Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Hidden gems of Algerian cooking



A couple of days ago, my husband came back from a business trip to Europe and an agreeable, though extremely short, one to Algeria where he visited our family and feasted on some of our beloved, dearly missed dishes that we can’t find or have difficulties duplicating here in Michigan due to the lack of ingredients. While most of our cooking is based on spices, fresh seasonal vegetables and grains, most of them widely available in the US, some more regional recipes are based on local herbs, techniques and just the heritage of our cherished native country.

Mexicans have Mole and Algerians (mostly Eastern part of the country) have M’loukhiya. While all Mole preparations begin with chili peppers, M’loukhiya (which in Ancient Egypt means “for kings and nobles”) is made using the leaves of Jute, removed from the stem and ground to a fine powder. It is cooked with olive oil, lamb, beef or chicken, garlic, fresh bay leaves, dried mint leaves, ground caraway and coriander and other spices. While the meat and garlic and spices are cooking, jute powder is mixed with water or broth and slowly poured into the meat mixture. M’loukhiya simmers until it thickens to a smooth mole like sauce, between 5 to 7 hours. And though the smell can be quite strong and reminiscent to some people to Henna, it is simply exquisite, with complex flavor that only calls for a crusty French baguette and a hungry stomach. Algerian and Tunisian M’loukhiya is different from Egyptian and Middle Eastern M’loukhiya where they use a different variety and the whole leaves of Jute. I might see Indian stores if they have the same variety of Jute to recreate this recipe at home.



I know what you’re thinking: spaghetti and meatballs? The dish in itself is one of a kind, but look closer to the dish and you will see Merguez sausages. Merguez is childhood memories, summer sandwiches at the beach, lazy dinners with tomato sauce and poached eggs. Merguez is Algeria: warm, bold, irresistible and memorable. While my husband makes killers Merguez at home, It can be a hassle to make them using the sausage maker attachment of our Kitchen Aid and I simply miss the convenience of just walking to the butcher and pick up some Merguez sausages for dinner.

Rechta Noodles with Chicken Stew

Rechta noodles are your typical wheat-flour-based-noodles, but what makes them unique is not only the shape but also the cooking method: fresh Rechta noodles, and even dried ones, are steamed, never cooked in bowling water. This way, they have a bite even when cooked and a lovely elasticity and chewiness. Rechta is traditionally served with a spiced, magnificent chicken, chickpeas and parsnip stew. May be one day I should take the plunge and try my hands at making homemade Rechta.

malfouf

Some of my fellow Michigan food bloggers may recall the day I bombarded them with my pleas about finding sheep caul fat in Michigan. After numerous trips to different butchers in the area, none of them seemed to have caul fat and only some of them knew what caul fat is. This is yet another dish my husband and I, especially my husband, crave when we go to Algeria. Caul fat is the very thin fatty membrane which surrounds the internal organs of an animal. Lamb liver wrapped in sheep caul fat is a delicacy where liver is marinated in spices, grilled then wrapped in sheep caul fat and grilled for a second time just enough to melt the fat and create a caramelization, but without burning the liver. As you can see from the photo, fat and fire is a dangerous combination.


The abundance of fresh fish and selfish in Algeria makes not only unforgettable meals but also for a vibrant and very animated market. Fishmongers in Algeria, and usually all over the Mediterranean, are loud, in a lovely kind of way, singing out the beauty of their caught of the day to every passer-by and giving you even tips and recipes on how to cook the fish. While shrimps and others are found all around Michigan and the US, though the taste is not the same, sardines are a different story.


Sardines are one of the most beloved and affordable fish in Algeria. They are fried, grilled and eaten whole when small, turned into spicy meatballs and served with couscous or in a stew. They are flattened, deboned and two pieces of sardine fillets sandwiched together with a Chermoula spice paste and either dipped in batter and fried (photo above) or baked in a fragrant saffron based broth.


And last but certainly not least is “Kaak de Tlemcen”. These ring shaped biscuits take their name from the Western city of Tlemcen where my husband is originally from. Whenever a family member send us Kaak Tlemcen from Algeria, he can’t hold it in his hands without having his eyes smiling and recounting how many times he dipped this somewhat hard but wonderful and very fragrant biscuit in hot café au lait to get it to soften. I love this caak as much as I love my mother’s caak. But what I like about the former, beside the fact that it keeps very well for more than a month, is the aromas of fennel seeds, anise, sweet clover and orange blossom water that makes it irresistible and the perfect start to a beautiful day. This one is also on my to-do list of gems of Algeria to try at home, especially when I see how much my daughters love it.

25 comments:

Meister @ The Nervous Cook said...

Wow, Algeria is a place whose food I have to admit I've never given a second thought, but you definitely have me intrigued.

I especially love this line, which so succinctly captures the food ways you describe here so beautifully: "Merguez is Algeria: warm, bold, irresistible and memorable."

Now off to search for an Algerian restaurant near me…

Warda said...

- Meister, you are so lucky to live in New York. I know that there are a couple of restaurant, both Algerian and Moroccan, but if Merguez is what you crave, I remember reading on the NYT about this place where they offer Merguez sandwiches. Never been there, or to NY for that matter, but their sandwich seem mouthwatering. It's called: Little Morocco, in Astoria. Happy food hunting! :)

Mama Jillian said...

Great blog you have here! I love your recipes, stories and photos. Ill be back!

noëlle said...

I have long wanted to make merguez, after becoming addicted to them during my time in France, but can't locate the sheep intestines. Do you know where to find them?

Also, you really, really should think about writing a cookbook!

Warda said...

- Mama Jillian, welcome! And thank you for stopping by.

- Noelle, Mohamed is the Merguez maker. I know he gets them from a nearby butcher who gets them from Detroit so I'll ask him and send you a message later (along with some tips on making Merguez..) Also, thank you! On dirait entendre mon mari, c'est ce qu'il me dit presque tout le temps...Je devrai y penser serieusement :) Bisous.

mary said...

Love your blog. I find delicious merguez at my tiny neighborhood butcher shop in Dearborn. It's Mustafa Halal Meat. They also make really delicious basterma.
Merci for your inspiration!

Warda said...

- Really Mary! Mustapha has Merguez now!! Last time I went there they only had Lebanese style sausages (which I don't like!)...I guess a trip to Dearborn is a must. Thank you for the tip!

Anonymous said...

oops. the merguez @ mustafa is probably the kind you don't like. yes it's lebanese style. sorry for any confusion.
-mary

um almujahid said...

Oh Rechta! My fav!

Aisha said...

Kaak de Tlemcen! Where my mom's family is from! (well actually they're from a village near Tlemcen). Now you've made me miss my grandma's cooking. And that picture you put of the kaak is just mout-watering and brings back all the smells of fennel, anise and orange blossom water! Your merguez look amazing too! We used to have a butcher who made delicious merguez, filled to the brim with meat and spices. But now most of the butchers use very fatty ground beef and lots of food coloring (bright red merguez anyone?). It just puts me off and I havent bought any in ages though I live in France. My grandma used to make it at home back in the day... Memories... Thanks for bringing them all back :)

WizzyTheStick said...

What a lovely taste of Algeria! This is a fabulous introduction to a new cuisine for me.

Fruitful Fusion said...

I LOVE Rishta!!! I've never made it myself but I get stash-loads whenever I go to Algeria or when someone comes over! I wonder if you could share a recipe for Kaak de Tlemcen. I think members of my family would like it! Just yesterday I tried out another treat (a savoury one) I'd never even eaten before, Garantita!!! :)

Warda said...

- Mary, or may be you are right!! My husband told me that there is actually Mustapha halal meat (a butcher) and mustapha (the one I was thinking about at the green market) so which one is it, because I'm still daydreaming about the basterma :)
- Um almujahid, me too! the whole family loves it...We can never get enough of it.
- Aisha, I know...kaak Tlemcen...un poem!! The photo of the merguez was actually taken at my husband's uncle who lives in Paris, so Im sure you can get good, not weird colored merguez at some few but still honest butchers. But whenever I crave merguez I have my "personal butcher" in the person of my husband ;)
- Wizzy, welcome to Algerian cuisine! :)
- Fruitful F, I have the recipe in my mother's old Algerian cookbook and I'm determined to make it this year because we just can't get enough of it. The minute I try it and confirm that it's a good one, I'll share it with you all...You've never had Garantita?? It's a good thing you made it! It's very comforting and casual ...mmmnnn. I'm hungry!

haleeb said...

mmm, i miss mergez!
living in uk really does suck.
i love the stuff haha

im putting you on my blogroll :)

Fruitful Fusion said...

@haleeb you can definitely get merguez in the uk!

Virginia said...

The photo alone makes me believe this recipe is incredible. I adore cooking with a variation of spices from all over the world. I need to investigate Algerian cuisine more in the future. I normally seek out new things to try from my recipe club - your blog entry has definitely inspired me!

Cheers,
Virginia

Anonymous said...

When I first saw the picture of the Mlookheya , I thought that it was Henna. Maybe because I'm used to the syrian/labanese version.
Do they taste the same?
I buy my mlookheya from aswak mustafa or eastborn , in boxes. Not ground .. is that what you use ?

Oh and rishta is AMAZING . Atleast the Libyan version is , you should try it.

Deepika@everydaydelightful said...

wow! thats amazing. you made me waht to go to Algeria now! Thank you so much for sharing thse hidden gems with us. keep it coming. xoxo

Warda said...

- Anonymous, I've never had Lebanese/Syrian M'loukhiya. A friend of mine, who is also Algerian, told me that they are different. For one, we use ground and I believe the variety of M'loukhiya is also different. Algerian M'loukhiya is very smooth and creamy and addictive and spicy. You taste the grassy taste of the leaves obviosuly but the spices and the meat makes it lip smacking good :) I didn't know they had rishta in Libya..Do you find it in Michigan?

Anonymous said...

Dear Warda,
It's me again. I realised i had bookmarked your cak recipe but have yet to make it. I second the other reader's request for the Kaak de Tlemcen!!! I have made something like this before, it was from Naomi Duguid and Jeffrey Alford's book, an anise-flavoured (Russian, i think?) bagel-like biscuits. This also reminds me of tarelli. So i would love to try this. Thanks for introducing us to Algerian food :)

delphcotecuisine said...

what a wonderful and delicious blog
Delphine

miriam said...

hey warda , could you tell me how to mkae merguez at home? i live in uk so unfortunatley they don't sell it! :/

Warda said...

- Miriam, do you have an e-mail on your blog where I can send you the recipe?

://: Héni ://: said...

Have not visited your blog since you have your baby and wasnt blogging. Glad to see you are back ...

Kate Lifecell said...

I'm not sure what I love more your recipes or your great narration or your pictures. Great blog!

Lifecell