Saturday, March 25, 2017

Tagine of Lamb with Dates: a Recipe by Paula Wolfert

After slowly simmering lamb with spices. butter, and onions, you transfer the nearly-finished tagine to a serving dish,
surround it with dates, and sprinkle them with cinnamon. You finish it in a very hot oven, which slightly crisps the dates.
The photo shows the result, as I served it for our dinner this evening.

My copy of Paula Wolfert's Couscous.

Paula Wolfert has been in the news this week, including an interview in the New York Times (link), and a review of a new book about her in Food 52 (link).

I read both articles with pleasure, and decided it was time to try another recipe from Wolfert's book Couscous and other Good Food from Morocco. I chose Tagine of Lamb with Dates. The combination of onions, garlic, saffron, cilantro, pepper, and ginger really appealed to me, and for once, I followed the recipe pretty faithfully, except for scaling down the quantity to make it appropriate for only two of us.

Both of the inspiring articles were frank and detailed about the fact that Wolfert is suffering from Altzheimer's, and no longer can write or cook in the way she was famous for. Mayukh Sen his Food 52 article "Who is Paula Wolfert? A New Biography Gives an Answer," was also interested in introducing Wolfert to his readers, whom he feels might not be familiar with her work. While I had heard of her long ago, I admit that I only recently began experimenting with her recipes, such as the one I did tonight.

Before I cut up the lamb, I assembled all the ingredients.
Accompanying our tagine: salad of small tomatoes, cucumber, chopped preserved lemon, lemon juice, cilantro, and olive oil.

"Wolfert, author of nine cookbooks, was an early champion of Mediterranean foods in a time when their ingredients went unnoticed in American kitchens, beginning with 1973’s Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco," wrote Sen. His article interestingly describes how Emily Kaiser Thelin worked on the new biography, titled Unforgettable: The Bold Flavors of Paula Wolfert's Renegade Life (cover at right).

Sen describes Wolfert's reputation thus:
"Though many American home cooks have been singing Wolfert’s gospel for decades, she isn’t discussed nearly enough as she should be. She's existed in the shadow of men like Yottam Ottolenghi, her spiritual successor, even though she tilled the ground he now walks on. Her lack of name recognition is incommensurate with her legacy, and with time and distance, it’s become easier to see how this happened. When Wolfert’s The Cooking of the Mediterranean came out in 1994, Wolfert toured the country, shoving hulking jars of Marash chile flakes under chef’s noses, going to bat for meze and pomegranate molasses. 'She was like a community organizer, lobbying for the region...,' Thelin claims. This was her modus operandi: She’d get these foods on your plate no matter what, cheerleading for them as loudly as she could."
And from the New York Times article "Her Memory Fading, Paula Wolfert Fights Back With Food" by Kim Severson --
"It would be hard to overstate the importance of Ms. Wolfert’s work, which introduced couscous and other classic Mediterranean dishes to generations of cooks. The New York Times food writer Craig Claiborne called her 'one of the leading lights in contemporary gastronomy.' She made Alice Waters fall in love with chicken cooked with preserved lemons and olives in a tagine, and primed America for the Middle Eastern flavors of Yotam Ottolenghi, who remains a fan. The British chef Fergus Henderson chose her cassoulet as his favorite recipe of all time.

"A whole murderers’ row of great American chefs — Thomas Keller, David Kinch, Judy Rodgers — has said how much her work mattered. 'I have always treasured and loved the vigor of her passionate and intellectual approach to authenticity,' Mario Batali said."

1 comment:

Fran Flint said...

Thanks for this review of Paula's work. I admit I haven't followed her recipes or work before. But I do love lamb tagine with dates- especially when I use a real tagine to cook with! Thanks again.