NORTH AFRICA, THE VEGETARIAN TABLE BY KITTY MORSE

NORTH AFRICA, THE VEGETABLE TABLE, published in 1996, by Chronicle Books, is one of those veggie cookbooks we need to take a second look at.

Cookbook author, Kitty Morse, is from the “real “kasbah” in Morocco. She was born in Casablanca to a French mother and British father, and immigrated to the United States in 1964.

She is the author of nine cookbooks, five of them on the cuisine of Morocco and North Africa. They include “Cooking at the Kasbah”: “Recipes from my Moroccan Kitchen” (Chronicle Books), “The Scent of Orange Blossoms” (Ten Speed Press), and “The California Farm Cookbook” (Pelican Publishing).

Kitty Morise’s career as a food writer, cooking teacher, and lecturer, spans more than twenty-five years. More recently, she became the author/publisher of the second edition of A Biblical Feast: Ancient Mediterranean Diet for Today’s Table. In addition, Morse has written many articles for magazines such as Bon Appetit.  She has also written for the Los Angeles Times and I think this is where I first became aware of her name, being a Southern Californian myself.

Today, however, I’d like to re-review NORTH AFRICA, THE VEGETABLE TABLE, with you. I first reviewed it for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange in 1996.

In the Introduction, Ms. Morse explains her heritage and how this cookbook came about. “…The North African countries of Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria [are] collectively known as the Maghreb” she tells us, “The land where the sun sets, a name given to the region by medieval Arab historians…is is also a cuisine based on ancient traditions that have been handed down, from mother to daughter…”

“Today,” states the author, “The foods of the Maghreb are generating intense interest among American culinary professionals, due in part to the increased awareness of the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet. Indeed, current research has shown that the peoples of  the Mediterranean have one of the lowest incidents of heart disease in the world, leading nutritional experts to extol the virtues of a cuisine rich in fresh produce, legumes, cereals, pasta and olive oil—all staples of the North African diet.”

Ms. Morse tells us that when a North African woman shops for her family at the city marche’ or at the open air souk in the countryside, her basket overflows with the fruits and vegetables of the season, bunches of fresh herbs, fresh or dried fava beans, lentils, and of course, the pellets o cracked durum wheat, or semolina, called couscous…”

The author grew up in Dar Beida, the Arabic name for Casablanca, and attended high school with students not only of Moroccan descent, but also Tunisian, Algerian, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian. Because of this, she became familiar with “such diverse specialties as Tunisian breiks, Spanish churros, French cassoulet, Sephardic dafina and, of course, Moroccan couscous” which she says is still her favorite comfort food.

She goes on to explain the history of North Africa, beginning with the Phoenician sailors around 1000 B.C., moving through centuries of invaders and conquerors, showing us how each in turn influence the cuisine of North Africa.

For instance, she explains how the Spanish Inquisition led to the exile of Moslems and Jews, who took refuge in the Maghreb, bringing with them the rich traditions of the southwest region of Spain; they also brought with them quinces, Valencia oranges, cherries, apricots, turnips, carrots and eggplants, as well as potatoes, tomatoes, and chilies which had been imported to Spain from the Americas by the conquistadores.

Ms. Morse’s maternal grandfather was descended from Sephardic Jews who flew to North Africa following the expulsion from Spain at the time of the Inquisition and she tells us how her multicultural family background heavily influenced many of the recipes handed down to her by her great-grandmother. For the book, she says, she drew heavily from her own collection of recipes.

Just reading the insert on the inside cover of NORTH AFRICA, THE VEGETARIAN TABLE is enough to make your mouth water and send you scurrying to the kitchen in search of pot and pestle.

“Redolent of saffron, ginger, and cinnamon (some of my favorite spices!), and vivid with the sun-drenched colors of fresh fruits and vegetables, the cuisines of Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia are as delicious as they are exotic. Collectively known as the Maghreb, ‘the land where the sun sets’ these North African Countries have developed a rich vegetarian tradition based on wholesome grains, fresh produce and plump, sweet fruits, along with olive oil, garlic and honey –all blended with uniquely flavorful seasonings and honed to perfection through time-honored cooking techniques….”

The publishers aren’t exaggerating when they tell you that their cookbook is lavishly illustrated with stunning, full color photographs…”  Deborah Jones is a San Francisco-based photographer and the wi8nner of an International Association of Culinary Professionals Award for her food photography and it’s easy to see why. This book has utterly mouth-watering photographs, never mind the cutlery and dishes, bowls and accessories that would be to die for.

(I have a passion for all kinds of old pottery so you can imagine my delight—and envy—over some of these illustrations—aha! You will have to find a copy of NORTH AFRICA, THE VEGETARIAN TABLE and see for yourself.

And, although I’m not a vegetarian per se, I’ve come to love many types of vegetarian dishes, for their color and combinations and the zap they give to your palate. There’s absolutely no reason for vegetarian food not to be exciting and tasty, and NORTH AFRICA, THE VEGETARIAN TABLE by Kitty Morse is proof of that.

We love artichokes, so Artichauts Farcis is high on my list of recipes to try. This is a recipe for stuffed artichokes, from Tunisia. Another especially nice feature of Ms. Morse’s cookbook is that each recipe is introduced—for example, in presenting Artichauts Farcis, the author explains “Artichokes are native to the Mediterranean Basin, which explains their popularity in the local cuisine. The word itself is derived from the Arabic word Al Harshoof…” I love cookbooks that educate us in food history and lore, as they present their recipes.

The world, we have seen, has come to our local supermarkets—you can now find most exotic ingredients from all over the world, not just in the United States and our neighboring countries—but if you have any trouble finding any of the ingredients you need for these luscious recipes, you will find, included, a page of mail-order sources.

NORTH AFRICA, THE VEGETARIAN TABLE is a truly beautiful cookbook.

I would be remiss if I did not mention, however, for vegetarians everywhere, that this book is Volume 4 in a series:

Volume one, the Vegetarian Table – Thailand, was published in 1997

Volume two, the Vegetarian Table – Mexico, was published in 2000

Volume three, the Vegetarian Table, focused on India and was published in 2000.  These other volumes were written by other cookbook authors and I found all listed on Amazon.com.

Ms. Morse has her own website: www.KittyMorse.com.

You can find this book on Amazon.com and Alibris.com, pre-owned copies starting at $4.11. New copies are at regular prices along with some steep ones!

Review by Sandra Lee Smith

 

 

 

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