Spice world

British writer John Gregory-Smith explores the food of Morocco in a new cookbook

WORDS Nione Meakin
January / February 2019
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When British food writer John Gregory-Smith started researching Orange Blossom & Honey, his new book on Moroccan cuisine, he knew one thing—it wouldn’t feature a chicken and lemon tagine. While he has nothing against the classic North African stew, he wanted to show how much more the country has to offer—from crispy flatbreads stuffed with minced lamb to crunchy salads dotted with pomegranate seeds.

“I wanted everything from the recipes to the stories to the styling to focus on the real Morocco—the parts visitors don’t always see,” he explains. “It’s not just this dusty, souk-y country. There are mountains and rivers and ski resorts and all sorts of things people don’t think about when they think of Morocco.”

A lifelong foodie, Gregory-Smith published his first culinary guide, Mighty Spice Cookbook, in 2011, swiftly followed by Mighty Spice Express. Then came a Turkish-inspired title (his partner, Murat Aktas, is Turkish and the writer regularly hosts Turkish pop-ups and supper clubs in London), before he finally found time to devote a book to Morocco. His love affair with the country began more than ten years ago when he visited Fez with his father. A recipe he includes for the braised lamb dish m’Hamer is a tribute to a memorable meal they ate in Dar Hatim, a restaurant in the city’s ancient medina.

His travels also took him into the pulsing city of Marrakesh, where he found Kamal Laftimi and Sebastian de Gzell serving up a taste of contemporary Morocco at Nomad, an old carpet shop-turned-buzzy restaurant off the renowned spice square. “One of the things I just found fantastic was their burger with spiced lamb, beautifully cooked with a smoked aubergine mayo and preserved lemons,” says Gregory-Smith, who offers his own take on the dish in his book. He also foraged for wild mushrooms in the Bouhachem forest, and his oyster recipe was the result of a trip to the coastal village of Oualidia, whose natural lagoon has helped it build a reputation as Morocco’s oyster capital.

The lamb shoulder with tart quinces is Gregory-Smith’s version of a dish traditionally served on special occasions. “I used to be wary of a sweet-and-savory pairing, but in Morocco people will often put things like prunes in with meat, and I grew to like the fruit because it gives a perfume and tang.” But the biggest thrill he found was in the everyday dishes of Morocco—the sizzling street food and simple roadside barbecues. One of the best places he ate was a café in Taddart, on the road between Imlil and Marrakesh. “Forget overpriced sandwiches and stale coffee—in Morocco, service stations are where you get home-style food, cooked quick,” he writes, citing truck-stop kefta, little meatballs served in a spiced tomato sauce with an egg on top. Sometimes, he says, “I’d go into a village in the mountains and ask them, ‘What do you cook for your kids on a Wednesday night?’ They would think I wasn’t serious. But it’s that everyday home cooking I find really special. That’s where you find the authentic taste of Morocco.”

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