I wanted to share the interesting experience I had on my way to the airport for my Bay Area appearances at Le Creuset stores, last Saturday at 5:45 AM—my shuttle was a no-show. Panicked, I called the company several times: they did finally send a driver 45 minutes later, and I made my flight. However, and FYI everyone, I learned from my driver that reservations agents often confuse AM with PM. So be sure to RECONFIRM your shuttle a few days beforehand. I learned my lesson!
During my “cooking and signing tour” for Le Creuset in their Walnut Creek, Vacaville, and Gilroy, I had the pleasure of making new friends, and of visiting with Moroccan cuisine aficionados, some of whom had driven two hours to attend the demonstration. Here is the Moroccan style ratatouille laced with preserved lemon and flavored with cumin, I prepared. This will taste even better if you make it a day ahead.
Zahlouk: Serves 6
1 globe eggplant, peeled and cut into ¼-inch cubes
Salt for sprinkling
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow zucchini, peeled and cut into ¼-inch cubes
3 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and cubed (or 1 cup canned, organic diced tomatoes)
2 garlic cloves, minced
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 ¼ teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons diced preserved lemon rind (check out my preserved lemon page)
Sprinkle eggplant lightly with salt and allow to sweat for 20 to 30 minutes on paper towels. Rinse under running water. Pat dry. In a heavy, non-stick skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add eggplant and zucchini. Cook, stirring, until vegetables turn soft, 8 to 10 minutes. Using a spatula, transfer vegetables to a colander set over a bowl to drain. Set aside. To the same pan, add bell pepper. Cook, stirring, 5 to 6 minutes, until soft. Add to the eggplant. Set aside. To the same pan, add a little of the drained oil from the vegetables, if necessary. Add garlic and tomatoes. Stir in black pepper, cumin, and preserved lemon. Cook, stirring until tomatoes thicken somewhat, 5 to 6 minutes. Return drained vegetables to the pan. Heat through, and adjust seasonings. Transfer to a serving bowl. Serve at room temperature for best flavor.
Those who live near Walnut Creek, CA, MUST go and take a look at the new, flagship Le Creuset store downtown. It is absolutely stunning. I felt as though I had just stepped into a smaller version of the Museum of Modern Art. Backlit glass shelves hold the latest Le Creuset cookware, including a tagine pot in striking Caribbean blue (aqua) that is almost too beautiful to cook in. There is also a small demonstration area where visiting chefs/authors can show off their skills. Be sure and get on the store’s mailing list so you know who is coming there next!
In San Francisco, where I spent the night with friends, I was fortunate to be taken to The Slanted Door (http://www.slanteddoor.com), a highly regarded and very trendy Vietnamese restaurant at the Ferry Building, overlooking San Francisco Bay. There, I sampled what is possibly the BEST Vietnamese food I have ever eaten, including MEMORABLE prawns with caramelized onions, and a feather light Vietnamese omelet stuffed with crab.
I grew up on Vietnamese food in Casablanca (a number of French-speaking Vietnamese emigrated to Morocco after the War of Indochina.) We locals mistakenly lumped all Asian-style restaurants under the “resto chinois” label. It wasn’t until I came to the US and tasted Cantonese food, that I realized that the “Chinese dishes” I ate in Morocco were actually Vietnamese (I will travel miles for a good “nem”, fried V-N eggroll (also called cha-gio) wrapped in fresh lettuce, mint, and cilantro leaves!) Strangely enough, this North African-Asian cross-cultural exchange now extends to the Moroccan kitchen itself. Cuisinieres all over the country have taken to using maifun (chinese bean threads or rice noodles) instead of rice or couscous (the national staple) seasoned a la marocaine, as a stuffing, or as a filling for a seafood bestila (savory phyllo pastry). So don’t be surprised to see packages of maifun stacked up on tarps lining the ground at a country souk!
Bismillah, and Bon Appetit,