Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Mourad Challenge

(No, it isn't some long lost Robert Ludlum title...)

So recently, Workman publishers asked us if we'd cook a few things from the up-coming Mourad: New Moroccan (by Mourad Lahlou, Workman, 400pgs, $40.00) cookbook and do a bit of blogging and tweeting about it. Of course we jumped at the idea, as did a few other independent bookstores across the country, and got started preparing for a two-night feast of harissa bloody marys, lemon preserved-chicken, grilled kefta kabobs with grapes, a yogurt-herb spread that goes with truly anything you can find in a refrigerator, beets with avocado puree and pumpkin seed crumble, and, to top it all off, chocolate gingersnaps. Yes: Yummm.

Before we get too much further, I think that it's probably necessary to explain what sort of culinary family we're dealing with. What I'm really saying is that my mom, Suzanne (LBB owner), is truly one of the worst cooks to have ever found her way into a kitchen. To her, a nice dinner is a bottle of wine, crackers, and some skanky vegetables she found in the bottom of the fridge hastily roasted and then slathered with salt. Her 'signature' dish is a beef stew so bland even a Brit wouldn't touch it, which nobody -- and I mean nobody -- will get close to but her. It looks like a cross between Alpo dog food and elementary school chili on its way out. (Sorry mom.) So anyways, what I'm trying to say is that if we can cook these dishes, really anybody can. They're not hard. They are delicious. And you can make them. If she can, you definitely can. Back to the feast:

PREPARING. The lemon preserves were the only thing we had to make ahead of time, and it couldn't have been easier. Salt. Jars. Lemons. A few weeks time, and done. In all, the needed ingredients were pretty easy to gather. Beside from a few spices we had to go to Seattle to find, everything we needed was right at our local grocery store and pretty cheap, too -- a rarity when it comes to cookbooks these days.

THE COOKING: Really fun and really easy. We had a great time skewering grapes, rolling the kefta into balls, and, of course, slugging our harissa bloody marys while stirring the yogurt and vinegar sauces. All in all, the directions were simple, precise, and quick to accomplish. It probably took 4 people an hour and a half of actual 'cooking' time to get everything done.

THE EATING: The whole night was really fun from start to finish, and it goes without saying that the food was incredible. Particularly the chicken with lemon preserves and the kefta with grapes. Wowsa.

THE EXPERIENCE: I think we all agreed, using the cookbook was awesome for everybody who came over and taught us a lot about Moroccan food (more than just lamb and couscous, apparently), Moroccan culture, and Mourad, the chef -- who does a really cool thing by infusing his life story into all of the recipes. Highly recommended for anything from an awesome group-cook dinner party where everyone is involved to making a quick yogurt sauce when you've got just a little time. Really good food. Really cool story. Really great book.

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