A Colorful Moroccan Salad Platter Inspired by the Crime Novel 'The Godmother'

A Colorful Moroccan Salad Platter Inspired by the Crime Novel 'The Godmother'

Wednesday, 2 September, 2020

Food and drinks are some of the easiest ways — and the most fun— to vicariously experience another culture. When you add a great book to the mix, you've got the makings of a perfect evening. In Food+Fiction, we recommend a delicious read and a related recipe so you can try the taste of different destinations in your own kitchen.

This post is part of our Food+Fiction series.

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Patience Portefeux is a 53-year-old woman who is just not here for any more of your nonsense. She’s had it with her translation job at the Ministry of Justice, and she’s ready to strut her way into a different life — while wearing a leopard-print hijab, thank you very much.

The Godmother is a smart, suspenseful, darkly funny crime novel set in contemporary Paris. It’s not giving anything away to say that the action kicks off when Patience, our heroine, gets more involved than she should in a wire-tap conversation she’s tasked with translating for the police.

Clever men, these drug smugglers! They move their extra-potent cannabis in the back of a vegetable truck, tucked safely amid the baskets of tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, oranges, and dates making their way from North Africa to Paris. Who would ever suspect that lovely truckful of produce is hiding something nefarious?

When the plans for a shipment go awry, Patience reinvents herself as The Godmother. Street smart, tough, snappy, and honest in her way, she struts into what’s a man’s world and takes charge of the circumstances — with wildly entertaining results.

If you want to be a tough lady like Patience, you need to eat your veggies. And since traditional Moroccan meals almost always start with salads, we’re honoring her go-getter attitude with these vibrant recipes.

Because of France’s colonial history with Morocco (and other African and Middle Eastern countries), there’s a delicious Moroccan influence in modern French cooking. You’ll find falafel joints in almost every neighborhood and thin, spicy Mergeuz sausages have pretty much been adopted by the French. At the weekly outdoor markets, there’s a rainbow of spices and produce from across the Strait of Gibraltar.

In North Africa, salads are usually served room temperature and made with both cooked and raw vegetables for contrasts in flavor and texture. They’re seasoned with a splash of citrus for bite and aromatic spices for earthiness, then tossed with handfuls of fresh herbs. The dining table in Morocco is a lively place with family and friends passing the plates amid plenty of talk and laughter — and, in the case of this novel, perhaps planning a caper.

To encourage you to host your own feast, we’ve put together four recipes that showcase the variety of Moroccan salads: cooked, raw, spiced, and mild. We recommend you make all of them and serve them Moroccan style, arranged together on a large platter (or in individual serving bowls) alongside grilled chicken or lamb with steaming cups of mint tea. End your meal with dried dates, fresh figs, and roasted almonds.

colorful vegetable salads in mismatched bowls
Photo courtesy of Steph Gaudreau.

Moroccan Salad Platter

Serves a lot.

Zucchini & Tomato Salad:

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch slices
  • 2 medium sweet onions, cut into 1/2-inch wedges
  • 4 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads, crushed (optional)
  • 1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
  • 12 ounces tomatoes, cored, cut into 1/4-inch wedges
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • pinch salt and ground black pepper

Directions:

Cook the veggies. Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, 2 minutes. Add the zucchini, onions, garlic, saffron, and cinnamon stick. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the zucchini and onions are just tender, about 8 minutes.

Make the salad. Remove the pan from heat. Add the tomatoes, parsley, and mint, tossing to combine. Allow the salad to cool to room temperature.

Add the dressing. When it’s cool, add lemon juice, salt, and pepper; toss, then taste and adjust seasonings. Serve at room temperature.

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Casablanca Carrot Salad:

  • 1 pound carrots
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • dash cayenne pepper
  • juice of 1 lemon (about 2-3 tablespoons)
  • pinch salt and ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves, minced

Directions:

Prep the carrots. Wash and peel the carrots; cut on the diagonal into 1/2-inch pieces. Steam for 10-15 minutes until tender and drain.

Add the dressing. In a large bowl, mix the warm carrots with garlic, paprika, cumin, cinnamon, cayenne, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Place in the refrigerator until the carrots are chilled.

Finish and serve. Remove from the refrigerator, drizzle with olive oil and toss to coat. Add the parsley, toss for 2 minutes, then taste and adjust seasonings. Serve cool or at room temperature.

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Jeweled Beet & Carrot Salad:

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • pinch salt
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • 2 large red beets, peeled and finely grated
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and finely grated
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins
  • a handful of mint leaves, thinly sliced

Directions:

Make the dressing. In a large mixing bowl, whisk the olive oil, lemon juice, honey, cumin, cinnamon, salt, and cayenne. Set aside.

Make the salad. Pat the shredded beets with paper towels to remove the excess beet juice, and add to the bowl, toss with dressing. Add the carrots, raisins, and mint, then toss again to combine.

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Orange Salad w/ Olives & Mint:

  • 4-5 large seedless oranges (about 3 pounds)
  • 1 fennel bulb (about 1 pound)
  • 1/4 medium red onion, very thinly sliced (about 1/4 cup)
  • 1 cup large black olives, pitted and cut in half
  • 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • pinch salt
  • pinch ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • fennel fronds, minced, for garnish

Directions:

Prep the oranges. Use a sharp knife to peel the oranges, removing all of the bitter white pulp and the membrane on the outside of the orange sections. With your fingers, separate the sections and cut them into 1-inch pieces — place in a large bowl.

Prep the fennel. Remove the fronds from the fennel and reserve a few for garnish. Cut the ends off the fennel bulb, and slice it very thinly, crosswise. Add the fennel, onion, olives, and mint to the oranges. Gently combine with a rubber scraper.

Make the dressing. In a small bowl, whisk together lemon juice, paprika, cayenne, coriander, garlic, salt, and pepper. Add the oil in a slow drizzle, whisking continuously. Pour the dressing over the oranges and toss gently to blend. Let the flavors meld for about an hour before serving. Taste, adjust seasonings, then top with minced fennel fronds.

It wasn’t a random decision, choosing the Fleury Quick halal fast food joint as the setting for the deal. Anything is possible in that tiny fast-food place, situated at the intersection between the main road into Paris and Rue des Peupliers, which runs past the biggest prison in Europe… I used to eat there back when I was translating Disciplinary Committee proceedings inside the prison, and I remembered well its vipers’ nest feel… — Hannelore Cayre

The Godmother

by Hannelore Cayre

Working for the Ministry of Justice as a translator isn’t the job of Patience’s dreams. Her specialty is translating wire-tap recordings — most of which are conversations between drug dealers — from Arabic to French. As time passes, she’s no longer sure that her sympathies lie on the side of the police. Hours of the suspects’ conversations have humanized them in her ears — and she knows what it’s like to be in tight spots. Events of her past drive her in ways we slowly understand, and thanks to her husband’s recent demise, she’s now solely responsible for her elderly mother and her own adult daughters. All of this leads Patience to make a shocking, life-changing decision, and she becomes The Godmother. {more}

This page-turner with a dynamic (anti)heroine (192 pages) was published in September of 2019 by ECW Press. The book takes you to modern-day Paris. Melissa read The Godmother and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.

Bookshop.org is an online bookstore with a mission to financially support independent bookstores and give back to the book community.

The Godmother: A Crime Novel

 

Top image courtesy of Dyana Wing So/Unsplash.

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