Posts Tagged ‘Arabic Culture’

Book Review ~ Marrakesh by Design by Maryam Montague

June 14th, 2012 9 comments

It’s not often that I read an interior design book cover to cover. I had been waiting for some time for Marrakesh by Design, published last month and written by Maryam Montague, an American expat and hotel-owner living in Morocco. She writes the well-regarded blog My Marrakesh, and her home was featured in the April issue of Elle Decor magazine.

There is a certain flair to Moroccan design—something I haven’t observed in other Arab countries. Of course, there are beautiful items from all over the Middle East and North Africa, but when I see iconic objects like painted tea glasses, a fanciful teapot, pierced lantern, door knocker, tagine, colorful pouf, or pointy slippers, I think that’s Moroccan, and I have a clear association with the country.

Meanwhile, many design elements highlighted in the book are not unique to Morocco but are Islamic and Arabian—familiar all around the region. As the author states, Morocco has design influence from the Arabs, Berbers, Turks, Spanish, French and other African countries.

This eclectic blend is featured in the book’s captivating photographs of real homes in Morocco. The author, who took most of the photos herself, showcases a wide range of living spaces—from simple to bohemian, from grand to humble, and from traditional to surprisingly contemporary and whimsical.

Going way beyond adding a pouf or lantern to your living room, this book is divided into three parts. The first part “Discovering Moroccan Style” explores the architecture, colors, finishes and patterns of the country. Here the author goes into the artisanal and craft traditions of Morocco. I especially enjoyed the chapters on patterns and color.

The second part “Living Moroccan Style” provides examples of how to incorporate this style into bedrooms, salons, bathrooms, entries, gardens, and my favorite—kitchens. The last part of the book offers tips for buying carpets, pottery and all those distinctive Moroccan items. Finally, the book ends with lists of sources online and around the world for gathering these goodies.

The information is surprisingly detailed, like that on the art of zellij (mosaic tile), as well as the layout of the traditional Moroccan home and the meaning behind various motifs. Throughout the book are “Bring it Home” sidebars with hands-on projects for all types of living spaces. These practical ideas are interspersed with cultural information on such things as Moroccan greetings, superstitions, and even how to make Moroccan mint tea—all good stuff for lovers of Morocco.

As for me, the book has been a bit of a revelation. I have been collecting Arabian bric-a-brac for the past twenty years. But after I while, I stopped seeing my own things; they began to look like clutter. I drew inspiration from Maryam’s photos, which gave me fresh eyes to see my own home, my collections and the potential therein.

Granted, I will not be stenciling my ceiling, re-tiling my bathroom, or making a fountain out of a flower pot. However, I just might add a pierced lantern above my dining table, buy a Berber carpet, rearrange my Hand of Fatima collection, and plant some jasmine by my door.

Marrakesh by Design is for anyone who adores all things Moroccan or Arabian. Even if you are (like me) more of a daydreamer than a decorator, the photos alone are worth this book’s place on your coffee table—crafted, of course, out of an antique window.

To know more, here’s a 1-minute video introduction to Marrakesh by Design.


Question: What are your thoughts on Moroccan design or this book?

Preserved Lemons ~ A Distinctive Flavor in Moroccan Cooking

June 9th, 2012 10 comments

Lemons are present in some form in practically every Arabic meal. The Moroccans take it a step further by using preserved lemons in their cooking, which give a refreshing tangy flavor to many of their dishes.

Imagine a very intense, incredibly flavorful lemon zest, but silky and fragrant. Preserved lemons retain all of their lemony-ness even when slow cooked in a tagine. Essential in a Moroccan kitchen, they are used in salads and dressings, in lamb and vegetable tagines, and as a garnish. Preserved lemons are the star ingredient of the well-known Moroccan dish Chicken Tagine with Lemons and Olives.

Not to be confused with dried lemons (which are darkened and hard), preserved lemons keep their vibrant yellow color. Basically they are lemons pickled in salt. Normally cooks use the peel alone and discard the pulp, but you can use the pulp, too, if desired.

The unique texture and flavor of preserved lemons cannot be substituted with fresh lemon. Don’t even try. However, you can easily prepare preserved lemons at home. But here’s the catch: they require at least a month to mature before they’re ready to use. So, if you’d like to use them in your cooking, you’ll need to plan ahead. Way ahead.

Preserved Lemons – What you’ll need

1 large sterilized jar with tight-fitting lid

10 lemons (unwaxed, preferably organic) or as many that will squeeze into your jar

10 Tablespoons sea salt or kosher salt, (Not iodized table salt), 1 T for each lemon

Fresh lemon juice, as needed


1. Wash, scrub, and dry lemons. For each lemon: cut the tips off. Standing each lemon vertically, cut the lemon into quarters, but don’t cut all the way through. Leave about a half-inch uncut.

3. Stuff one tablespoon sea salt into each lemon.

4. One by one, stuff the lemons into the jar. The lemons will soften and release their juices, making it possible to pack them in. Pack them down and squeeze in as many as you can.

5. If the jar is fully packed, the juice from the lemons should nearly fill the jar. Add some additional fresh lemon juice if necessary. It’s important that all the lemons are covered with the salted lemon juice. Leave some airspace before sealing the jar.

6. Store in a cool dark place or the refrigerator for at least a month. The longer they are left, the better the flavor. To use, scoop out and discard the pulp. Rinse the lemon peel under water to get rid of the salt. Chop finely, in slivers, or as instructed. Preserved lemons can be used for up to a year.

Question: How do you use preserved lemons in your cooking? 

Arab-themed Quilts at Local Quilt Show

May 22nd, 2012 6 comments

Today I trekked to my neighborhood quilt shop Craft Land to see a local quilt show. Dubai quilters, many of them students, created the quilts on display. It was a small show, but amongst the traditional quilts I found, as I do at every Dubai quilt show I attend, some Arab-themed and regional themed quilts.

The quilt below is “Arabian Inspirations” by Mary Nisbet.

Below is a quilt entitled “You Don’t See this at Home” by Maureen Wilson. It features all the symbols of the UAE, made with the colors of the sand.

These are details from the quilt “Reflections” by Leslie McKinlay.










Below is a quilt entitled “Pharoah’s Tent” by Ansie Vanderwalt, based on the traditional appliqué made by Egyptian quilters in the Tentmaker Quarter in Cairo.

This piece is in the category of wearable art–a jacket with appliqué of the skyline of Dubai. Yes, that is the Burj Khalifa.

This quilt has a regional theme; it’s called “Unforgettable Sri Lanka” by Mandy Peden. I like the elephant motif and the beaded trim.

Finally, here’s a spectacular quilt made by Suzette Pont, entitled “Circle of Friends.” Not Arab-themed, but one of my favorites.

The quilt show is running through this Saturday. It’s in Town Center Mall on Jumeira Beach Road. (Details to the left)

My next goal is to see the Dubai International Quilt Show, which I missed this year.

Question: Have you been to a quilt show in Dubai?