Chef Peggy Markel Q & A

Peggy Markel has an amazing repertoire of regional culinary expertise. Peggy lives part time in Colorado, then she travels the rest of the year to her cooking schools in Sicily, Tuscany and Morocco.  In addition to her classes, she leads culinary adventures in these regions.  Right now, Peggy is planning a sailboat excursion in the Amalfi Coast – can you thing of anything more fabulous?

I was such a lucky girl to grab a little time with Peggy, hosting her in my Santa Barbara kitchen.  She relayed a lot of comparison to Tuscany and Santa Barbara. What a delight to meet her, cook with her and spend some sunny Santa Barbara days together.  Peggy cooks from her soul and this resonates in a magical way in her creation of food and recipes. She holds high regard for cultural and seasonal fare.    We bonded over our shared love of all things beautiful, fresh and wholesome, had a lovely time cooking and even took a hike (albeit, we did take a wrong turn and had to backtrack a bit – oops, my bad!).

Peggy’s knowledge of cooking is vast  (obviously) and she is an excellent teacher, with an ease and ability to convey key elements of our process. This was my first time cooking Moroccan food and after her visit I can approach this delicious cuisine with confidence and understanding.

Below you will find the menu from the class she taught in my kitchen and a great little Q & A I did with her.

Omar Sharif cocktail
Eggplant with cumin: served with warmed pita
Berber Omelette: Eggs in a spicy tomato sauce, cooked over fire
Kefta: Spicy Moroccan meatballs
Chicken Tagine with preserved lemons, olives and fresh coriander
Moroccan cooked salads with parsley, mint, cumin and coriander
Citrus curd with Pistachio and blood oranges.
For drinks we started with Peggy’s Omar Sharif cocktail – yum.  Then Rudi Pichler Gruner Veltliner, Smaragd 2006 Vachau with the eggs and meatballs.   Gruner is one of the only wines that goes well with eggs and Rudi Pichler has to be the nicest guy! Austrian whites are so good with a multitude of dishes.   It also paired nicely with the chicken but most of us progressed to a fruity Barbera from Piedmonte.

Q & A with Peggy

Val: Which types of tagines are best and why?
Peggy: I like the traditional terracotta tagines as they cook the food as the
food was intended.  It is by far more authentic tasting. Emile Henry, makes a ceramic, flame proof tagine that I like a lot. It cooks well, but I find liquid doesn’t evaporate or sauces thicken with quite the same gusto as the terracotta, but things don’t stick either!  All Clad makes a cermic topped, stainless bottomed tagine that is amazing for braising.  I like it especially well for a lamb tagine with prunes and cinnamon.

Val: What inspired you to cook Moroccan food?
Peggy: Going to Morocco. I didn’t know much about Moroccan food other than having it a few times in a restaurant. The restaurant experience can be exotic and overwhelming, almost too aromatic. Yet, I must say, intriguing. Going there and tasting it in all sorts of situations gave it context.  I have taste tested tagines from the desert, the mountains, the sea, on the side of the road and in chic homes. It’s the signature common dish of the people…no matter what class. It is class distinguished by the way it is served. But not by what or how it is cooked. The simplest version over the fire of the mejmar in any case, is more delicious. The ingredient choices of the countryside are often more delicious than the city. The simplicity of the dish can offer anyone a chance to cook. The secret is in the hands.

Val: What is your favorite Moroccan dish?
Peggy: I love them all. But nothing beats a good ‘Omellette Berber’. Eggs
cracked and dropped whole in a spicy grated tomato sauce. It’s simple and satisfying and a good thing to wake up to on a sunny morning in Sidi Kaouki.

Val: What is your most favorite ingredient to use form the garden?
Peggy: Could you answer that question? It’s hard! Herbs. I love fresh lettuces and tiny tomatoes of course, but to be able to nip fresh thyme or rosemary when you need it, while it’s still fresh and aromatic is the best.
Anything green for that matter, as I love to finish a dish with something
surprising. Finely chopped this or that, or a chiffonade of shiso, meaning something unusual but complimentary.

Val: Which do you prefer; cocktail or wine with Moroccan food?
Peggy: Ok. I love gin and tonic in climates such as Morocco, Thailand and India, for example. In Marrakech they serve a lot of fruity non-alcoholic drinks that are quite good. I like one of their ginger cocktails, made with a ginger syrup, but I like vodka and lime (a Beldi lemon) as well. The cocktail which I created with a few bartenders called the Omar Sharif is fun. Kettle One Citron, pomegranate liquor, lemon, cinnamon and mint.