Julie Bitton Price, production director for Turner Classic Movies-Warner Media, shares her traditional kosher family Shabbat meal served with the authenticity of her frequent visits to her Moroccan father Gaby Bitton (one of 12 children from Marrakech) and mother Nancy.
Some of the fragrances and dishes wafting from her recently renovated kitchen are cooked carrot salad, Moroccan omelet, salade cuite (tomato), dafina (cholent/stew), boulettes (dumplings), couscous, and chicken with olives and preserved lemon.
Get to know the family, along with its food traditions.
Marcia: What are your childhood memories from your mother’s Moroccan food?
Gaby: Very fresh, no cans. The tagines [stews] she made were the best on the block, and my friends always wanted to come over for a snack and boulette sandwiches.
Marcia: Nancy, did Gaby’s family spend time teaching you about Moroccan cooking?
Nancy: I sat in the corner of my mother-in-law’s kitchen and watched her for hours in Ashkelon, Israel. We didn’t even speak the same language; she spoke Arabic, a little French and a little Hebrew. We communicated via the cooking lessons.
My in-laws emigrated from Morocco in the early 60s. I loved the healthy food and the vegetables in Moroccan cooking, some of which I had never heard of growing up in Ohio.
Marcia: An Ohio gal, how did you meet Gaby?
Nancy: I was studying French at Laval University in Quebec, Canada, where Gaby was completing his master’s degree.
We were married and lived in Israel while Gaby got his Ph.D. at Hebrew University. I worked at Weizmann Institute, and spent every Shabbat with Gaby’s family.
We then moved to Boston, for Gaby’s post doc at Harvard University, finally settling in Gainesville, Fla.
Marcia: How would you describe Moroccan cuisine?
Nancy: Moroccan dishes are very easy to cook ahead and then reheat when guests arrive. Moroccan spices include: turmeric, coriander, ginger, cumin, white pepper, paprika (regular and spicy) and saffron.
Marcia: What are the favorite dishes that Nancy prepares now?
Gaby: We make a great couscous together!
Marcia: Do you use any special dishes/platters or utensils to make the food service more authentic?
Julie: Clay tagines make Moroccan entrees look even better. I often use blue and white pottery serving platters.
Marcia: Is there anything that makes preparing Moroccan food in a kosher kitchen unique?
Julie: Having a kosher kitchen is a choice, but I know it’s the same way my grandmother and her mother prepared her Moroccan dishes for the family.
Marcia: You recently had a magnificent kitchen renovation?
Julie: It changed my cooking experience. The extra-large island and all the storage floor to the ceiling really made storing and finding everything much easier. The plan that Kitchen Design Studio came up with utilized virtually every area to maximize storage. The layout isn’t super different from where my previous plumbing and electrical were.
Israel Dahan, the Jewish owner and designer of Kitchen Design Studio, described the update. “We transformed the Bitton kitchen from ‘old school’ to a real transitional, open space, bright kosher kitchen. We interviewed Julie to ascertain the way she uses the kitchen. Then we designed it to custom fit her needs, with multiple sinks and dishwashers so they can separate fleishig and dairy,” Dahan said.
“Julie was great to work with, and we had fun and deep conversations during the construction process. We also made shelving, refinished the floors, rebuilt the master bathroom, painted, replaced the fireplace area, all the puzzle pieces connecting together perfectly to have an authentic look through out the entire house.”
Two of Julie’s best family recipes: Chicken with Olives and Preserved Lemons (at The Spicy Peach in Toco Hills)
This is one of the best-known dishes from Morocco. Serves: 4
At least 3 ½ pounds chicken, cut up
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped very fine
2 to 3 garlic cloves
Salt and pepper (Julie prefers white pepper)
1 teaspoon ground ginger
3 cups of chicken stock
1 cup of cracked/pitted olives (Israel green or Kalamata olives)
1 preserved lemon, rinsed and chopped
1 bunch of cilantro, chopped finely (use a mini Cuisinart)
1 bunch of parsley, chopped finely
Parsley to also garnish
Optional: saffron threads, crushed
In a large saucepan or dutch oven, heat the oil and fry onion. Stir a lot and make sure it’s soft and a golden color. At the same time, in a little bowl, crush garlic with salt, some ginger, a little cinnamon, (saffron optional) and a little pepper. Stir the onions and add all the spices to the onion cooking in the saucepan. Make sure to taste the sauce to see if it’s missing something.
Put the chicken in the pan on a simmer; cover with the sauce (onion mixture). Add the stock and bring to a simmer for about 1 ¼ hours. Turn chicken a few times.
Add preserved lemons, olives, parsley and cilantro. Cook covered for about 15 minutes, so that the chicken is very tender. Serve, putting the chicken on a dish and sauce over the chicken. Garnish with parsley. Serve with couscous or rice.
Cooked Carrot Salad
About 8 medium carrots
2 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon of paprika
1/4 teaspoon of red cayenne (for a little spice)
1/4 teaspoon of cumin
1/4 cup of olive oil
1 tablespoon of white vinegar
Salt and pepper (white pepper)
Wash and peel carrots. Boil until tender. Make sure they are not overcooked.
Let cool. Cut the carrots in round slices, not too thin.
Make the dressing in a separate bowl: crushed garlic, the oil, cumin, paprika, red cayenne, salt, pepper, and white vinegar. Mix well.
Add the dressing to the cut carrots and refrigerate before serving. Add parsley to garnish.