'Rob and I really enjoyed meeting Hassan, the shepherd near the Imilchil lakes, and we couldn't refuse his invitation for tea the next morning. So we headed to the market and bought some local delicacies to take with us - dates, figs and honey. The combination of figs, lemon and honey with the praline labna is simply too good to be true.'
I flipped to the last few pages of Colour of Maroc when it first arrived and it was there in the acknowledgements on page 274 that I learned from the authors, Sophia and Rob Palmer that they 'are not writers... not chefs... and have never before produced a book. So why attempt a food and travel book about Morocco? Well, the honest answer is, why not?' Good point, I thought to myself, reading on... 'We love challenges, and what we have learned along the way is that passion, hard work and resilience are the key drivers to get you across the finish line, But, let's face it, Colour of Maroc has been an emotional rollercoaster, with times when we were absolutely confident we were doing the right thing, and others when we felt it was all in vain. What kept us going was the incredible web of support from the people surrounding us throughout the adventure. Thank you, merci and shukran!' they write.
Rob Palmer is an Australian food photographer and Sophia, his French Moroccan wife born in Casablanca, has a marketing background. For non-writers, non-chefs, non-book producers, they have come up trumps with Colour of Maroc, for it is a splendid work of art in terms of the writing, the images, the recipes, indeed the entire product package. Printed on quality matte paper that feels delicious in the reader's hands, together with stunning colour photographs on almost every page, and a handful of (rather unusual, but lovely) parchment inserts with vignettes and notes about the couples experiences during their travels — Colour of Maroc is a veritable feast from cover to beautiful cover.
Beginning and ending at Marrkech, Colour of Maroc takes readers across Morocco on a food trail through modern cities, ancient medinas, remote villages, along coastlines and towering mountainsides. The many recipes throughout the book have been painstakingly translated from French and Arabic, and then meticulously tested. And they are exquisite. For example, apple caramel stack with ras el hanout, strawberry and apple cinnamon soup, chicken and almond pie, spinach and preserved lemon salad, couscous risotto with chermoula scallops, together with tagines and, of course, mint tea.
To gain a broader snapshot about the Palmers, their book and their Moroccan adventure, pop in to the Colour of Maroc web site and blog. In the meantime, enjoy this recipe for honey-roasted figs with praline labna, reproduced courtesy of Rob and Sophia Palmer and Murdoch Books. And as a special treat, my Australian readers can enter to WIN a copy of the book.
RECIPE (BELOW) AND IMAGES (TOP) APPEAR KIND COURTESY OF ROB & SOPHIA PALMER AND MURDOCH BOOKS:
honey-roasted figs with praline labna
6 figs, halved lengthways
2 tbsp lemon juice
3 tbsp honey
11/2 cups/420g/15oz natural yoghurt
1/2 cup/20g/3/4oz flaked almonds, lightly toasted
1/3 cup/75g/21/2oz caster (superfine) sugar
For the praline labna, set a fine mesh sieve over a large bowl, then line the sieve with a piece of damp muslin. Spoon the yoghurt into the muslin-lined sieve, draw the muslin together over the yoghurt and twist to seal. Cover with a piece of plastic film and refrigerate for 12-24 hours or until all of the liquid has drained away from the yoghurt and the yoghurt becomes very thick. Keep the labna chilled.
Line a large baking try with non-stick baking paper and sprinkle the almonds in a thin layer. Place the sugar and water in a small heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat. Cook, stirring, until the sugar dissolves then boil until the mixture turns a golden caramel colour around the edges of the pan. Carefully pour the hot caramel over the almonds, titling the tray to spread the caramel as thinly as possible. Set aside at room temperature until set firm. Once set, break the praline into pieces and process in a food processor until fine crumbs form. Stir three quarters of the praline crumbs through the labna and reserve the remaining praline crumbs for serving.
Preheat an oven to 200 degreesC/400F/Gas 6. Place the figs, cut side up, in an ovenproof dish. Drizzle with the juice and honey and bake for 12-15 minutes or until the figs are just soft but not collapsed. Spoon the warm figs and cooking juices onto serving plates, top with the praline labna and sprinkle with the reserved praline crumbs. Serve immediately. Serves 4.
AND NOW FOR MY COLOUR OF MAROC GIVEAWAY!
Thanks to the generosity of Murdoch Books, I have ONE copy of Colour of Maroc (valued at $59.99) to give away. The competition is open to Australian residents only (with apologies to my overseas readers) and is open from 8pm on Friday, 1 November until midnight on Saturday, 9 November 2013. To enter, sign up to receive Good Things updates (if you haven't already) and then submit a comment below, telling me in 30 words or less about your favourite Moroccan recipe or your Moroccan travel experience. Please enter your email address with your comment so you can be reached in the event you're selected as the winner. Good luck!
Incidentally, Colour of Maroc is also a business established by the Palmers with the aim to 'culturally and creatively connect Australia with Morocco'. On their web site, the couple advise that the business will be linked to local charities with a percentage of the sales going directly back to organisations related to education and sustainability in Moroccan rural communities'. Nice one!
Recipe and images are reproduced from Colour of Maroc by Rob and Sophia Palmer, courtesy of the publisher, Murdoch Books. The price of the book is $59.99, and well worth it. Murdoch Books has sponsored this giveaway. Thank you kindly to Christine Farmer and Oliver Carfrae.
For my lovely overseas readers who cannot enter the competition (sincere apologies!), please tell me, have you been to Morocco? Do please share your traveller's tales or links to your favourite Moroccan recipes here.
Thank you everyone for your comments and entries.
And the winner is... Andrea Butler, with her deliciously-worded entry below:
'Morocco always conjures up to me mystique and exoticism! The images of tagines, tea and souks draw me to want to explore another culture and experience. However, the cover photo of this lovely looking book tells me without words, that family history and connections with food are all encompassing. I love the connection between food and family, and therefore have to try the honey roasted fig recipe!'
Thank you all again for your entries and comments.
Cooking and writing have been a lifelong passion.
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- Liz Posmyk
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.