A little while back I wrote about a short but unexciting experience in Algeria. Come to think of it, North Africa was never one of my happier hunting grounds in my working days, whereas I had some most interesting and occasionally lucrative assignments in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Arabian Gulf. One job in Morocco, though, deserves a book to itself… and it was a book, or rather TWO very large books that first introduced me to the country. Esoterically titled “Traditional Islamic Craft in Moroccan Architecture”, they sounded much more dry and specialist than they really were. They were the work of a French “Mr Fixit” who had fitted himself out as an architect/adviser-cum-supplier to King Hassan II of Morocco; an amazing man named André Paccard – look him up on Google, it’s worth it!

Whatever H.M. the King wanted, Paccard supplied it – whether it was fine French foods, machinery, household furniture and furnishings, jewelry or, in one case, 24 purpose-built villas for VIP foreign visitors invited for a royal celebration. But his jewel in the crown, so to speak, was to be two de luxe books about the mosques of the country. They would be a tribute and “thank you” to the King for his patronage. To do this he was facilitated to travel all over Morocco, photographing mosques old and new, grand and tiny, city-based and rural. But they provided much more than architectural and background photography and information; they recorded and graphically demonstrated the traditional Moroccan crafts that seemed doomed to die out, forgotten and unrecorded – stone work, tiles decorative and constructional, wood crafts of many kinds, pottery, glass and glassware, calligraphy and illuminated scroll-work – indeed every aspect of traditional Moroccan arts and crafts.

The pictures were stunning and, having been royally sponsored it was good business for Monsieur André Paccard, the author/publisher.


The two beautiful volumes, each of 500 pages, were originally published in 1980. A few copies may be had from various international booksellers at prices ranging from US$525 to $1,500. I am rather sorry I sold my set when we moved from England to Cyprus in 1991 for $200!

André Paccard had some years of success as a royal servant – eventually, for various reasons (over-reaching himself, perhaps; usurped in his work by some jealous employees, certainly, he fell from favour. After losing most of his assets, he died in the South of France in 1996, an embittered alcoholic. When his business was liquidated, I was left with several hundred copies of his master work. His French business associates didn’t want to know about these, so I was able to sell them off, slowly over about three years, to schools, universities, libraries and other institutions. Ultimately it became a “nice little earner”.

My second time in Morocco was on behalf of an American multi-national. I was there four days – and it rained the whole time. What I was able to see through the down-pours suggested to me that this was, is, a lovely country. Despite the torrential rain, we ate well in some of the best restaurants in Marrakech. The food was stylish – French, African and Arab influenced. It has some interesting recipes of its own, of which these are a couple, adapted from a delightful and practical small paperback, the cover of which is shown below.

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Some new and second-hand copies are available from Amazon. If you are exploring regional cookery and want a very good starter volume with a varied range of recipes and ideas, it is well worth buying.  Brand new tagines in which to make lovely North African “casseroles” are widely available, in many stores and on-line.


Chicken with Prunes and Almonds (Poulet aux Pruneaux et aux Amandes)

The French absorbed a number of dishes from the Moroccan cuisine into their repertoire, but oven baked foods cooked in utensils called tagines (a contemporary Moroccan-made example of utterly traditional shape is pictured above) have not become a part of their cooking in the way that couscous has, probably because combining fruit with meat is something they do only rarely. However fruit can be an excellent complement to meat and I have a liking for the dishes called tagines, like this one, which bring the sweetness and soft texture of fruit together with meat.

Preparation: 20 minutes. Cooking: 1½ hours

CHICKEN TAGINE – Ingredients for 4 Servings

1 chicken weighing about 1½kg /3 Ib

2 large onions, peeled and finely sliced

4 or 5 tbsp ground almonds (* See Note)

3 tbsp olive oil

20 prunes, pitted and soaked for 2 hours 1 tbsp mild paprika

Salt Pepper

1. First of all, soak the prunes in cold water for a couple of hours before you begin

to prepare the rest of the dish.

2. Rinse the chicken, cut it into small pieces and set aside.

3. Brown the onions, which should be very finely sliced, in a frying pan and then add the chicken pieces.

4. Once the chicken is tender, transfer it and the onions to a tagine or casserole, add the prunes, salt, pepper, paprika, the ground almonds and enough of the water in which you soaked the prunes to cover all the ingredients.

5. Stir well, then cover the pot and allow the stew to simmer over a low heat for one hour.

Serve in the tagine.

Note: For the best taste use fresh Cyprus almonds, peeled. Pat them dry and then whizz them in your food processor until they are finely chopped. Make them creamier if you wish by blending longer, but I prefer them with just a little “bite”.

Chicken with Lemon and Olives (Poulet au Citron et aux Olives)

Preparation: 20 minutes Cooking: 1 hour

Ingredients for 4 Servings

1 chicken weighing 1½kg/3lb

3 preserved lemons, cut into thin slices (see Note)

3 tbsp vegetable oil !

1 onion, finely chopped

3 cloves of garlic

200g/7oz purple olives, pitted

A thread of saffron (or half tsp of saffron powder)

A bunch of coriander (or parsley, if you don’t like coriander)

Salt and pepper


1. Cut the chicken into pieces, brown them in oil in a large pan and put to one side.

2. Add the onion, garlic, saffron, salt and pepper to the same pan, stirring over a medium heat for 5 minutes before returning the chicken pieces to the pan together with enough water to cover all the ingredients.

3. Continue cooking, covered, until the chicken is tender, which should take about 45 minutes.

4. While the chicken is cooking, blanche the olives in boiling water for 5 minutes and, when the chicken has cooked for about 30minutes, add them and the slices of preserved lemon to the sauce.

5. Scatter over the chopped coriander just before serving.

PRESERVED LEMONS – Making ‘em and using ‘em


Preserved Lemons can be found in some Deli counters. But they are simple to do yourself, but remember you need to make them a couple of weeks before you intend to use them.

Preserved Lemons Recipe

1. Select firm, fresh, unwaxed lemons.

2. Trim the nubs off both ends of each lemon.

3. Cut the lemon as if you are going to cut it into four pieces, but don’t complete the cut.

4. Put a teaspoon of salt in the bottom of a half-litre/pint-sized jar. 

5. Put another teaspoon of salt into the quartered lemon.

6. Push the lemon into the jar, open end down, and push hard to squash it a bit so as to release its juices.

7. Put a teaspoon of salt over the top of the lemon.

8. Repeat the process, putting a teaspoon of salt inside the second lemon, and then squash it down hard on top of the first lemon.

9. Add another teaspoon of salt on top of the second lemon, and repeat the process for the third and final lemon.  Add a teaspoon of salt on the very top.  The jar should be halfway full of lemon juice from having compressed the lemons.  If needed, squeeze some extra lemon juice into the jar to bring it to the halfway point. And don’t waste that lemon – cut it up and stuff it into the jar. 

10.Now pour some water that’s been boiled and cooled (sterile) into the jar to fill it up the rest of the way.  Repeat this process for however many jars you wish to make.

11.After you add the water, screw on the lid and let the jar sit at room temperature for 3 days, giving it a shake and turn it upside-down/right-side up a few times a day.

12.After 3 days place the jar in the refrigerator and let it sit for at least 3 weeks before using.  Keep the jar in the refrigerator. 

NOTE: Whatever dish you use them in, discard the pulp (it’s the peel that is used) and thoroughly wash the peel to remove excess salt.

A New Take on KOFTA


Ask for a Kebab in a Lebanese taverna, and you will most likely get a stick or two of beautifully minced Kofta - mincing   ingredientslamb, onion, garlic and herbs, cooked over hot coals. It’s called Kofta, and because you need intense heat to seal the outside it is difficult to make at home. All too often, if the mix doesn’t crumble the inside ‘steams’ and is watery. Now there’s a brilliant adaptation of the recipe which results in perfect meat patties every time. To the traditional minced meat, onions, garlic and green herbs are added some breadcrumbs and an egg. As in other recipes using bread crumbs, the best in my view are those made with lightly toasted Pitta bread. Simply break some into pieces and put in a small food processor and whizz. Pitta-crumbs make gorgeous coatings for fried pork or chicken escallops and pieces of fish.

The other important thing when making minced meat dishes is to mince the meat properly, and food processors are unreliable in doing this to the right consistency. So I advocate buying a good sturdy mincer. There are still hand meat mincers you attach to the table, but I prefer an electric one and mine is the sturdier of the two Moulinex models, the “HV8 Combi”. It deals with tough and stringy meat quickly and efficiently and has two grinding discs – fine and coarse. The latter is ideal for kofta and for meat and fish terrine mixtures. I use the finer one for liver paté and such.

Easy-cook Kofta

Serves 4

Kofta Ingredients

500g / 1 lb 2 oz lean lamb meat, finely minced
1 egg, beaten
2 tbsp Pitta bread crumbs
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
3 – 4 sprigs of parsley, 2 sprigs of mint, a few fresh chives, and a tiny sprig of rosemary, finely chopped
1 – 2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped.
½ tsp ground cumin, a pinch or two of ground cinnamon, and a pinch of chilli pepper. You may use these spices in quantities to please your taste.
Salt and pepper


  1. Put all the ingredients into a large bowl and mix well (hands are best for this)
  2. Cover and refrigerate for one hour.
  3. Make 12 slightly elongated balls from the mixture.
  4. If barbecuing or grilling you may thread two or three balls on to skewers (if using wooden ones, soak them in water or lemon juice for 30 minutes first)
  5. Cook quickly, turning regularly.
  6. Or, heat a little olive oil in a heavy non-stick frying pan, flatten the balls into patties and fry them quickly for 2 – 3 minutes each side.
  7. Serve with griddled Pitta bread and strained yogurt. Tahinisalata matches the kebabs well.  It’s a nice dish for roast potatoes too!   As for salads, a Lebanese Fattoush wants a lot of beating, and I have the recipe for that.
  8. Kofta - making into patties



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