Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sovereign State #3: Algeria

The Menu:
Couscous Algérien (couscous with stewed vegetables and chickpeas)
Tagine de Poulet aux Abricots (Braised chicken with apricots and pine nuts)
Merguez (spicy lamb sausage)
Loubia (Algerian green beans with almonds)
Harissa (spicy pepper condiment)
Khobz Mbesses (semolina cake with orange blossom water and lemon)

I have always been intrigued by North Africa. The French always seem to make a place feel more romantic and mysterious (you know, minus all the bloodshed and everything). So it was a friend's birthday and I decided to cook her an Algerian feast instead of buying her something she might not like. I like experiences over presents most of the time anyway. I went down to Pike Place Market and got my brand new beautiful tagine from Sur La Table (as much as I wanted to get the really expensive La Crueset one I opted to go for the more authentic, and much cheaper ceramic version) and then I purchased some merguez sausage from my friend at Uli's Sausage. I had already gathered all of the other ingredients the day before at the Capitol Hill farmers market so everything was super fresh and locally grown. The feast ended up taking me about 4 or so hours to cook. Not too bad for the amount of food I made.

I prepared the harissa the night before to let the flavors meld. It's super easy and once again the condiment is the star of the show. I will be putting homemade harissa on everything from now on. All you do is take a few dried guajillo chiles and a few chiles de ristra (New Mexican chilies) and soak them for over an hour in warm water. Remove the seeds and stems and throw them in the blender with a tsp each of caraway & coriander seeds (grinded), two cloves of crushed garlic, and olive oil. The end, delicious. I always forget how easy it is to cook couscous. It's nice to mix it up once in a while. I suppose there are a few moments in life when want to eat rice. Boil water, add couscous, remove from heat, wait 5 minutes, fluff with fork (water 1.5 to couscous 1). The vegetable stew in the couscous Algérien was very flavorful and vegan I might add. The vegetables were a little overcooked to my likings and I actually even halved the cooking time but the flavors were super deep and satisfying so that made me overcome my fear of soft squash (papaphobia I think. . . No that's a fear of the Pope [seriously, look it up]). I decided to cook the green beans a little less to have some crunch in the meal. They were nice and spicy with a hint of garlic. The almonds gave them even more texture. Anyways, I was very curious at how the chicken with apricots was going to turn out. I'm not a huge fan of overly sweet savory dishes and the recipe called for quite a bit of apricot preserves in addition to the sliced dried apricots in the dish. But the sweetness was actually perfectly balanced by the spices and the heat from a little bit of chilies. I couldn't believe how juicy the chicken turned out. The leg meat almost fell off the bones when you touched it. It was obscenely delicious. I think I ate like 4 pieces of chicken and had no regrets. I actually decided to save the merguez for the following day to cook with leftovers. There was just too much food.

And then there was dessert. Let it be known that I am not a dessert kind of girl. While most people are eating sweets after diner I would rather be snacking on a hot dog. When I was in culinary school the cooks would have to rotate into the pastry department (and vice versa) and I would be the one trying to figure out ways to bake pork into the bread or cheese in the cookies. So since it was my friends birthday and my lovely K is always asking me to make desserts I decided to make a cake. The thing is, I was cooking Algerian and it had to be an Algerian cake. I had to find something that my unsweetened tooth would get enjoyment out of. I came a cross a recipe for Khobz Mbesses, a semolina cake with orange blossom water and lemons. That sounded awesome so I went with it. The cake was very interesting (in a good way, not in a "I don't want to hurt your feelings but I have no tact and I'm going to anyway" kind of way). It had the consistency of a really soft, fluffy cornbread with a very floral smell to it. It was just the right amount of sweet and tart with fresh lemon and orange juices and just a bit of sugar and vanilla. I was pretty happy with the end result and K loved it the most constantly referring to it as "her yummy cake". Actually I think maybe my cat Clara enjoyed it the most as she managed to rip a hole in the plastic wrap and eat a cat face- sized hole straight to the bottom of the dish while we were sleeping.

So yes, another success and another culture's delicious cuisine to add to my repertoire. I will definitely be making some of these dishes again. Especially the hariissa (I wasn't joking about lathering it on everything from now on) and I'll probably have to cook the semolina cake for K again (and Clara). Plus I'm excited to get to use my new tagine again when Morocco rolls around. Next up, Andorra.

For more info on this project, read this: 203 Sovereign States


Nicole said...

Thank you so much for including me in your Algerian feast. The cake was so amazing. I'm going to pester you to make it again. Everything was delicious and the presentation was beautiful.

Violet said...

Glad you liked it. You'll have to come over when I do Italy next year. ;)