30 January 2014

An Index of Algerian Cooking Terms

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Did you know that "Israeli couscous" is actually called berkoukes? Do you know the difference between shakshouka and chikhchouka? Did you know that there's a type of bulgur made out of barley wheat (maybe it will be the next health food trend?!) Or, did you know there's a North African green chile paste that's not harissa (and not called green harissa!)?

I've started a list of Algerian cooking vocabulary, a space where I can add things that I learn as we go along. I thought you readers might enjoy it as well. If you want to chime in that's welcome too. I've kept the focus on Algeria, so you won't see things like Moroccan bastilla or Tunisisan lablabi, although there is always plenty of overlap.

Amekfoul (timkefelt) -- Couscous with steamed vegetables, traditionally from Kabyle.

Baghir (crepes mille trous, korssa) -- Yeasted semolina pancakes that are cooked only on one side. Served with honey and butter.

Berkoukes -- known in the West as "Israeli couscous," large pearls of semolina couscous. It is actually from North Africa, where it is actually called berkoukes. Often used in soup called aiche.

Brik/bourek -- basically North African spring rolls. Usually meat, herbs, and an egg wrapped in a pastry leaf and fried in oil.

Chikhchouka (charchoura biskria, chakchouka)  --  Not the same as shakshouka! A stew served over torn msemmens bread. The stew is usually chicken-based. Though the torn msemmens bread is most common, some people serve the stew over small pasta squares which are also called (guess what!) chakchouka.

Cherhcem -- traditionally served for Algerian Berber New Year (Yannayer). It is a simple mix of cooked wheat berries, dried fava beans, chickpeas, and lentils, seasoned with olive oil, cumin, and harissa.

Chermoula -- a cilantro-based sauce usually for cooking fish.

Chtitha Djej -- Basically a chicken stew, often involving chickpeas, ras el hanout spices, and onions. Some are tomato-based, while other don't have tomato (sauce blanche).

Chorba Frik (Jari, Frik Soup) -- Frik is actually a type of green bulgur (blé concassé) found in North Africa (it is not the same as the Levantine freekia). It is traditionally used in a soup with tomatoes and meat.

Couscous -- You probably know what couscous is, tiny grains of semolina pasta. It is important to emphasize that there are many kinds of couscous -- wheat flour couscous, barley couscous, etc. It is always laboriously steamed in the top of a couscousier.

Dersa sauce -- a mildly spicy tomato-based sauce. Often served with fried sardines. It can also be used as a sauce in which to cook vegetables and legumes (cauliflower in dersa, white beans in dersa).

Dwida (douida) -- A stew served over short steamed vermicelli noodles and topped with hard boiled eggs. The stew can be chicken, lamb, or beef, with onions and chickpeas.

Feuilles de brik (malsouka, waraqa) -- The thin pastry used to make brik.

Garantita (karantita) -- A baked sort of souffle made from chickpea flour, eggs, and milk. Often put between bread with harissa and mayonnaise as a sandwich.

Gnawiya -- an okra, tomato, and meat stew.

Gueddid (keddid) --  a kind of dried beef similar to jerky. Read more here.

Hamis (hmis, chlita, meshwiya, felfel) -- a spicy green chile paste. Sometimes mixed with tomatoes and/or olives to be served as a dip. The chiles are often grilled or roasted in the oven. (Hmis is usually very spicy, while felfel and meshwiya are milder.)

Harira -- the soup traditionally served to break the Ramadan fast. It usually has meat, spices, legumes, and a tomato base.

Harissa -- an oil-based spicy red chile paste. Can be made with fresh or dried chiles and involve spices such as caraway, cumin, paprika, or garlic.

Hrouss -- A condiment from Southern Tunisia using dried onions, dried chiles, coriander, caraway, and dried rose buds.

Kesra matloua -- a raised puffy flat bread made of semolina or wheat flour and cooked in a pan in the oven. Photo here.

Kesra rakhis (aghrum, galette, khobz ftir) -- An unleavened flat bread of semolina flour cooked in a pan. Delicious.

Khobz dar -- literally, house bread. A puffy round loaf of bread made at home, usually with a thick egg glaze over the top and very soft inside. Nigella seeds are often included. Recipe here.

Mardoud (t'am laghlid) -- another kind of large couscous, bigger than regular couscous but a tiny bit smaller than berkoukes. It is a specialty of Southern Algeria.

Mhajeb (mahjoub, crepes farcie) -- a very very thin semolina/flour dough (the same dough used for msemens bread), that is cooked on a well oiled griddle and filled with tomatoes and onions. They can be spicy or slightly sweet. Video here.

Mhamsa -- a tomato-based thick soup with meat and large-size couscous. Berkoukes are often used, although sometimes shops sell large sized couscous named mhamsa.

Merguez -- a fatty beef sausage with lots of garlic and red pepper.

Mesfouf -- Couscous with peas and fava beans. Or couscous with dates, nuts, and butter. Recipe here.

Mermez -- Mermez refers to both a type of bulgur made from barley and the meat stew that is served with the bulgur. Mermez (orge concassée) looks like dark brown bulgur and is often served for Eid el Adha. In Tunisia mermez usually refers to a tomato-based stew of beef or lamb.

Mrouzia -- a lamb stew with honey, spices, and raisins.

Msemmen bread (m'semmens, mtawi, ma'arak, crepe feuiletee) -- a very very thin layered semolina bread cooke don a griddle. They layers are coated with oil, hence the name which means "fatty." Similar to Moroccan rghayif.

Mtouem (mtewem) -- a dish of garlicky meatballs.

Preserved lemons (citron confit) -- whole lemons preserved in salt brine.

Sfyria -- a simple stew (usually of lamb shoulder) with fritters.  The fritter dough is made of stale bread soaked in milk, cheese, and eggs, formed into balls, and deep fried. The fried cheese balls are served on top of the stew. Some people put the meat in the fritters and serve them with chickpeas.

R'fissa -- A Moroccan dish similar to chakchouka in Algeria. A chicken stew with onions and spices (ras el hanout, ginger, saffron, fenugreek) that is served over torn msemmens bread. (note, it is different than an Algerian dessert call rfis)

Reshta (rechta) -- A stew of chicken or meat, chickpeas and turnips served over long thin steamed noodles. (See a picture of the noodles here.)

Shakshouka -- a mix of grilled pepper and tomatoes (like chlita, felfel) with eggs mixed in while cooking and served warm. In Algeria the eggs are usually scrambled into the sauce, though the eggs can also be poached.

Tabil -- a Tunisian spice mix, tabil is also used in Tunisia for coriander. The spice mix can include coriander, caraway, garlic, chili.

Tajine -- a stew traditionally made in a connical clay pot.

Tagine h'lou -- literally meaning sweet tagine, a tagine of lamb with dried fruits and honey.

Tagine kefta -- A tagine of meatballs in tomato sauce. Usually eggs are cracked into the sauce just before serving, aloowing the eggs to poach. 

Tagine khokh -- Literally meaning "peach tagine," it is a play on words as the peaches are actually deep fried balls of mashed potato and ground beef. The fried potato balls are served with the stew. Recipe here.

Tamina -- a paste made of semolina, butter, and honey. It is often decorated with cinnamon and almonds. Served for dessert particularly on Mawlid al-Nabi.

Tlitli (langues d'oiseau) -- A stew served over small steamed pasta (similar in appearance to orzo) and topped with hard boiled eggs. The stew is most often chicken, chickpeas, and onions. Recipe here.

Trida (mkartfa) -- A stew of chicken (or lamb shoulder or meatballs) with onion, cinnamon, chickpeas. The stew is served over the trida pasta, small steamed pasta squares, and it is always garnished with hard boiled eggs.

21 January 2014

Kibbeh Arnabiya (Lebanese Meatballs in Tahini-Citrus Sauce)


If there is a theme for this blog after the arrival of my husband on the scene, it would be that he is quite the eater. "He seems to travel with his stomach," my uncle once observed. I know, I can't imagine why he would have married me? He's a gourmand and I love to cook. So you won't be surprised when the other day when we were walking to the vegetable stand, I was describing a classic winter dish from Beirut called kibbeh arnabiya, and I was saying how incredibly complicated and hard it was to make, and then Paul's eyes lit up and before I knew it we were in the butcher shop buying all the ingredients.  


Kibbeh arnabiya, a dish of meatballs in a tahini-citrus sauce, is always made in the winter time because it relies on a special bitter citrus that is only in season during the cold months. Though historically it was made with bitter Seville oranges (naranj), these days it is often made with a variety of both sweet and sour citrus fruits.

Like many classic dishes of Lebanese cuisine, kibbeh arnabiya is all about seasonality and using what you've preserved and saved for the winter. The citrus fruits would be harvested from the trees in your yard, and the tahini, beef, pine nuts, pomegranate molasses, and chickpeas are all things that would have been available in winter. I can't get bitter oranges locally, so I really like a heavy dose of grapefruit to bring bitterness and complexity to the sauce.


Paul, of course, suggested that we go all out for this version, and as a result this is an incredibly complicated dish as I've made it. I made the lamb stock from scratch, cooked the chickpeas from dried, harvested citrus from the yard, and made the kibbeh meatballs by hand. (Hey, there's not a lot going on in Algeria!) However you should know that it is very easy to make several shortcuts, described below, and have this on the table for a relatively easy (easier?) dinner. Homemade lamb stock is great, but the dish will still be good if you don't have it. There is something amazing about the tahini-citrus sauce that is warm and comforting and reminds me of really good gravy but without the heaviness.

You might read the recipe below and blanch at the length. I understand. But while I may jokingly (okay, fine, sometimes less jokingly) complain about both my husband's voracious appetite and some long hours in the kitchen, there are few things better than doing something you love and feeding those that you love food that they enjoy. Sahtein!

P.S. Housekeeping - Some of you told me that you use BlogLovin' to follow along with this blog, so I've added a link in the right-hand column there. You can also subscribe via email, and if there's anything else you want me to add to make it easier to follow along, just ask! Of course if you follow on Instagram, you already knew this post was coming :)


Kibbeh Arnabiya
(Kibbeh Arnabiyah, Kebbeh Arnabiyeh.) A traditional Lebanese cook would already have kibbeh in her freezer and spices at the ready, and would be able to very quickly whip up the sauce and add in the kibbeh. I am not a traditional Lebanese cook and thus have to start from scratch, but the end result was worth it. You want to use a deep pot (not the shallow one pictured ehre) because it makes it easier to puree the sauce. Adapted from Taste of Beirut and here and plenty of kibbeh experience of my own.

for the lamb stock:
1 kilo (2 lbs) of chopped lamb shoulder or 2 lamb shanks
3 bay leaves, 1 teaspoon peppercorns,  1/2 an onion, chopped
water to cover

for the kibbeh spice mix:
2 teaspoons allspice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cumin
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon of pepper
1 teaspoon salt

for the kibbeh shell:
1 lb (1/2 kilo) extra lean ground beef (or lamb or veal)
1 onion
2/3 cup fine bulgur
2 teaspoons spice mix
1/2 cup chopped parsley (optional, not traditional)
salt to taste
for the kibbeh stuffing:
shredded lamb from the lamb stock
3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
1/2 teaspoon spice mix

for the tahini sauce:
1 onion, diced
2 cups tahini
1 cup grapefruit juice
2/3 cup orange juice
the juice from 4 manadarins or clementines
the juice of 2 lemons
1 cup lamb stock

for serving:
1 cup cooked chickpeas
pomegranate molasses
chopped parsley

 1. Make the lamb stock: Place all the ingredients for the stock in a pot, with several pinches of salt and water to cover. Bring the mixture to a low simmer and simmer until the lamb is cooked through and falling off the bone, about 2-3 hours. Set aside to cool.
2. Meanwhile, mix together your spice mix and squeeze your citrus juices. Set aside.
3. For the kibbeh: Preheat oven to 350F. Soak the bulgur in hot water for 3 minutes and then drain it. Place the onion in a food processor with the 2 teaspoons of spice mix and pulse until the onion is finely ground. Add the meat and 1-2 teaspoons of salt and pulse the mixture in the food processor several times to bring it all together. Add the bulgur and pulse again to incorporate the bulgur. (You can also do this with your hands, kneading everything together.) Scoop your meat mixture into a bowl and transfer to the refrigerator to chill.
4. Meanwhile, back to the lamb: Strain the lamb stock and set aside in the refrigerator. Shred any of the lamb meat from the bones and place in a small bowl. Add the pine nts and seasoning to the shredded lamb meat and set aside.
5. Finish the kibbeh: Line two baking sheets with foil. Get a bowl of ice water ready. Take the chilled kibbeh meat from the fridge, dip your fingers into the ice water, and start to form the kibbeh into balls. Using your index finger, carve a hole into the kibbeh ball, rolling it around to create a thin outer wall of the kibbeh ball. Take a little bit of the lamb/pine-nut mixture and place it inside the kibbeh ball. Pinch the kibbeh ball closed, sealing the filling inside and forming it into a torpedo/football shape. Place the kibbeh on the baking sheet as you work.
6. Bake the kibbeh: Bake the kibbeh in the preheated oven for 10-12 minutes, until just cooked. Set aside.
7. Make the sauce: In a large deep saucepan, heat a little olive oil in the pan. Cook the diced onion over medium heat until it is brown and caramelized, about 20 minutes. Stir the tahini into the pan and add the citrus juices. The mixture will immediately curdle, but just continue to stir over medium-low heat and it will come together. Once it has come back together, add in the lamb stock and season  with salt. Let the sauce simmer over low heat for just 2-3 minutes. Using an immersion blender puree the sauce to be smooth.
8. Finish the dish: Add in the kibbeh meatballs and the chickpeas to the sauce. Stir in 1 teaspoon of pomegranate molasses to the sauce and taste for seasoning. Let kibbeh and chickpeas warm up in the sauce. When everything is warm and combined, ladle the dish into serving bowls. Garnish with some more pomegranate molasses and chopped parsley. Serve immediately.

Shortcuts: Skip making the lambstock. Make the kibbeh meatballs, but don't make the stuffing for them, just form them into regular (unstuffed) meatballs and bake them. Use purchased instead of fresh juice. Use 1 cup purchased beef stock instead of the lamb stock. You don't have to puree the sauce if you want a more rustic presentation (personally, I think the pureeing makes the dish better).

To reheat: This dish will thicken as it cools. To reheat, whisk in enough water to get the sauce to be liquid again. Add in some more lemon juice because the citrus flavor dissipates the longer the dish sits.

18 January 2014

Failed (but Pretty) Recipes + Fennel Orange Salad

I was inspired by somewhere on the internets to mix up my usual fennel-orange salad (a North African classic) with some dates and pecans. Sadly, I really thought the dates, sticky and very sweet, ruined the fresh bright citrus and anise flavors of the salad. It helps that Algerians are serious citrus growing champions, and so the oranges and clementines here are very sweet on their own. So you should make it without the dates, but the pictures were too pretty not too share.


Fennel Orange Salad
This goes very nicely with fish. If you want to mix it up, you can add a drop of orange blossom water to the salad, or some black olives. Serves 2 as a side dish.

2 medium-sized fennel bulbs
2 navel oranges, or 4-5 clementines, or another sweet citrus variety
a squeeze of lemon juice
a dash of olive oil
salt, to taste

1. Trim away the thick core on the bottom of the fennel bulbs. Slice the fennel very thinly on a mandoline. Add the fennel slices to a bowl and add some lemon juice, olive oil and salt and toss to coat. Reserve some of the fennel fronds for garnish. (I keep the fennel stems for soup and stock.)
2. For the navel oranges, I like to supreme them, but the clementines I usually peel and then cut into slices. The slices, even for regular oranges, are more common and easier. Prepare the citrus fruit as desired, discarding any seeds. Add your citrus slices to the bowl, season with a bit more salt, and gently toss with your hands to combine. Chop the reserved fennel fronds and toss on top before serving.

14 January 2014

Banana Bread with Dates and Pecans


Hello! Happy New Year dear readers! Would it be wrong to tell you that I'm in the mood to bake a cake? Maybe I didn't get enough holiday baking into my system, or maybe I'm feeling a bit unsettled after our recent move, but in the midst of all those January salads I want nothing more than to bake a big towering cake. The only problem: we don't have an oven!


When you embark on a career abroad (and I don't mean just traveling, but actually picking up your whole life and moving it to a new country), a few images may come to your mind. Diplomatic cocktail parties maybe, or dusty windswept tents with ancient medical equipment, or a bit of James Bond. For some reason, my vision always involved steamer trunks. Yes, steamer trunks my friends. Clearly I spent a little too much time with Isak Denison and E.M. Forster as a child.

For the record, I don't own any steamer trunks, but there is a moment when all your things arrive at your new post, when the boxes are piled around and you are telling the staff to "put the couch there and hang this picture here," when I get a glimpse of that fantasy. What you don't picture is that those cocktail parties are often just painful work functions with the added stress of making small talk in a foreign language. You might not picture that you'd end up living in a six bedroom Ottoman house where you can watch the sunrise each morning:

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Or gaze at your painted ceiling:

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You also might not picture that a six bedroom house would have no oven (baffling!), or that your bathrooms would be infested with swarms of ants that seem to have developed a taste for your toothpaste. Your toothpaste, by the way, that says "Pro-EMail!" because email is French for enamel.

So that's where we are right now. Wishing for an oven, feeling a little unsettled, battling ants, and trying to wrap our heads around all the things we have coming up in 2014. Sounds like it's time for some banana bread, don't you think? I made this banana bread before we moved, when I found some blackened bananas lurking in our freezer. It has dates, this blog's namesake, and pecans, and dark rye flour. I've used coconut oil, which is probably a total fad "good for you fat," but someone brought me a jar and it isn't going to consume itself. Feel free to use butter. Here's to hoping we can get back to our ovens soon, and happy 2014!


Banana Bread with Dates and Pecans
Coconut oil and coconut palm sugar are available at Whole Foods and other specialty stores. You can also use butter and regular brown sugar to good effect.

3 over-ripe bananas
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
6 tablespoons coconut oil (or butter)
3/4 cup coconut palm sugar (or brown sugar)
3/4 cup dark rye flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 tsp nutmeg
Pinch salt
6-7 large dates, torn apart
1/3 cup pecans, roughly chopped

1. Preheat oven to 35F. Grease a loaf pan.
2. Mash bananas in a large bowl. Beat in vanilla, eggs, oil, and palm sugar. Mix remaining ingredients (flour through pecans) in a small bowl. Fold dry ingredients into wet until no white streaks remain. Bake for 40-45 minutes. or until a tooth pick comes out clean.

01 January 2014

Brussel Sprout Fattoush


When I was a kid we went on long road trips, criss-crossing the country in cardinal directions. West from Baltimore we crossed Roger's Forge and the snowy Appalachian mountians to visit family in Tennessee for Christmas. North to Maine was the worst trip, involving the terrible highways and traffic of the Northeast corridor. Due South, to the family beach house in South Carolina, was the best journey because my friend Hollis and I would excitedly anticipate the signs for South of the Border, that cheesy sombrero'd crossing between the Carolinas. We spotted the signs in the excited hopes that our parents would let us stop and do whatever was advertised, only to be disappointed every year when we were denied anything but a bathroom break.


My mom loved taking backroads, prolonging our trip with winding paths through small towns where signs announced bingo night and shops advertised "Perms and Peelers." She packed snack boxes that we ate in the moss draped oak trees of old church cemeteries (cemeteries were always clean and green went the family saying) and stopped at general stores for fudge and road side stands for peaches.


I spent most of these trips reading books in passenger's seat, fiddling with the radio, but often simply watching the rolling landscape go by and allowing my mind to wander. Those images, of picturesque red barns in the snowy hills, or low-slung fried chicken shacks in the deep South, are what populate the America of my childhood. Often, I would write stories in my head, propelling plots and character lines and along in an abstract rolling jumble for the duration of 10-hour trips.

Maybe that's why for me the travel space, the odd time continuum in which we get from one place to another, has always been a great space of creativity. The time to stare out the window on a road trip or from a train car, the seclusion of a long plane ride, a place to read books and scribble ideas in notebooks and arrange words in your head. I feel more and more that real-life encroaches on these spaces now, that the stress of long work weeks means I'm more likely to tune-out and watch a movie on a plane than to read a book. But I still find the space on vacations, I carry a little notebook where I jot down ideas and sketch dream houses, and come up with recipe ideas I want to try. This recipe is one that found its way into my notebook back in October while wandering around the Sicilian countryside.


The notebook entry, an equation for a winter fattoush with brussel sprouts, reads as follows:

lettuce -- brussel sprout leaves
tomatoes -- persimmons
cucumber -- fennel slivers
sumac -- dried sour cherries
mint -- dill
pita chips stay the same, otherwise it just doesn't feel like fattoush to me!


Brussel Sprout Fattoush
This is a beautful jeweled salad for winter. If you don't have dried sour cherries I imagine pomegranate seeds or dried currants could be good substitutions. The salad is also good without the fennel, if you don't have any on hand.

4 cups chopped brussel sprout leaves (from a medium-sized bag of brussel sprouts)
2 small firm-ripe Fuyu persimmons
2 heaping tablepsoons dried sour cherries
1 1/2 large thin pita breads (about 10-inches in diameter)
1/4 of a small fennel bulb
1 lemon
1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for the pita chips
salt, black pepper
optional: a few sprigs of dill, chopped

1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Tear the pita bread into pieces and scatter on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle some olive oil lightly over the pita and toss to coat. You don't need to saturate the pita, but a little oil adds some nice flavor and crispness. Sprinkle the pita with salt and place in the oven to toast for about 7-10 minutes. Watch the pita carefully so that it turns brown but does not burn. Set aside to cool.
2. Meanwhile, mix together the juice of the lemon, the quarter cup of the olive oil, and a good pinch of salt in the bottom of a large bowl. On a large cutting board, very finely sliver the brussel sprouts with a knife into thin segments. You can also do this with a mandoline, but I find a knife to be safer and easier. When you have a big pile of your sprout leaves (about 4 cups if you're into measuring), add them to the bowl with the salad dressing and toss to coat. You want the sprouts to sit in the dressing for about 20 minutes before serving so that they soften.
3. Next, slice your fennel into thin ribbons on a mandoline and add to the sprout leaves.
4. Peel and chop your persimmons into small dice. Discard the weird tough white part inside the persimmon.
5. When ready to serve, add the persimmons, sour cherries, pita chips, and dill if using, to the bowl and stir everything around to coat. Taste for seasoning. Add some more salt and some cracks of fresh black pepper before serving.