All about Algeria

July 31, 2014

image courtesy of http://www.flags.net

Africa is big. Really, really, really, really big. I was lucky enough to recently visit South Africa…the most southern part of Africa. I enjoyed the food very much but as we go almost 7,000 miles north (that would be over twice the length of America coast to coast), I was curious to see if there were any similarities to what I had encountered in the south. Unsurprisingly, no not really. Whereas South Africa was colonized by the English and Dutch, Algeria was of course part of the Ottoman Empire and reflects this more than even the French presence in the 19th and 20th centuries.

I have always found it interesting that no one (in the West at least) thinks about the Ottoman Empire with any sense of grandeur. Our standard for empires is Roman of course, which lasted the better part of 500 years before moving to the east and becoming Byzantine. Yet this is still roughly 100 years shorter than the Ottoman Empire ruled. How does this relate to food you ask? The Berbers or Amazigh peoples of North Africa were the indigenous folk and have had the largest influence on cuisine in Algeria. Although many are not familiar with the Berbers, they have heard the antiquated moniker “Barbary Coast”. This is the former name for the region of North African region west of Egypt. This area is known for its use of many ingredients including lamb.

I’ve actually never cooked with lamb before so I looked for a dish that emphasized its flavor and texture potential. I decided on Harira, a ubiquitous soup of the Maghreb (formerly Barbary) region. The challenge of this dish for my wife and I was trying to like cilantro. This herb that grows from coriander seeds is known for its potent and lively flavor popular in cuisines from India to Mexico. In my experience, it just bulldozes over other more subtle flavors which is why I don’t usually cook with it. In addition to the main course I made Kesra which is a simple traditional semolina flatbread.

How did it go? Well… it was really tasty and I liked it the best of the three countries so far. Why does mine not look like a soup as it should? Well, I could write something poetic about making it my own way, or that nothing in this world is perfect, but really; it’s because I cooked it with the lid off by accident and thus it ended up much thicker. The flavors were all there and as I said it was really good, but human error is a natural part of cooking…apparently.

The lamb and cinnamon worked unbelievably well together which surprised me greatly. As for the cilantro, I still don’t love the strength of the flavor but it wasn’t terrible and maybe next time I would just cut back a lot on how much is added. All in all I am very pleased and full. Thank you Berbers, for this symphony of spices, which was both filling and healthy.

Next we visit the mother from Bewitched…that’s what Andorra is right?

 

This is the consistency my bread dough had before resting.

IMG_3031

 


Harira

Serves: 3

   1/2 pound cubed lamb meat

   1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

   3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

   1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

   1/8 teaspoon ground ginger

   1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (optional)

   1 tablespoon butter

   1/2 onion, chopped

   1/2 red onion, chopped

   1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

   14 oz canned diced tomatoes

   3-1/2 cups water

   1/4 cup and 2 tablespoons red lentils

   7 oz garbanzo beans, drained

   2 ounces vermicelli pasta

   1 eggs, beaten

   1/2 lemon, juiced

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Directions:

  1. Place the lamb, turmeric, black pepper, cinnamon, ginger, cayenne, butter, celery, onion, and cilantro into a large pot over a low heat. Stir frequently for 5 minutes. Pour tomatoes (reserve juice) into the mixture and let simmer for 15 minutes.

  2. Pour tomato juice, 3.5 cups water, and the lentils into the pot. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to simmer. Let soup simmer, covered, for at least 1 hour or longer until desired consistency is reached.

  3. About 10 minutes before serving turn the heat to medium-high, place chickpeas and noodles into the soup, let cook about 10 minutes. Stir in lemon and egg, let egg cook 1 minute.


Kesra

Servings: 8 (pieces of bread)

   1 Tbsp Active Dry Yeast

   1/2 tsp Sugar

   2 Tbsp. very warm Water

   2 1/2 C. finely ground Semolina Flour

   1/2 Tbsp Salt

   6 Tbsp Olive Oil or Canola Oil

   Water, as needed to form dough

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Directions:

  1. Mix dry yeast and sugar with very warm water. Set aside for 10-15 minutes to let the yeast proof.

  2. Meanwhile, mix salt into the semolina until well blended. Add oil and work the oil into the dry ingredients. This is most easily done by rubbing the flour and oil together with your fingers, until the oil is evenly dispersed.

  3. Slowly add enough water to form a soft dough. The amount of water needed will vary, depending on humidity and other factors, but shouldn’t be very much. (Always add slowly)

  4. Knead the dough until it is smooth. Set aside and let it rest for 30 minutes.

  5. Divide the dough into 8 small balls. Flatten each ball into a circle about 1/4 “ – 1/2 ” thick.

  6. Cook the flatbread in a hot, non-stick pan until browned and puffed on both sides … roughly 10 minutes on each side.

 

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Albania-mania

July 28, 2014

Second in our alphabetical edible tour of the world is Albania, situated on the Adriatic Sea. A handy way

image courtesy of http://www.flags.net

to remember where it is on a map, is that if Italy really was a boot, Albania would get nicked by the heel on the back swing. Now that’s settled on to the food!

I had a little trouble, not for the last time I’m sure, finding a dish that was Albanian specifically. So many empires and countries have controlled the areas in and around Albania for so long, it is unsurprising that a national culinary identity might be difficult to pin down. Under Roman and then Byzantine control for hundreds of years, this was followed by incorporation into the Ottoman Empire in 1431. Independence was not recognized until 1913 and only lasted for a scant few years before Italian and Nazi occupation during the Second World War. Following the end of the war and some power struggles, Albania was a communist state until 1992. This turmoil left little time to develop a citizen based culture in which food could be explored.

Much like other countries in the area, they use fresh vegetables and rely on olive oil heavily. I settled on a simple green bean stew which reminded me very much of Italian and Greek cuisine. This one pot stew is incredibly easy to make and very tasty. There are two flavors which really stand out and give this dish a unique punch. The use of liquid smoke adds a wonderful aroma and flavor without the need to fire up the charcoal. The hero of the dish which separates it from other Italian and Greek preparations is the use of Paprika. It is not uncommon to have it sprinkled on dish of humus for example as an accent, but I rarely find it playing the lead role in seasoning. This trait is more common in Hungary and Romania, which is actually not that surprising, as they are situated only one country away from Albania on the other sides from Italy and Greece.

This stew comes off as almost a thinner, more tomato based goulash, but the green beans playing a lead role keeps it lighter and fresher, more like an Italian dish. You can cook it down to the thickness you prefer and can serve over rice or bread if wanted. I usually only look to green beans as a nice side to pair with a main course but they really step up making this dish healthier. I would absolutely make this dish again, it is fast, easy, tasty and would be a perfect entree anywhere from late summer through early Spring.

Next up, our first trip to the African continent with Algeria…

IMG_2988 IMG_2996

 


Albanian Green Bean Stew

Serves: 2

1 1/2 cups chicken, cut into bite size pieces

2 cups green beans, trimmed and cut in half

1 small red potatoes, cut into bite size pieces

1 medium onion, sliced thinly

3 -4 garlic cloves

1 medium tomato, diced (or one half of a large tomato)

1 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon oregano

2 cups vegetable broth

3 tablespoons olive oil plus 1 tablespoon olive oil

1 1/2 – 2 teaspoons liquid smoke

smoked salt, to taste

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Directions:

1. Heat a medium pot over medium heat with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. When hot enough, add the chicken and saute until golden on all sides about 4-5 minutes. Towards the end at the liquid smoke and Smoked Salt. Remove from pot and set aside.

2. Now add about 2-3 tablespoons of Olive Oil to the pot. Add the onions and saute for a good 8 minutes until they are translucent and tender. If your pot has burned pieces, deglaze it with a bit of vegetable broth. Add the garlic and saute for a minute until fragrant. Now it’s time to add the green beans and potatoes. Saute the green beans and potatoes for about 5 minutes.

3. Now add the tomato, paprika, oregano, chili flakes and season with salt and pepper. Saute for another two minutes. Add the vegetable broth or water and bring to a boil and then to a simmer. After a couple of minutes add the chicken that you have set aside. Simmer the stew for about 45-50 minutes until the green beans and potatoes are tender. If the stew starts to get dry simply add some more broth. Re-season with salt and pepper to taste if necessary. Let the stew sit for 15 minutes or you can eat it has soon has it finished cooking.

 

A is for Afghanistan

July 26, 2014

image courtesy of www.flags.net

image courtesy of http://www.flags.net

On our alphabetical tour around the world, our first stop is in Afghanistan. I am woefully ignorant about this country despite the notoriety due to its involvement in the vast global terror situations over the last 15 years. A dish called Kabuli Palaw is the national dish of this embroiled country, which actually is a simple and yet unique pilaf.

Although I did my best to adhere to a conglomeration of various recipes, I did make adaptations when necessary. I did not, for example, have any saffron as I am working with an average budget.

The assembly of the dish was very easy if everything is measured out ahead of time (which is always a good idea). I am an unapologetic onion worshiper, so another small change I made was that I did not discard the onions initially cooked with the chicken to make the broth. Although much of the flavor is given to the broth, I still feel that the boiled onions lend sweetness (I always cook with sweet onions) to the dish when added back into the pot and browned with the separate onions for the sauce. You can add just some of those onions or none at all; it is completely dependent upon your preference for onions. I will say that in the final product they are indistinguishable as onions and simply thicken the end result.

The boundaries for my wife and I that this dish pushed were very different. For her, adding raisins to a savory cooked meal was not something that would normally appeal to her. As well, the fried-then-baked carrot matchsticks were also outside of her comfort zone, as she tends to prefer carrots soft like in a stew but not falling apart.

Whereas it was a matter of ingredient texture and the savory/sweet dichotomy for my wife, my battle was with one simple ingredient: cumin. For most of my life, up to this day, I have long struggled with Mexican and Indian foods. I want to like them, but there is always one flavor that has put me off for years, eventually I pinpointed it to cumin. I deliberately picked a recipe to begin my task that contained my greatest spice adversary.

In the end, when balanced with the other spices and in a reasonable quantity, I had very little problem with that unique flavor effecting my opinion of this dish. Would I order it in a restaurant prepared by someone who knows the dish backward and front? Very possibly, and I certainly have a better appreciation for cumin as well as the assembly of this classic pilaf.

Arid desert and dry mountain climates get unbearably cold and this dish would certainly keep you warm with its rich earthly taste and hearty texture. Next up…Albania.

Kabuli Palaw2


 

Kabuli Palaw

Serves: 5

2 lbs chicken, cut up

1 large onion, sliced

sea salt, to taste

1 1/2 pints hot water

1/4 lb long grain white rice

1 medium onion, thinly sliced (for sauce)

3 tablespoons butter

1/2 tablespoon ground cardamom

1/2 tablespoon ground cumin

fresh ground black pepper, to taste

healthy pinch saffron, soaked in 1 tbs broth

1 1/2 large carrot, cut into match sticks

1/4 cup dark raisins

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Directions:

1. Place chicken , onions and hot water in a large pot.

2. Cover and simmer for about 1 hour.

3. Add salt to taste.

4. Remove chicken, reserving stock & discard cooked onions.

5. Preheat oven to 325°F.

6.  Cook rice via instructions to just before done (~ 8 minutes). Set aside in a pot until ready to assemble.

7. Make stock sauce:

-Brown onions in butter and remove from heat.

-Add cardamom cumin, freshly ground black pepper & saffron liquid and mash with onion to form a paste.

-Add about 3/4 pt of the chicken stock; simmer for 5 minutes and taste for seasoning.

8. Combine cooked rice, stock sauce as needed and chicken; place in a buttered casserole. Cover.

9. Fry carrot matchsticks in 1/2 tbs butter and add raisins to them at the very end.

10. Sprinkle partially cooked carrot matchsticks and raisins on top of chicken and rice and cover tightly with aluminum foil or cover.

11. Place in oven for 35-45 minutes until desired thickness is achieved.

 

Global-Lee Eating

July 25, 2014

 

 

Two things happened to me recently which impacted the way I think about food.

1.) I traveled far abroad and remembered how much I love the food and cultures of different societies around the world.

2.) While watching an old episode of Masterchef, I saw the best home cooks in America utterly fail at making simple Chinese Food.

From the meaningful to the meaningless, these two experiences made me want to do something to expand my culinary encyclopedia.

 

 

Therefore I am taking on the daunting, yet fun task of cooking one dish from every country in the world…in alphabetical order.

I hope this will challenge my technical cooking skills as well as my palette.

 

I will be posting pictures, recipes, and thoughts as I go. So please join me if you would like and maybe we can learn some things together.

-L

 

Afghanistan

Albania

Algeria

Andorra

Angola

Antigua Barbuda

Argentina

Armenia

Australia

Austria

Azerbaijan

Bahamas, The

Bahrain

Bangladesh

Barbados

Belarus

Belgium

Belize

Benin

Bermuda

Bhutan

Bolivia

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Botswana

Brazil

Brunei