to it next time. The next day, I made a Kefta sandwich with the leftovers (kefta, harissa, ans sprigs of cilantro on a French baguette). Thumbs up!

In Chapter 2, A House for Immortals, Kitty recounts her journey through the city to Dar Zitoun. She also tells the story about Sidi Makhfi, The Invisible Man, who was buried beneath their riad’s stairs. She shares a recipe called Dates Stuffed with Almond Paste. This was also very easy to make and I had 3 other helpers in the kitchen to get these done in a jiffy. I used the NutriBullet to make the almonds into a creamy, smooth paste. We rolled the paste mixture into small ovals and easily stuff them inside the dates. The only thing we had a hard time finding was candied orange. We checked all of the Persian markets and also Whole Foods with no luck. I’m sure if we were able to add this in, it would add a sweet citrus flavor to the mix. The paste was scrumptious even without it – the flavor resembled marzipan. You can enjoy this with afternoon tea or even serve as a dessert. Thumbs up!

In Chapter 4, A Legacy of Restoration, Kitty recounts the days alone after her brothers returned to their homes after her father’s funeral and a visit from Mina and her tagine. Mina’s Mrouziya (Honey Spiced Lamb) is a dish that is traditionally served on Aïd el Kebir, the religious feast that commemorates the sacrifice of Abraham. On a recent trip to Chicago, I shot the breeze with a Moroccan taxi driver while on my way to the airport. When I mentioned Mrouziya, he was flooded with memories of his mom making this dish for him. Here’s the recipe below:

Mina’s Mrouziya (Honey Spiced Lamb) by Kitty Morse

4 pounds of lamb shoulder or leg of lamb, cut into chunks
3 tablespoons ras el hanoot spice blend
2 to 3 cups of water
½ cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons smen
½ cup honey
¾ cup raisins, plumped in warm water and drained
2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted

Preheat oven to 325° F. Coat meat with ras el hannot and place in a tagine pot or cast iron pan with a heavy lid. Add 2 cups water, oil, smen, and honey. Cover tightly. Bake until meat falls off the bones, 3 to 4 hours. Check for dryness halfway through. Add more water if necessary.

Transfer meat to an ovenproof dish and keep warm. Skim fat from sauce. Place tagine over medium heat and add raisins. Cook until sauce reduces by one-third, 10 to 12 minutes. Return meat to pan and heat through. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds. Serve with crusty bread.

The one thing we could not find was smen (preserved butter). You can make your own. Kitty has a cooking demonstration video on YouTube showing the steps to make it. You will need to make this 2-3 weeks in advance of the recipe. I used ghee, Indian clarified butter, which has a different flavor profile to the gorgonzola-like aroma of the smen. The ghee did provide a buttery richness to the lamb which was also quite nice. The lamb was tender. The sauce was rich and slightly sweet, matching perfectly with the lamb flavor and great to sop up with the crusty bread. Some changes I would do next time are boneless lamb chunks, add salt, and serve over rice, couscous, or quinoa. You definitely do not want any of the sauce to go to waste. Thumbs up!

The aromas from these recipes alone will make you want to cook and eat these time and time again.

For more information:
Mint Tea and Minarets: a banquet of Moroccan memories by Kitty Morse
Purchase your copy today!

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