Andrew’s Essential Fiery Food Facts that a pyro-gourmaniac needs to Know
Fiery Cuisines Part 6 Algeria
Algerian cuisine traces its roots to various countries and ancient cultures that once ruled, visited, or traded with the country. Berber tribesmen were one of the country’s earliest inhabitants. Their arrival, which may extend as far back as 30,000 B.C., marked the beginning of wheat cultivation, smen (aged, cooked butter), and fruit consumption, such as dates. The introduction of semolina wheat by the Carthaginians (who occupied much of northern Africa) led the Berbers to create couscous, Algeria’s national dish. The Romans, who eventually took over Algeria, also grew various grains. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, Algeria ranked among the top ten importers of grain (such as wheat and barley) in the world
Muslim Arabs invaded Algeria in the 600s, bringing exotic spices such as saffron, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and cinnamon from the Spice Islands of eastern Indonesia. They also introduced the Islamic religion to the Berbers. Islam continues to influence almost every aspect of an Algerian’s life, including the diet.
Olives (and olive oil) and fruits such as oranges, plums, and peaches were brought across the Mediterranean from Spain during an invasion in the 1500s. Sweet pastries from the Turkish Ottomans and tea from European traders also made their way into Algerian cuisine around this time.
In the early 1800s, Algerians were driven off their own lands and forced to surrender their crops and farmland to the French. The French introduced their diet and culture to the Algerians, including their well-known loaves of bread and the establishment of sidewalk cafés. This French legacy remains evident in Algerian culture. French cuisine has contributed greatly to Algerian dishes with the use of tomato puree as well as in their aperitifs and sweets. In fact, Algeria’s second language is French.
Tomatoes, potatoes, zucchini, and chilies, significant to Algerian local cuisine, were brought over from the New World.
Traditional Algerian cuisine is a colourful combination of Berber, Turkish, French, and Arab flavours that can be either extremely mild or packed with flavourful seasonings. The Berber influence on Algerian cuisine is clearly seen in their use of stews, lamb, vegetables, grains and dried fruits. The Turks and Arabs have added spice to the mix as well as a variety of delicious pastries. You will be able to taste the distinct flavours of Ginger, saffron, onion, garlic, coriander, cumin, cinnamon, parsley, mint, caraway, marjoram, chillies, coriander and fennel in Algerian cuisine , These are all essential in any Algerian pantry. Typically, lamb and chicken are used in meals as well as fish from the Mediterranean.
Algeria’s national dish is Couscous, which is steamed and then served with meat, vegetables and sauce. It is often mistaken as a grain itself, rather than pasta. The pasta dough is a mixture of water and coarse, grainy semolina wheat particles. The dough is then crumbled through a sieve to create tiny pellets. Algerians prefer lamb, chicken, or fish to be placed on a bed of warm couscous, along with cooked vegetables such as carrots, chickpeas, and tomatoes, and spicy stews. Couscous can also be used in desserts by adding a variety of ingredients, such as cinnamon, nutmeg, dates, and figs. The Kesra, traditional Algerian flatbread, is the base of Algerian cuisine and eaten at many meals. A popular Algerian meal is merguez, an originally Amazigh or Berber sausage (see my recipe below). With other favourites such as shakshouka, Karantita, marqa bel a’assel, a speciality from Tlemcen. Spices used in Algerian cuisine are dried red chillies of different kinds, caraway, Arabian ras el hanout, black pepper and cumin, among others. Algerians also use tagines, handmade in Algeria. Frequently Algerian food is cooked in clay vessels, much like Maghrib cuisine. Algerian cuisine represents the region north of the Sahara desert and west of the Nile. Algerian chefs take a lot of pride in cooking skills and methods and their many secrets lie in the variety of ways they mix special spices.
There are many different types of Algerian salads, influenced by the French and Turkish, which may include beetroot or anchovies. There are also dishes of Spanish origin in Algeria, like the Gaspacho Oranais, an Algerian version of a Manchego dish.
No Algerian meal would be complete without bread, normally a long, French loaf. Similar to Middle Eastern customs, bread is often used to scoop food off of a plate or to soak up a spicy sauce or stew. More traditional Berber families usually eat flat, wheat bread.
Mechoui , a roasted whole lamb cooked on an outdoor spit, is usually prepared when a large group of people gathers together. The animal is seasoned with herb butter so the skin is crispy and the meat inside is tender and juicy. Bread and various dried fruits and vegetables, including dates (whose trees can thrive in the country’s Sahara desert), often accompany mechoui.
Beverages such as mint tea are the favourite among all North African countries. Tea is usually offered to visiting guests, though coffee flavoured with cardamom is another option. With the abundance of fruits all year round, fresh juices are plentiful and children tend to favour apricot nectar. Sharbats, fruit or nut-flavoured milk drinks, are popular with all ages, including sahlab , a sweet, milky drink. Traditional Berbers, in particular, prefer drinks made from goat milk, although cow milk is now available. Basbousa (Egyptian semolina cake), tamina (roasted semolina with butter and honey), and sweetened couscous are just a few sweets enjoyed by the Algerians.
Arabs are hospitable and encourage family and friends to share their food. Even an unexpected visitor will be greeted warmly and offered coffee , while the females of the household prepare the meal. Cooking continues to be considered a woman’s duty, as it has in the past. Historically, recipes and cooking customs have been passed down through generations by word of mouth when women gather together to prepare meals.
All meals (normally three a day) are leisurely and sociable, although there are varying degrees of structure and etiquette (polite behaviour). Seated at a low table tbla or mida), food is traditionally eaten with the fingers. The thumb, forefinger, and middle finger of the right hand are used (the left hand is considered unclean). To use four or five fingers is considered to be a sign of over-eating and should be avoided. The dining atmosphere in a middle class family may be a bit more elegant. A servant or young family member might visit each individual at the table, offering a bowl of perfumed water to diners for washing their hands before the meal is eaten.
The traditional after-dinner treat consists of a platter of fresh fruit topped with domestically grown sweet dates.
The country’s capital, Algiers, and popular coastal towns tend to have a wide variety of restaurants, particularly French, Italian, and Middle Eastern cuisine. Southern Algeria is less populated, and is farther from Algiers and the Mediterranean waters, where seafood and the hustle and bustle of trade are plentiful. Menus usually begin with either a soup or salad, followed by roast meat (usually lamb or beef) or fish as a main course, with fresh fruit commonly completing the meal. In the towns, souks (markets) or street stalls offer take-home products, such as spicy brochettes (kebabs) on French bread for those on the run. With the exception of an occasional fast food burger, school lunches are often such traditional foods as couscous, dried fruit, stews, and sweet fruit drinks.
Happy cooking, try these recipes and prepared to be blown away
3 Tbsp coriander seeds
1 Tbsp caraway seeds
1 Tbsp cumin seeds
1 tsp red pepper flakes
Dry fry the coriander, caraway and cumin seeds in a frying pan over medium heat for 2 – 3 minutes until fragrant.
Leave to cool completely, then place in a spice mill with the chilli flakes and blitz to a smooth powder.
Store in an airtight jar and keep with the rest of your spices.
Makes about 3/4 cup
80 gm Paprika
40 gm Cayenne pepper
40 gm Ground cumin
20 gm Ground caraway
20 gm Ground coriander
10 gm Salt
120 ml Olive oil
Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl to form a paste. Will keep fresh for 2-3 months if stored refrigerated.
The amount and proportion of spices can be varied according to your taste.
Add 2-3 cloves of garlic or 1-2 tbls of tomato paste for a richer, rounder flavour.
I like to substitute 2 Dried Habanero chillies for some or all of the paprika if you like. I soak the chillies in warm water first to soften them up.
60 ml Olive oil or butter
500gm Lamb, cubed for stewing
180 gm Onion, chopped
2 stalks Celery, chopped
1 tsp Turmeric
1 tsp Cinnamon
½ tsp Ground ginger
¼ tsp Nutmeg
¼ gm Saffron
400gm Tomatoes, chopped
5 l Water or stock
250 gm Chickpeas, cooked
120 gm Red Lentils
1 tsp Salt and pepper
½ bunch Coriander chopped
½ bunch Parsley chopped
2 Lemons, cut into wedges
Heat the oil or butter in a large pot over medium-high flame. Add the lamb and brown on all sides. Remove the meat to a plate and set aside.
Reduce heat to medium and add the onions and celery. Sauté until the onions are translucent, 4-5 minutes. Add the spices and sauté for another 1-2 minutes.
Stir in the tomatoes and cook for 3-4 minutes. Finally pour in the stock and return the meat to the pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for about 45 minutes.
Add the chickpeas, lentils, salt and pepper and simmer for another 20 minutes, or until the lentils cooked through and tender.
Adjust seasoning, stir in the Coriander and parsley and serve with lemon wedges for each diner to squeeze into their stew as desired.
3 tbls Olive oil
2 tbls Paprika
1 tbls Habanero chopped
140 gm Onion, thinly sliced
10 gm Garlic, chopped
200gm Tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
1 Green Capsicum diced
2 Red Capsicum, diced
1 cup Water
Salt and pepper — to taste
4 Eggs (optional)
Heat the oil in a deep skillet over medium flame. Stir in the paprika and cook slightly to colour the oil, about 10 to 15 seconds. Add the onions and garlic and sauté until the onions are translucent and wilted but not browned, about 5 minutes.
Add the tomatoes and cook for 3 to 4 minutes to reduce down a little bit. Add the capsicums, water and salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for about 10 minutes. Add more water as needed to keep it from drying out.
Using a spoon, form four small indentations in the simmering sauce to hold the eggs. One by one, crack the eggs into a small bowl and slip each from the bowl into an indentation. Cover and simmer for another 10 minutes or so until eggs are cooked through.
Serve with crusty bread, pita or rice.
1 kg Ground lamb or beef, or a mixture of the two
180 gm Onion, minced
½ bunch Fresh parsley finely chopped
½ bunch mint, finely chopped
1 tbls Ground cumin
2 tsp Cinnamon
1 tsp Allspice
1 tsp Salt and pepper
60 ml Oil
Place the ground beef or lamb, onion, herbs, spices, salt and pepper in a large bowl and knead together well. Wrap in plastic and chill for 1 to 2 hours to allow the flavours to mingle and make the meat easier to handle.
Form the meat mixture into balls, patties or ovals the size of a small egg.
Heat the oil in a skillet over medium flame and, working in batches, sauté the meatballs until browned on all sides and cooked through. Browned meatballs can also be finished in a 175 ºc oven.
Serve as is or in pita bread as a sandwich with tzatziki sauce.
Loubia B’Dersa ALGERIAN CHILI
LOUBIA is an Algerian speciality that gets its flavour from DERSA, a spicy blend of ground dried red chilies (use Red Cayenne’s), garlic, and ground cumin. Dersa is a predominant seasoning in the cuisine. A dash of vinegar is traditionally added to each bowl of Loubia on serving.
500gm (2 cups) small navy beans, soaked
60 ml cup olive oil
160 gm onion, finely diced
3 small dried red chilies, seeded
2 tbls garlic cloves, minced
1 tbls sweet paprika
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
4 tsp ground cumin
180 gm tomato paste
260 gm tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1.75 L water or vegetable stock
2 bay leaves
¼ tsp cayenne
½ bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped
2 1/2 tsp salt
¼ bunch fresh coriander, chopped
Cider vinegar or red wine vinegar, optional
Soak and drain the beans. Set aside.
SOAKING BEANS: Rinse and pick over the beans and soak them overnight in a
bowl of water to cover. Drain and proceed with the recipe. For the
quick-soak method, place the beans in a large soup pot and add 10 cups of hot water.
Bring them to a rolling boil for 2 to 3 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the
beans stand in the cooking water for a minimum of 1 hour.
Drain the beans and proceed with the recipe. The older the beans, the longer they
Will need to be cook .
Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat, cook the onion, stirring occasionally, until tender; 6 to 8 minutes.
Add the chilies, garlic, paprika, pepper, and cumin. Cook, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes.
Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, until the mixture thickens, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in
the tomatoes and 1 cup of the water or broth and bring to a boil.
Add the beans, the remaining 6 cups water or broth, the bay leaves, cayenne, and ½ of the
parsley sprigs tied together with cotton string. Mince the remaining parsley
and set aside. Lower the heat to medium low, cover, and cook the beans until
tender, 1 to 2 hours.
Before serving, discard the chillies, bay leaves, and tied parsley. Season with salt. Stir in the reserved minced parsley and cilantro. Serve hot with vinegar on the side.
Algerian MERGUEZA LAMB SAUSAGE
1 ½ kg. lean lamb trim
1 Tbls. salt
1½ Tbls. cumin
2 tsp. coarse ground black pepper
4 Tbls. paprika
1½ tsp. cayenne
1 tsp. cinnamon
½ cup pomegranate juice
1½ Tbls. minced garlic
1 tsp. dry ginger
1 tsp. thyme leaves
hog casings for stuffing
Grind lamb trimmings once through the medium ( ½ cm) plate of a meat grinder.
Mix together all remaining ingredients; pour over meat and mix well with your hands.
Grind through the ½ cm plate again with a stuffing horn attached into hog casings
Twist or tie into 5-inch lengths.