Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme … and Lavender

First, a pinch of etymology. The Greeks called lavender nardus after the Syrian city of Naardus, from which comes the word “spikenard.” (More on spikenard in a second.) As for our word, "lavender," we must once again thank the Latin language for lavare, meaning, "to wash." A member of the mint family, and cousin to…

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The Scent of Cinnamon and Chasing Down Humoral Theory

Purple bougainvillea flowers hung thick and rope-like over the sand-colored walls, their little white hearts nearly pulsating in the blazing noon heat of Rabat, Morocco. The door of The English Bookshop stood half-opened. The stern English proprietor stood behind the counter, his thin pale fingers reaching into scuffed cardboard boxes, filled with the newest shipment of books…

The Gaza Kitchen: A Portrait of Cooking and Culinary Exile

Cookbooks, if you look closely, contain more than recipes. Even when recipes predominate - in books with no headnotes, contributor names, nothing more than ingredients and methods - you learn a lot about the people who wrote the books. By scrutinizing the text, you develop a sense of what’s important to the authors and the authors' intended audience.…

Cookbooks Tell the Story of Our Lives: Remembering Penelope Casas and The Foods and Wines of Spain

Penelope Casas, an expert on Spanish cuisine, passed away last week, not too long after the death of yet another one of my favorite food writers, Leslie Land. Now this may seem strange to you, and it does feel odd to me at times, but through the books these writers wrote and the recipes they…

Two Moons and a Ksar

It’s funny how sights, sounds, and smells trigger memories, isn’t it? Tastes, too. When I photographed a blue moon the other night, a very specific image bubbled up for me.* Perhaps, in a way, you could deem it a Proustian madeleine moment. Although I didn’t really eat anything. Standing there, trying to keep the camera…

War. Cook. Eat. Love.

Annia Ciezadlo, author of Day of Honey* (Free Press, 2011) , isn’t the first person to cook her way through trying times. Nor will she be the last. But the makeshift kitchens where Ms. Ciezadlo peeled purple eggplant or stirred onions caramelizing for Mjadara Hamra (Lentils with Bulgur Wheat) happened to be in a couple…

Couscous in France: It’s a Long Story

To look at all the Maghrebi/North African restaurants in Paris, you might be tempted to think the food they serve appeared only recently in France. It’s not hard to visualize this scenario when you consider the exodus of pieds noirs and Harkis (local men who served as soldiers for France) that occurred as Algeria fought…

An Ancient Mediterranean Taste: France’s Boutargue

The Egyptians who fled to Marseille from Egypt after the Napoleonic debacle there  (1801) brought with them a hankering for batarekh, now called boutargue or poutargue in Provençal. Happily, Marseille happened to be a place where they could find batarekh, a caviar-like product made from the pressed and dried roes of grey mullets (Mugil cephalus).…

A Taste Sweeter Than Meat, More Ancient Than Wine

Olives, pungent, demanding, a taste acquired. Their beauty belying their bitterness, their hardness. Sunshine and human hands transform tartness into fragrant fruit and nectared oil --- fare of  peasants, armies, kings, and saints. From ancient, twisted roots comes timeless provender, oily, meaty, food until long journeys' end. Spread out under the vast sky, waiting for…

Culinary Diffusion? Yes, in Alain Ducasse’s Kitchens

In a way, it's the French version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire." World-famous French chef, Alain Ducasse, chose fifteen women from Sarcelles, a suburb of Paris housing mostly poor immigrants mainly from France's former North African colonies. An article in The New York Times tells the whole story, almost a Cinderella saga: 15…

In Morocco, Travelers’ Tales

In the following passage, from R. B. Cunninghame Graham's Mogreb-El-Aska (1898), Cunninghame Graham describes  (in somewhat superior tones!) the spirit of communal eating in Morocco of the times (late nineteenth century):** Swani and Mohammed-el-Hosein were radiant, more especially because the Kaid had sent a sheep, which they had already slain and given to a "…

Eggplant: Mezze Time

With this post, we continue on our journey of exploration , attempting to learn where eggplant came from and how cooks over the centuries treated it. No discussion of eggplant can ignore baba ghanouj, a dish made with puréed eggplant and tahini (sesame seed paste). According to Nawal Nasrallah, author of one of the few…