Monday, January 18, 2016

Wine Club -- Dinner at Rick's Cafe Americain

Casablanca is my favorite movie.  I can still remember being introduced to the movie in college.  I was a second-year college student who elected to take a cinema class as part of my general education requirements.  The class was taught by Professor Turaj.  On the first day of the class, the Professor told his students (including me) that he could show the movies that other professors used in their courses.  However, he found many of them boring.  Instead, he was going to show movies that he liked ... and that we would like.  So, we got to see movies like High Noon, Deer Hunter, and, of course, Casablanca.  

The iconic movie's plot unfolds at the fictitious Rick's Cafe Americain.  The cafe with a view of the airport, which was a perfect spot for anyone trying to escape the Nazis and the Vichy collaborators.  Walk through the doors and one enters a large restaurant, with its white walls and round arches, crammed with tables of anxious people.  Their collective anxiety focuses on the requisite papers needed for the flight to Lisbon and then on to America.   The multitude of tables surround a pianist playing tunes, such as Knock on Wood, to lift the guests' spirits.  Waiters, such as Carl, wind their way around the restaurant, serving drinks and food....

But wait, the one thing missing is the food.  Having watched the movie more times than I can count, I can recall only one reference to food.  To set the scene: Captain Louis Renault just sat down at a table with Major Heinrich Strasser and his aide Colonel Heinz.  Major Strasser orders a bottle of champaign and a tin of caviar.  Captain Renault suggests a bottle of Veuve Cliquot 26.  That's it.  

Not every guest could have ordered caviar.  After all, many did not have enough to pay for the exit visas needed to get to Lisbon.  This leaves the question of what would they have eaten.  This question leads to an even more basic one: what would Ricks Cafe Americain have had on its menu.  The cafe's menu is the one aspect of the restaurant that the writers and directors did not explore, probably because it did not have any meaningful relationship to the telling of the story.  

So, for the January Wine Club, we are going to explore what could have been the menu at Rick's Cafe Americain.  One of my friends gave me, The Casablanca Cookbook, which has recipes for wining and dining at Ricks.  These recipes loosely draw from Moroccan-inspired recipes, with character's names, like Ugarte's Tangy Chicken Wings and Emil Chickpea Fritters.  This book provides a great start, but we need to delve a little further to create the menu.

Coriander Shrimp Kebabs and Ground Lamb Kebabs
Served over Coucous Morocain

Kebabs are a significant part of many Mediterranean cuisines.  Morocco is no exception, with kebabs reaching the Moroccan area during the height of the Ottoman Empire.  For our first course, everyone will have a choice of two skewers of Coriander Shrimp Kebabs or Ground Lamb Kebabs (or a combination of both).  The kebabs will be served over Moroccan style couscous.

Chicken Tangine with Preserved Lemons and Olives, 
Served with Carrots with Cumin and Garlic

The tangine is the emblematic dish of North African cuisine.  When it comes to Moroccan cuisine in particular, one of the most popular dishes is Tangine Djaj Bi Zaytoun Wal Hamid.  This dish features bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs that are marinated with spices and then cooked until very tender.  The chicken is then served with preserved lemons and green olives.  If you don't like olives (and I know a couple of you do not), don't worry -- I will add the olives at the end, thereby enabling me to omit them from your serving.  This tangine will be served with a side of Carrots with Cumin and Garlic. 

Apricot Pistachio Cake

Agriculture in Morocco encompasses a wide variety of ingredients.  For the final course, we will serve a cake that combines two fairly prominent ingredients -- apricots and pistachios.  Morocco is 7th in the world when it comes to producing of pistachios and 11th when it comes to apricots.  

As always, the menu is subject to change.  If there are any food preferences or dietary restrictions that we have overlooked, please let us know.  We look forward to seeing everyone!

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