A hero of San Francisco’s red-hot culinary scene has adapted a classic example of soulful North African cuisine for home cooking.
Aziza, San Francisco
To be transported to vibrant Morocco—or actually to one man’s superb crossover remix of it—step into the bold cobalt-blue and saffron-yellow dining room of Aziza restaurant in San Francisco’s outer Richmond District (415-752-2222, aziza-sf.com ).
Since 2001, Marrakech-born chef Mourad Lahlou has honored the dazzling cuisine of his homeland by mastering and then reinterpreting it, incorporating organic ingredients from his weekly farmers’ market outings and applying some ultramodern cooking techniques.
One dish that showcases the evolution of Lahlou’s cooking is shrimp tagine. It’s a riff on a classic Moroccan seafood stew in which mussels, clams, scallops, and fish are simmered in a spicy tomato-based sauce. But making the original requires a deft hand, because the several varieties of seafood cook at different rates. Lahlou invented an all-shrimp version to simplify the recipe and to play up the crustaceans’ sweetness. For more than a year, it was one of the most popular dishes he offered. With Lahlou’s ever changing menu and constant refinement, shrimp tagine still makes an appearance—these days as a dainty amuse-bouche served atop a spoon.
“It started out being a dish I wanted to re-create from Morocco,” he says. “But eventually, I wanted to make it more personal and timely.”
At home, you can make the full-scale dish easily on the stovetop. The shrimp cook in a sauce rich with paprika, cumin, ginger, and saffron. Or, for a textural contrast that Lahlou enjoys, cook vegetables in the sauce and arrange the grilled shrimp on top.
Look for more of Lahlou’s recipes in his first cookbook, to be published this fall, which will showcase the Moroccan dishes he likes to make at home.
Adapted with permission from Mourad Lahlou, Aziza
Preserved lemons lend a piquant tang to this dish. Buy them in jars at gourmet stores—or make your own. Preserved lemons are washed, whole lemons split lengthwise, packed with abundant salt, submerged in lemon juice, and allowed to macerate—a fancy word for steeping or soaking—for up to a few weeks, at which point they are ready to use. For complete directions, go to foodgal.com/2009/01/meyer-lemons-the-salty .
¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro, plus whole sprigs for garnish
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch of saffron threads, crumbled
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 ½ pounds large shrimp, shelled and deveined, tails left on
2 ¼ pounds plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 large carrots, thinly sliced
1 large sweet onion, such as Walla Walla, Vidalia, or Maui, thinly sliced
4 large Red Bliss potatoes (about 1 ½ pounds), peeled and thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
1 yellow bell pepper, cut into thin strips
½ preserved lemon, peel only, thinly sliced
½ cup pitted green olives
1. In a medium bowl, combine the parsley with the chopped cilantro, lemon juice, paprika, ginger, saffron, and olive oil. Add the shrimp, toss to coat with the marinade, and refrigerate for two hours.
2. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, combine the tomatoes with the garlic, cumin, salt, and pepper. Simmer over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes have broken down and thickened slightly, about 10 minutes.
3. In a large enameled cast-iron casserole or Dutch oven, spread the sliced carrots in a layer and season lightly with salt and pepper. Add the onion, potatoes, and bell peppers, lightly seasoning each layer with salt and pepper. Spread the tomato sauce on top. Cover and simmer over moderately low heat until the vegetables are just tender, about 20 minutes.
4. Remove the shrimp from the marinade and set aside. Mix ¼ cup of water into the marinade and pour the mixture into the casserole. Add the preserved lemon and olives, then arrange the shrimp on top in a single layer. Cover and cook over moderately low heat until the shrimp curl and turn pink, about 3 minutes. Transfer the shrimp to a plate; cover with foil to keep warm. Raise the heat to moderate and cook the tagine uncovered, stirring several times, until the liquid thickens, about 5 minutes; be sure the vegetables on the bottom don’t burn. Transfer the tagine to a bowl and top with the reserved shrimp. Garnish with cilantro sprigs and serve.
Photography by Gabriela Hasbun 
This article was published in May 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.