'International Night': Traveling the Globe from Your Kitchen

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Journalist Mark Kurlansky often focuses on food — writing books like "Cod," "Salt" and "The Big Oyster." So when it came to teaching his daughter to cook he went global — every week they spun the globe, and whatever country their finger landed would be the theme of that week's dinner. Mark Kurlansky and his daughter Talia talk about their book, "International Night: A Father and Daughter Cook Their Way Around the World."



We began every class by making bread, because it is essential to Moroccan food. While the Maison Arabe has ovens, few Moroccans have ovens in their homes. They either make the bread in a skillet or take it to a communal baker. One such communal baker was around the corner from the Maison Arabe. A small doorway led to a step down into a cavelike shop with a magenta-and-white tile floor and, at the far end, in the darkness, a red-hot wood-burning fire, next to which the breads were baked. The man in the dark wearing a black woven skullcap and a white-striped cotton djellaba, the traditional robe, was a master baker, a title that takes at least ten years to earn. People bring their uncooked breads and he not only bakes them perfectly, but remembers whose is whose without labeling. There is a kind of social order to bread, and people’s economic standing can be seen in the quality of flour they use.

The bread—very similar to bread I learned to make in Tunisia—is made in a flat-bottomed bowl, a gsaa, an ingenious North African invention. When you are finished, all you have to do for cleanup is wash the bowl. In both countries the wooden bowl is found in country kitchens, and in a city such as Marrakech a glazed ceramic one is used.


Mark Kurlansky, journalist and New York Times best-selling author who recently co-authored "International Night: A Father and Daughter Cook Their Way Around the World;" his other books include "Cod," "Salt" and "The Big Oyster"

Talia Kurlansky, eighth grader and co-author of "International Night: A Father and Daughter Cook Their Way Around the World"


The dadas blended two types of flour, a standard white and a higher-quality darker one. But you can use any kind of flour. They used fresh yeast, which is always best, but the recipe will work with dry yeast also. It works better in a warm room than a cold one, which is why Moroccans say the bread is better in the summer.

1 tablespoon fresh yeast

3 cups flour

a large pinch of salt

a large pinch of sugar

warm water

1 or 2 tablespoons peanut oil

Mix yeast with flour, salt, and sugar. Little by little, mix with warm water until you have a slightly sticky but kneadable dough. If you use fresh yeast, crush it between your fingers as you mix. If you use dry yeast, dissolve it in a little warm water before mixing in the other ingredients. Knead well for at least 10 minutes, pressing a thin layer against the bottom of the bowl with your palm, folding it over, turning, and repeating. Shape dough into a ball and coat with a little peanut oil so the surface is smooth but not dripping in oil. Sprinkle lightly with flour and cover with a cloth. After about 30 minutes, the ball will have expanded. Break off pieces and flatten into pancakes about five or six inches in diameter.

Heat a small skillet very hot. Place a disk of the dough in the skillet and turn every few minutes until it is slightly browned on both sides with a few dark spots.



This is a family favorite and the only dish for Morocco Night that does not come from our Marrakech cooking classes. Moroccans eat a lot of sardines, but not in Marrakech, which is far inland.

5 fresh whole sardines, scaled and gutted

1 cup white onion, minced

1/4 cup olive oil

4 cups tomato sauce #1 (see Basic Recipes, p. 25)

3 tablespoons powdered cumin

1 tablespoon harissa (or cayenne pepper)

3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced

1/2 cup coriander leaves (cilantro), finely minced

1/2 cup Italian parsley, finely minced

7 black olives

1 Moroccan preserved lemon, chopped (see Basic Recipes, p. 24)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grill the sardines. Fillet them (see Sicily Night, p. 85, and Aquitaine Night, p. 210). Sauté onions in olive oil and add tomato sauce. Add cumin and harissa (or cayenne pepper if you don’t have harissa). Put half of the sauce in a small, ovenproof casserole. Place 5 sardine fillets in the sauce, skin-side down, in a neat row. Mix garlic, coriander, and parsley and place the mixture on each of the 5 sardine fillets. Place the other 5 fillets on top of them. Cover with the other half of sauce. Place black olives and chopped preserved lemon on top. Bake for 10 minutes.



If you are the opposite of Talia and don’t care for sardines but love soup, try this soup that we learned to make at the Maison Arabe. Moroccans sometimes eat it for breakfast, or at night with sweet pastries on the side.

1/2 pound lamb, cut into bite-size pieces

2 white onions, finely minced

1/2 pound dried lentils

1/2 cup canned chickpeas

1 celery rib, finely minced

6 tablespoons olive oil

a large pinch of salt

1/2 teaspoon powdered turmeric

1 teaspoon clarified butter

9 cups water

3 medium-size tomatoes

1 slice fresh ginger root, peeled and chopped

2 tablespoons tomato paste

4 turns of black pepper

1/4 cup rice

3 tablespoons flour

Place the lamb, onions, lentils, chickpeas, celery, 3 tablespoons olive oil, salt, turmeric, clarified butter (called smen in Arabic or known as ghee in India; see Basic Recipes, p. 6, and India Night, p. 238) in a pot. Cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes.

Add the water. Cook over medium heat for an hour.

Take the tomatoes, burn the skin on a burner, and rub it off. Quarter the tomatoes and remove the seeds and gel (Ayada did this very efficiently with her fingers). Save yourself a lot of chopping and puree the tomatoes in a food processor with the ginger root. Mix in a bowl with the tomato paste, 3 tablespoons olive oil, and the black pepper. Add this mixture to the soup. Stir well and cook another 20 minutes. Add the rice. Cook 10 more minutes.

Take some liquid from the soup and mix it in a bowl with the flour until it is smooth and without lumps and put it back into the soup. Stir constantly while cooking, another 5 minutes.



Tagine is a Berber dish—both the pot and also the food cooked in it. The obvious should be stated: you have to have a tagine to make a tagine. A tagine is a casserole dish with a fitted cover with a tall chimney, available for purchase at many stores or online. Some are glazed pottery and some are unglazed. An unglazed tagine should be soaked for twenty-four hours before it is used for the first time. Unglazed tagines can only be used to cook one type of food because the clay absorbs the taste of the food. Tagines can be made with chicken, lamb, fish, and other ingredients, accompanied by a wide variety of sauces. But once lamb has been cooked in an unglazed tagine, the tagine cannot be used for fish. An unglazed tagine that has cooked beef cannot be used for chicken. So there is an obvious advantage to glazed tagines. Some tagines have a small hole at the top of the chimney, but a tagine with no hole is better because it becomes a sealed steam chamber. What makes the dish is the slow cooking process that takes place inside the tagine.

Meat tagines are usually made with something sweet, often dried fruit. In the following recipe, it is candied oranges, and Ayada insists that for the best results you should start the oranges the day before.

For three people, use two oranges. Three oranges would be good for up to five, which is about as much as can be cooked in a single large tagine. In restaurants, each serving is cooked in its own tagine.

2 yellow onions, minced

3 tablespoons peanut oil

1 tablespoon butter

1/2 teaspoon powdered turmeric

1 teaspoon cinnamon

3 turns of black pepper

1/2 teaspoon peeled and finely minced ginger root

3 slices leg of lamb, bone in (if you buy a leg or even a half leg from a good butcher and ask, he will slice it for you—3/4-inch-thick slices

3 cups water

5 strands saffron

1 sweet orange

candied orange (see recipe below)

3 tablespoons sesame seeds

Put the onions in a tagine with the peanut oil and butter over low heat. Add turmeric, cinnamon, black pepper, and ginger. When oil is hot, add 1 slice per person of leg of lamb. Cook about 20 minutes. Add water and saffron. Let simmer in covered tagine for 1 hour. Periodically check to make sure water has not completely cooked away.


Cut top and bottom off an orange and peel with a knife to expose flesh. With a paring knife, cut about ¾ of the sections away from the membrane. Arrange them around the tagine decoratively. Pull the remaining orange flesh off the candied oranges, cut the peel into strips, and arrange them around the tagine like a sunburst. Sprinkle lightly with sesame seeds. Bring to the table with the cover on and dramatically unveil upon serving.