Mint Tea and Minarets: A Banquet of Moroccan Memories
by Kitty Morse
La Caravane Publishing, 2012
Review by Paulette Licitra
Years ago I took Moroccan cooking classes with a chef named Hamid at the Tagine Dining Gallery restaurant in NYC. I still make these recipes in the terracotta conical tagine pots I rushed out to buy to replicate the ones in Chef Hamid’s kitchen. Now I coax the Moroccan stews in these pots on my electric glass-top stove in Nashville, Tennessee— many miles away from both Morocco and New York. I still feel transported by the scents of cumin, turmeric, and cilantro while apricots, dates, mixed with lamb or chicken fuse together into heady elixirs. Another transporting experience is a pot of Moroccan mint tea in my (now tarnished) silver Moroccan teapot.
Photo Owen Morse. Copyright 2011.Reproduced with permission.
But if you don’t cook Moroccan at home, are not near a Moroccan restaurant, and are nowhere near Morocco, you can still smell the aromas, feel the air and atmosphere, hear the languages of both Arabic and French, by opening a book: Kitty Morse’s Mint Tea and Minarets.
Ms. Morse was born in Casablanca and spent her growing-up years there. Her father was English, her mother French. So her perspective straddles both Western and North African customs. Her newest book (she’s written many) is an exotic yet personal memoir festooned with spectacular recipes.
Ms. Morse journeys back to her family’s home just outside Casablanca. She has a mission: to sprinkle her father’s ashes in the river near Dar Zitoun (the name of her family home) and to transfer the title of the property from her father to herself. Both activities come with a full set of red tape that puts Ms. Morse through an obstacle course filled with cultural antiquity and modern day greed. The true colors and characters of Morocco emerge. This is at once familiar, frustrating, and endearing to Ms. Morse. Her endeavors bring her back in contact with a large part of her identity—a part she treasures and needs. The longer she stays, the more she is drawn back into this unique lifestyle. And its food.
Bouchiab is the longtime caretaker and cook of Dar Zitoun, who Ms. Morse calls “a Merlin in the kitchen.” Throughout the book, he produces enticing concoctions you can almost taste from their poetic descriptions. The environments (atriums filled with plants and rooms tiled in bright colors & designs), company (famous mural artists, visiting Englishmen, trickster government employees), and stories (spirits living under a staircase, insistent bugs, a catty beauty ruining a manicure while cooking) all frame the meals with compelling drama (or comedy) making each dish tastier than ever.
Photos of Ms. Morse’s home, people she’s surrounded with, and the neighborhoods near and far capture the personality of her charming story. But you can’t help but dwell on the photos of food. I often wished for a fork to dig into the page.
My conical pots will soon fire up with Mint Tea and Minarets irresistible recipes: Beef Tagine with Fennel, Carrots, Olives & Peas; Fish Tagine with Raisins & Almonds. I must try the Tomato, Fava Bean and Preserved Lemon Salad. And for dessert: Orange Blossom Pudding with Pomegranate Seeds & Honeyed Almonds and Dates Stuffed with Almond Paste.
One cold winter night, while I still lived in NYC, I sat at the bar of Tagine Dining Gallery talking with Chef Hamid. I was waiting for a friend to have dinner and I was sniffling with a cold. The bartender poured tea for us in beautifully painted glasses. Chef Hamid drank glass after glass. He smiled and said, “I drink this all winter and I never have a cold.”
Here’s the recipe for the ubiquitous and ever-soothing Moroccan mint tea from Mint Tea & Minarets.
Mint Tea from Mint Tea & Minarets
4 1/2 cups boiling water
2 teaspoons Gunpowder green or Chinese green tea
1 bunch fresh mint, Mentha spicata, washed under running water
1/2 cup granulated sugar (or to taste)
Rinse teapot with 1/2 cup boiling water. Discard water. Add tea and remaining boiling water. Steep for 2 to 3 minutes. Stuff pot with mint and steep another 2 to 3 minutes. Sweeten to taste and serve.