My trip to Algeria was about spending time with my family and friends, soaking up the sun, the blue sky and the sea; introducing my daughter to her origins, to my country, to my continent, to the place where her dad and I first met, to her cousins, her big and diverse family. Our trip was about love, fun and food.
We were six under the same roof. Every morning, my daughter would run down the stairs and into the kitchen to jump into my father's arms before sitting on his lap and take a sip from his coffee. My mother would already be wrapped in her apron doing important things like sweating some onions or dicing some vegetables. Breakfasts were toasts, caak, croissants, pastries, for the brave souls, which I am not, and m'semmen for special days and weekends. Mornings were laid-back, evenings were lingering with tea and sweets at 6PM and chocolate and dates at 12AM. My husband then joined us, followed by my sister, her husband and her three kids. We were then twelve under the same roof. There was no need to turn on the heating and no room to feel lonely. Some of us enjoyed spending time in the family room, others, like myself, snuggled in my parents bed watching cartoons with the kids. But the kitchen was where we all came together. It was in the kitchen where we laughed, argued, ate delicious meals, relaxed, danced, teased one another, where my daughter had her first earrings, where twice a week I ironed my father's shirts, where my sister nursed her one month old son, where my father reads his newspapers, where my husband had his first roasted lamb's tail and where I covered my eyes to avoid seeing such things as people eating lamb's tail.
But let's not talk about animal parts today. I'll leave it for later, for the brave souls. Today I want it to be special. As you have always been so nice to me, I want to share with you a recipe I should have told you about a while ago, as it is my favorite of all. I believe if I had one last meal, this dish would be on my table no doubt about it. This is my mother's spicy greens with bulgur.
Originally, the recipe calls for a variety of greens called khoubiz or bakool , which is found growing wild in the fields of North Africa. It tastes like a cross between arugula (rocket leaves) and watercress, with a hint of acidity, and there is no real equivalent for it here in the US. After experimenting, with fair results, with spinach, arugula, Tuscan kale, dandelion, I've had the best luck with the combination of spinach and arugula. It may not be much to look at, but when you have cumin, turmeric and red pepper flakes mingling with bulgur and spinach and arugula, the fusion is irresistible. Even for those who pretend detesting spinach, or any greens for that matter. (I have a friend who wouldn't eat anything with a green color and he absolutely loves this dish)
The spices and the cloves of garlic are pounded using a mortar and pestle to extract as much aroma before adding the resulting paste to the "sweaty" onions. As you pour the stock over the lovely ochre colored onions, restrain yourself from dipping your bread, or your fingers, as the sauce gets ready for the bulgur. At the end, steamed spinach and arugula join the party; a party that took half an hour to put together and will take half the time to gulp down. It's exquisite, I assure you. It's even exquisite the following day straight from the fridge, sitting on the countertop with a piece of bread in one hand and orange soda in the other. Every bite brings with it a part of home and my mother's kitchen into my own kitchen.
Thank you, mama!
My mother's Spicy Greens with Bulgur (Tchicha bel Khoubiz)
Recipe: Serves 4
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled
- 1 tsp cumin, freshly ground
- 1 tsp red chili pepper flakes
- 1/4 tsp turmeric
-1 tbsp tomato paste
- 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- 2 tbsp fine bulgur
- 1 spinach bunch
- 1 arugula bunch
- 1 tbsp cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
- 1 tbsp parsley leaves, roughly chopped
- Salt, Black Pepper
Wash the spinach and arugula. Drain off the excess water and put them in the basket section of a steamer. Cover and steam over simmering water until the greens just start to wilt, but still have their vibrant green color, about 5 - 7 minutes. When cold to handle, squeeze the water out of the greens and chop roughly. Set aside.
In a pan, heat the olive oil. Add the onions and cook on a medium heat until translucent but not brown, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, pound the garlic with turmeric, cumin, and pepper flakes to a paste using a mortar and pestle. Add the garlic paste to the onions and stir to incorporate. Add The tomato paste and the stock and bring to a boil. Add the bulgur and stir again. Lower the heat to a gentle simmer and cook covered until the bulgur is tender, about 15 minutes, depending on the variety of your bulgur.
Uncover the pan and add the steamed greens and the herbs to the sauce. Stir and cook for another 2 minutes and then remove from the heat. Season with salt and pepper and serve.
The dish keeps well in the fridge for up to 2 days, although I never recall keeping it longer than one day.
La recette épicée des épinards au bulghour de ma mère
In Français Please: Pour 4 personnes
- 2 c.s d'huile d'olive vierge
- 1 oignon moyen, finement haché
- 3 gousses d'ail
- 1 c.c de cumin, fraichement moulu
- 1 c.c de poivre rouge du chili
- 1/4 c.c de curcuma
- 1 c.s de tomate en conserve
- 2 c.s de boulghour
- 500ml de bouillon de volaille ou de légumes
- 1 bouquet d'épinard
- 1 bouquet de roquette
- 1 c.s de coriandre, grossièrement hachée
- 1 c.s de persil, grossièrement haché
Laver les épinards et la roquette. Essorer le plus de liquide possible et les faire cuire a la vapeur jusqu'à ce que les feuilles commencent a "fondre" mais tout en gardant leur belle couleur verte, environ 5-7 minutes. Essorer l''exces d'eau et hacher grossièrement les herbes. Mettre de cote.
Dans une poêle, chauffer l'huile d'olive. Ajouter l'oignon et laisser cuire jusqu'à ce qu'il devienne transparent, mais sans qu'il caramélise, environ 5 minutes. Entre temps, a l'aide d'un mortier réduire les gousses d'ail et les épices en une pate. L'ajouter aux oignons et tourner a l'aide d'une cuillère en bois. Ajouter la tomate en conserve et le bouillon. Porter a ébullition puis verser les graines de bourghoul en pluie sur le bouillon. Réduire le feu, couvrir la poêle et laisser les graines cuire, environ 15 minutes. Découvrir la poêle et ajouter les épinards, roquette, persil et coriandre. Remuer encore avec la cuillère en bois et donner un autre bouillon avant de retirer du feu, environ deux minutes. Gouter et assaisonner de sel et poivre noir si nécessaire. Servir.
Ce plat se garde bien au frais pendant deux jours, mais j'avoue ne l'avoir jamais garder plus d'un jour dans mon frigo car il est irrésistible.