Tuesday, February 17, 2009

So for Valentine's Day, Mike and I had planned to head into Denver and eat at a little Cuban cafe for dinner. Unfortunately, the restaurant was first come first serve as far as tables went and we were not the only ones in the mood for Cuban that evening. Oh well, we'll just have to head over there for Denver Restaurant Week instead. 

So, it's 6pm, V-day, and we've got no reservations nor are we all that familiar with Denver dining options (other than Steubens, yum), and we wanted to go someplace a little different, someplace we don't normally go. We ended up at Palaih Casablanca, a Moroccan restaurant not unlike our beloved and sorely missed Maatam Fez (there's one in Denver as well). Anyway, the food was fantastic as expected and the evening was pretty perfect. 

If you haven't been to a Moroccan restaurant, all of the ones I have been to are pretty similar. You have a set 5 course dinner that begins with Harira (traditional chickpea and lentil soup) with honey wheat bread (because you eat everything with your hands, fun!), assorted Moroccan salads (typically one eggplant salad, aka zalouk, a carrot salad, marinated beets, and a few others, I've had whole chickpeas, a potato salad, tomatoes with peppers, and tomatoes with cucumbers). Then you get a b'stilla, a pastry made of chicken, eggs, and almonds and wrapped in phyllo sprinkled with powdered sugar. For your fourth course, you can choose from a variety of tagines - mine that night was the chicken with artichoke and olive while Mike had lamb with pears. And the last course is dessert served with traditional green mint tea sweetened with honey. 

Now, to the purpose of my post (some Denver restaurant info but also some book info), I have in my well-stocked kitchen an implement called a tagine. It's wonderful. It's a clay, cone-shaped cook pot that you can use on the stove top or in the oven. It's something my dad (also a lover of international cuisine) purchased for me a few years back and I have yet to use. But then I got Arabesque by Claudia Roden. It's a gorgeous cookbook filled with recipes from Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon. It does require some special ingredients, but I find that most of them are becoming more readily available (I was having trouble finding preserved lemons without having to make them for myself, and I have found them recently at Whole Foods as well as my favorite spice shop, Savory Spice Shop - they ship). 

Most of the dishes that we've had at the restaurants are in this book. On top of that, there's the added bonus of both Lebanese and Turkish recipes as well. I used to frequent a Lebanese place back home when I was in college and miss the food very much. 

So, if you're a foodie with a taste for the exotic (there's nothing strange in this cookbook if that's what you're worried about), I would urge you to seek out this book (or others like it) and attempt to make your own Moroccan (or Turkish or Lebanese) feast at home. I have to tell you that I've been trying to get more veggies into our meals (we're big on the carbs being from Louisiana) and Moroccan salads are some of the tastiest I have ever had (don't think traditional green salad either, they're more like spreads or accompaniments for bread, packed with yummy spices and veggies). With some whole wheat pita bread and olives, I'm in heaven!

Arabesque is food porn at its best, too, as there are pics of most of the recipes. Enough to make your mouth water and let you know that you're recipe is turning out right!

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