fiddlehead definition

fid·dle·head [ fídd'l hèd ] (plural fid·dle·heads) noun
Definition: edible fern shoot: the coiled frond of a young fern, often cooked and eaten as a delicacy

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Destination Morocco via The Imperial Fez

Now you say Morocco and that just makes me smile. I haven't seen Morocco in a long, long while..." I hummed this tune during rush hour traffic on my way to a favorite refuge of mine, The Imperial Fez. Upon entering Rafih and Rita Benjelloun's restaurant one is transported to Morocco, its sights, sounds, scents and traditions. Chef Benjelloun takes great pride in all aspects of the meal and reminds us that eating together is more than sustenance. He takes us to exotic Morocco without need of a passport.
The salon is saturated with exotic colors in the form of tapestries, carpets, pillows and cushions. Ornate lanterns hang from the ceiling and framed traditional Moroccan knives and swords flank the walls. Its tented ceiling and low tables that can easily be grouped together are designed for communal gathering. After a hospitable welcome I have left the stress of traffic and have arrived in exotic northern Africa.

The succession of courses begins with ceremonial hand washing. The tass is brought over to your table and warm water is gently poured over your hands and a soft towel is draped over your left shoulder to dry your hands and keep your fingers clean throughout the feast. First dish to be delivered is a cup of harrira lentil soup and Moroccan bread of whole wheat and honey. I drank it and dipped my bread into it. It was so delicious and savory for such a simple ingredient as a lentil, kind of umami.

As food begins to arrive family style at our table, I am enchanted by the emanation of aromas from the kitchen. Moroccan cuisine is characterized by its rich spices: cumin, chiles, paprika, coriander, saffron, ginger and cinnamon. Chef Benjelloun sees cumin and preserved lemon as signature Moroccan flavors. He explained to me just how easy preserved lemons can be created. Perhaps this could be his next how-to video demonstration.

Plates of various salads are set before us. Sweet and sour carrot salad looked benign but was bursting with fresh flavor. It accompanied a cool and crisp shredded cucumber salad with fresh oregano. Also unassuming was the cauliflower salad and the shredded pickled veggies which were heightened by the side of harissa, a paste of garlic, chiles, olive oil and salt. What really stood out for me was eggplant zaalouk. Chef Rafih calls it "poor man's caviar" for a reason. It is savory, tart and satisfying. You can learn make it at home with Chef Rhafi after viewing the first in a series of cooking demonstrations by Chef Rafih produced by Thomas James Photography and Video Productions.

Proof that food does not have to be savory OR sweet arrives in the form of a b'stella, crisp phyllo dough rolled thin and filled with cornish hen (tradition places squab inside), toasted almonds, eggs, dates and raisins minced together, cooked crisp and dusted with powdered sugar. The b'stella has that "made with love" quality that makes a father's food stand above others' to a person. For foods are not just inert objects. They are alive; alive not only with their own transmittable qualities of taste and smell but also alive with essence of their manufacturer. The b'stella was alive with the dynamism of chef Rafih. Watch him create it here.

Quickly our table was covered in dishes with tender, marinated chicken kebabs, a seafood platter and incredibly perfect couscous. Couscous with nuts, raisins and spices is central to Moroccan cuisine just as lamb is a principle meat. Both are expertly developed at Imperial Fez. The grilled lamb chops were delectably smokey and lightly seasoned. The lamb shank seemed roasted for hours into a so-tender, falling off the bone tastiness of garlic, cumin, paprika and cilantro along with a blend of mushrooms.
"And I've just had a taste of something fine..."

The evening began to come to an end with pastries similar to baklava made with honey and almonds. The tass was presented to us once again, this time along with drops of fragrant rosewater. Glasses of mint tea with fresh mint leaves were delicately poured for each guest. As we sat smiling about our shared experience I thought of how a meal goes beyond a nutrative need to survive. There is a significance to "breaking bread." It reminds us of our connection to other human beings.

Chef Rafih will take his feast on the road next month (March 15) when he is the featured chef at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas for a Moroccan dining experience. Each month on the 15th The Cosmopolitan will feature an acclaimed chef for a unique culinary experience. The Cosmopolitan is an incredible destination resort for foodies. The third floor is a mecca filled with inspired chefs surrounding a shimmering three storied chandelier. Chef Rafih will bring authenticity to this Moroccan feast for the lucky few who will be able to attend before it sells out.

"Something fine.."

Imperial Fez on Urbanspoon

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Spring Fever

This cold winter full of "wintry mix" has me yearning for spring unlike any year I remember. As much as I love comfort food, I have had enough. I want to plant my garden, dig in the earth and eat those foods that only springtime brings. I want to stroll the farmer's market and come home with fresh pea shoots and asparagus. I want to forage for wild ramps and fiddleheads or simply purchase the finds of others.

My hankering became visibly evident as I worked and dreamed at my desk and noticed that my doodling had a theme. Who doodles asparagus? My shopping bags and baskets are ready for the return of the outdoor markets filled with the spoils of Georgia! Why eat local, seasonal food?

  • local food is good for the environment: less of a carbon footprint

  • local food supports your local economy

  • local food is fresher, tastes better and is higher in nutritional value which declines over time. Local foods have ripened on the vine, not in transit.

  • buying local gives you a personal connection to your food <----- my favorite!

  • buying seasonal, local food follows what nature has intended, when it is fresh, abundant and least expensive.

  • local food has more variety. Local farmers play with their crops more and change it up. Ever seen a watermelon radish at your grocery?

  • buying local helps preserve green spaces. Your support helps keep those lovely farms and pastures from being developed.

  • Buying local helps someone living their dream. I live vicariously through many local entrepreneurs who are happily pickling their way through life.

I am really looking forward to the new Grant Park Farmer's Market on Sundays in addition to these:

Maybe not a farmer's market per se but it is a pretty cool collective of local talent and yumminess. The Irwin Street Market's community kitchens helped many of my favorite entrepreneurs live their dream.