Nestled in the hills of north central Morocco, Fès' ancient walled medina is a labyrinth of narrow alleys, passages, lanes and souks: the world's largest car-free urban space. Founded by Idris, an Arab refugee-turned-Moroccan king, Fès also claims the world's oldest university, built by Fatima al-Fihri, herself a refugee from Tunisia.
There's no specific wonder here other than the medina, and that's OK. Sometimes a city or neighborhood is exemplary enough to be a wonder in and of itself.
Listener Steve Fait joins us to talk about visiting Fès, navigating its maze, exploring its secrets and managing carpet salesmen. Plus, we discuss the joys of tagine, although the recipe this week is b'stilla, a savory/sweet Moroccan pot pie that is one of my all-time favorite foods.
Abun-Nasr, Jamil Mirʻi. A History of the Maghrib in the Islamic Period
Carrington, Daisy. "This 1,157-year-old library gets a facelift". CNN.
DK Eyewitness Morocco
Hourani, Albert. A History of the Arab Peoples
Lonely Planet Morocco
Nader, Emir. “The World's Oldest University Was Founded by a Woman of Color” in Vice
Othman, Najwa. “Kairouan: Capital of Political Power and Learning in the Ifriqiya”
Sarkeesian, Anita and Ebony Adams. History vs Women: The Defiant Lives that They Don't Want You to Know
Wolfert, Paula. The Food of Morocco
Photo by Alina Chan
Can you make this classic Neapolitan pie at home? No. No you cannot. You don’t have Neapolitan flour, Vesuvian tomatoes, Campanian water, fresh mozzarella from Italian buffaloes… or a dome-shaped wood-fired brick oven.
So whatcha gonna do?
Well… You can improvise.
I like to grill my pizza in the summer - which gives a nice char and crisp but still provides a good chew. But it’s not Neapolitan.
To replicate the Neapolitan experience, you’ll need your oven. It won’t BE Neapolitan. Your oven can’t get up to a Vesuvius-like 700 degrees, so it will never be the same. But it can be delicious. So step one is getting a pizza stone. Now, I hate the concept of buying a giant piece of rock that you’ll rarely use and will take up space in your house. But you can actually use a pizza stone for all sorts of other thing that you’d like to bake or roast. A pizza stone is just a slab of rock or ceramic that absorbs heat from the oven and provides that heat to whatever you’re roasting in a nice even, consistent way. Better than an aluminum baking sheet, anyway. So get one, but remember, have it in the oven as your preheat. If you put it in after you’ve preheated, it will crack, as both pizza stones I have ever owned have done because I’m an idiot.
OK. So dough. Flour, salt, yeast, and water. But not just any flour. It has to be type 0 or type 00 Italian flour, which are very finely milled flours, so they are super powdery, almost like baby powder. You can find this at specialty groceries, or you can substitute all-purpose flour, if needs be.
Mix up the flour with salt, water and yeast. Knead it up, divide into a couple of balls, cover and let them rest overnight in the fridge. So no, this isn’t a spur-o-the-moment thing.
Put the stone in the oven and preheat it to full hot for an hour. Flour a surface and stretch out the dough with your hands. Don’t twirl it over your head unless you’re an expert or comfortable with having floor dirt in your pizza. Get nice and thin so you can almost see through it.
Sauce is next. You can get canned San Marzano tomatoes at many stores, although note that a lot of canned tomatoes claim to be San Marzano without actually being San Marzano, so double-check. Just puree the tomatoes to make the sauce, with a smidge of olive oil and a pinch of salt. That’s it. And DON’T USE MUCH.
Next: fresh mozzarella. Again, quality matters. If you can’t get the buffalo mozz, cow’s milk will do, but it has to be good. Get it in the fancy cheese section, not in the dairy case in the back. And make sure you drain it, if it’s packed in water. You do NOT want that extra moisture, unless you like soggy pizza. Slice some thin slices and plop them on the sauce. Again, NOT TOO MUCH.
And then scatter a few pieces of torn basil leaves on top. Some people leave their leaves whole, other like a fine chiffonade. Whatever. I like torn pieces, but the key is 4 to 5 leaves per pie. That’s it.
Use a pizza peel, which is a pizza-size super-thin spatula, to move the pie onto the stone. Cook for 6 to 8 minutes and buon appetito!
Wait. Drizzle some good olive oil on top at the end. Then buon appetito.
Recipe adapted from https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1016231-pizza-margherita
Moutabel* is a smoky eggplant (or aubergine) dip from the Levant which is particularly popular in Jordan. You would enjoy this with warm pita bread as part of a mezze, a large spread of appetizers like hummus, tabouleh, and other delicious taste sensations.
What makes moutabel different from baba ghanoush is the addition of tahini, that almost peanut buttery sesame paste. This makes moutabel significantly smoother in texture, which I like, without overwhelming the eggplant and garlic.
The key to successful eggplant spreads is the cooking. Flame-grilled is the best way to go, but roasting in an oven is fine too. It’s important not only to make sure the skin is blackened all over but that the eggplant has basically been cooked into a soft goo. If you think it’s done, it’s probably not done. The more you cook out the liquid and break down the fibers, the better your dip will be.
I’ll be honest - I’m giving this recipe now, but I won’t try it myself until the summer. Getting a perfect ripe eggplant makes a huge difference, and this is really a summery dip, with the bright lemon and garlic. So save this for later, OR if you’re one of my Australian or New Zealander listeners, enjoy RIGHT NOW! And then, let me know how it is!
Photograph from: http://bennydoro.com/chef/recipes/moutabal-roasted-eggplant-dip/ since I haven't made it myself yet.
* Moutabel, or moutabal, or muttabal, or mutabbal - I’ve seen all of these, and if anyone can tell me a really good transliteration, I sure would appreciate it.
Lost city of the Nabataeans, the rock-cut city of Petra has been rightfully celebrated as a Wonder of the World, at least since that Indiana Jones movie. But the story is well worth telling. We'll talk about the Nabataeans, their caravans, and their run-ins with the Greeks, Romans and Judeans. We'll meet Pompey the Pompous. And we'll eat Bedouin classics from underground pit ovens.
Stephanie Craig from the History Fangirl podcast shares her experiences traveling in Jordan. For such a small country, there's so much there. You will have chosen wisely to download this episode. Enjoy!