Indulging in Moroccan Cuisine: A Conversation with Author Kitty Morse
Morocco offers a mélange of mouthwatering dishes and delights, both savory and sweet. Spices, vegetables, legumes, fruit, and meat are combined to create the most tempting platters and treats, such as tagine—a warming, hearty stew typical of Moroccan cuisine made with a meat or vegetable base.
In her book Mint Tea and Minarets, which is both a memoir and collection of recipes, Kitty Morse describes her experiences growing up in Morocco and then returning to the country following her father’s death. Even after moving to the United States, Kitty maintains her connection to Morocco by leading culinary tours to the country and writing cookbooks. Upon her return to settle her family’s estate as described in the book, she is reunited with friends and familiar places and discovers once again her home through the smells and tastes of traditional Moroccan cuisine.
What inspired you to include recipes throughout the memoir to illustrate the stories you tell?
I have written 10 previous cookbooks, five of them on the cuisine of Morocco and North Africa. My editors always shortened my headnotes. Many Moroccan dishes have a long history, and I recount my experience preparing and savoring these dishes. I think of Mint Tea and Minarets as a memoir with recipes with very long headnotes! Each recipe pertains to the story just told.
To find the soul of Morocco, I recommend going deep into the countryside and meet “simple” people. Those are the experiences I treasure, and that I write about in Mint Tea and Minarets.
You learned how to cook many Moroccan dishes and have published several cookbooks. How has your knowledge of the country’s cuisine helped you understand Moroccan culture and traditions?
Though I am not a Moroccan citizen, I was born in Morocco, and I was steeped in Moroccan culture. I consider it my great good fortune to have been born in that North African country, of a British father and a French mother, thus assimilating several languages and cultures.
Having lived in several countries and traveled extensively, navigating many different cultures, what makes a place feel more like home to you?
Definitely the local flavors and the culture. I have to say I need sunshine and beaches as well! I have never been drawn to northern climes!
What is one dish that everyone must absolutely try when visiting Morocco?
My particular comfort food is couscous. It is the dish that Moroccan families savor on Fridays, the Muslim day of prayer. There are many regional variations, but in my hometown of Casablanca, we prepare Couscous Beidawi [Couscous in the style of Casablanca], using seven different kinds of fresh vegetables, chicken, or lamb, simmered in a broth redolent of saffron, ginger, turmeric, and cinnamon. I give a recipe for a turkey couscous in Mint Tea and Minarets, which I prepared for our Thanksgiving in the U.S. Of course, you should also try bestila, the crowning dish of Morocco’s repertoire, a mixture of sweetened shredded chicken, fresh herbs, and spices encased in phyllo. And one of the innumerable tagines, exotic stews of meat, fish, or vegetables.
You faced several challenges in settling your father’s estate so that your childhood home could remain in your family. How did you stay motivated and driven in the face of these challenges?
I was absolutely determined to follow the legal process and obtain title to my father’s home. It’s just that “the process” in Morocco takes years! In my case, about 15.
In the book, you share anecdotes of life growing up in Morocco. What is one of your fondest and most vivid memories from your childhood?
The book took me 12 years to write! It was hard to narrow down memories. I have to say, however, that the most vivid entail traveling through the Atlas Mountains as a child with my parents, visiting Berber tribes along the way.
In the book, you write about living on two continents “with heart, head, and possessions divided.” What advice do you have for those whose homes may straddle several countries or continents on how to maintain the identities, relationships, connections, and feelings associated with multiple places?
It is trying and costly to manage a home overseas, whether in North Africa or in Europe. Hire someone you can trust locally to take care of daily maintenance. Connections are easy to maintain via phone or e-mail.
Somehow, I always manage to reenter the skin of a Casablancaise as soon as I land in Morocco! I once opened the fridge at Dar Zitoun, our riad, fully expecting to find what I had purchased at the market in the U.S. the week before. OOPS! Your brain soon adjusts to its new surroundings.
I give Moroccan cooking classes and presentations on Moroccan cuisine and culture at a number of different venues from libraries, to museums, universities, etc. This keeps Morocco on the front burner for me.
To keep up to date, I glean information from a variety of sources, including friends in Morocco. I publish a monthly e-newsletter called The Kasbah Chronicles, where I share cultural and social news about Morocco, recipes, and my activities in the U.S. I write parts of it in French and parts in English.
How has Morocco changed since you left? And what remains the same?
Morocco has jumped headfirst into the 21st century. This has its good and not so appealing sides! The “old” Morocco, the one I grew up in, is fast disappearing. Marrakech and Fez are now jet-set destinations. Traffic, smog, rush hours, you name it. To find the soul of Morocco, I recommend going deep into the countryside and meet “simple” people. Those are the experiences I treasure, and that I write about in Mint Tea and Minarets.