Cookbook Review: Orange Blossom & Honey

During the stay-at-home and safer-at-home orders, I have been adding one Home Wishlist item to the grocery haul, every two weeks. I have also been using all of my otherwise pretty useless “allowance” on things from my own Wishlist. In this way, I have acquired a number of cool things (a fountain pen, a crepe spreader, glass leftover dishes, Girl Most Wanted) and also another cookbook: Orange Blossom & Honey by John Gregory-Smith. This book was one of the items added last to my Wishlist and so it was sitting right there at the top. Why had I added it recently? Because I realized that although my Wishlist (and cookbook shelves) had a world of cookbooks, it did not contain a Moroccan one, and I am fairly sure that I like Moroccan food.

Orange Blossom & Honey fits into a cookbook category that I’m not sure I love (though I would love to be one of the authors): cookbook travelogue, or like a kind of journalism. These authors aren’t from these places, they don’t live in the culture, they don’t even necessarily have a specific tie to the origin of the food, nor are they fusing it or doing anything new with it, lumping it into a new category of “crockpot meals” or “things to do with pasta.” They just pick a location that, for whatever reason, they pick and then set off on an exploratory, gustatory expedition that results in a cookbook. Later, they will move on to another place. See why it’s not my favorite category? And yet, sometimes good things emerge from this pattern, and we get a book that speaks to American English-speaking people (by way of British-English speaking people in this case) that unlocks a part of the world’s cuisine for our minds, grocery stores, and tables.

Orange Blossom & Honey is one such book. It is also another type of cookbook that I don’t actually prefer: the coffee table cookbook. Of course, you can still use these books—and I do, or I wouldn’t bother with them—but it has that feel. (Caveat: lots of people prefer these eye-candy cookbooks, and I totally get that.) The cover is one of the most beautiful on my shelf, with it’s textural, geometric design on matte white, with a painted map on the frontispiece and absolutely beautiful photos of both food and Morocco on every page. It’s not people-oriented as much as place-oriented, though the narrative is full of people and families that Gregory-Smith encountered along the way. And while his stories are interesting, they are all about his travels, lacking that personal-memory touch that could have been there if, say, he were Moroccan.

So, despite that there are multiple two-page illustrations (in which I always lament the appearance of another actual recipe), I have been cooking may way through some of the recipes. I don’t know if it is just discovering the taste of the place, or if Gregory-Smith favors certain recipes, but most of them have basically had the same flavor profile. It is a taste that I find exciting and delicious, but my family is not really with me on this. I think it’s the emphasis on bitter and tart? Which are two of my favorite things to taste. Of course, there’s also the sweet and savory, umami and sometimes a little spicy, but all those olives and preserved lemons? Mmm! Two of my favorite things in the world. (Without waiting weeks for my own preserved lemons to preserve, I did have to make a trip to a specialty grocer for some of the ingredients needed. You won’t find preserved lemons, ox cheeks, or dried chermoula at the Piggly Wiggly.)

I have tried Herby Couscous Salad, Red Chicken with Fries (D’jaj m’Hamer), Truck Stop Kefta, and Chicken, Preserved Lemon, and Olive Salad. They all received a thumbs up or even a thumbs up enthusiastically (the top two ratings in my six-tiered rating system), which means they will be making another appearance. I find the directions to be my speed: not too detailed and not too sparse. Goldilocks-ish. And I love experimenting and trying new things in the kitchen, especially when we come across new things that really seem to belong at our family’s table, such as the D’jaj m’Hamer. (I was also pleased when a friend commented on my Insta that her husband is Moroccan and D’jaj m’Hamer is most definitely a “thing.”) I look forward to trying more recipes over time, such as Night Stall Noodles and Ox Cheeks, Lamb Tagine, Fried Halloumi Cheese, Aicha’s Chicken Couscous, stuffed flatbreads, and Pomegranate and Chocolate Cake.

So, if you are looking for a Moroccan cookbook that is not as much comprehensive as beautiful and introductory, then look no further. There are a few other Moroccan cookbooks with an excellent track record that you could try, too, but I enjoy this pretty spine looking out at me day after day, daring me to crack out the preserved lemons and serve up more food that begs for a pretty platter.

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