28 June 2013

Local Ingredient Spotlight: Rechta Noodles


I want to start doing a regular feature on some of the ingredients we have here in Algiers that may not be familiar to readers out there. There's lots of local things that we ignore or take for granted, and by doing this feature I hope to also force myself to learn a little bit more about some local fare.

Today we have rechta (reshta) noodles: rechta is not only the name for these noodles, but also the name for the Algerian dish of rechta, which is a stew of meat, chickpeas, and turnips served over these noodles. Like most people, I buy my rechta noodles at the butcher shop or at a large market. They are curly very very thin flour noodles, and they freeze easily so you can always have some on hand. They most important thing about these noodles is that they MUST be STEAMED. If you put them in boiling water you will have a pile of mush in less than 30 seconds. Trust me, I learned from experience.

So, most people make the stew in the bottom of their couscousier (a crucial piece of equipment for Algerian cooking). The stew can have chicken, lamb, or beef, but it must have turnips and chickpeas. Other vegetables are added too, but the turnips are key here. When the stew is almost done cooking you place the noodles in the top part of the couscousier to steam until tender. Similar to couscous, you want to rub a little oil into the noodles before you steam them, and steam them for five minutes, remove from the steam, and then steam another five minutes. The nice part about them is that they retain their curly shape, and kind of remind me of a pleasant cross between curly egg noodles and fine angel hair pasta.

You can find a recipe for rechta (both the noodles and the stew) here.

25 June 2013

Plum Ginger Jam


While I will admit to spending a lot of time thinking about what we don't have here in Algeria (see: nightlife, peanut butter, pork), spring and early summer here are a great reminder of the things we do have. A beautiful city, full of greenery and flowers, a few cool spots, delicious local bread, and an amazing variety of fruits with flavors so fresh and vibrant, you'd never find them State-side. These fruits also go bad in about 2.5 days. So, the season for canning is upon us.


I have a batch of apricot jam macerating as I speak (a Christine Ferber recipe), and my first jam of the season was this plum ginger variety. Paul loves plums, but I will admit they aren't my favorite fruit to eat out of hand. I'll go for strawberries (still in season here) and those early summer doughnut peaches over plums any day. But they seem just lovely for jam. Their deep red holds up to strong flavors, in this case, ginger. This jam was a little on the tart side, which I like because it's perfect for sandwiching in biscuits, but you can add more sugar if you like it sweeter.


Plum Ginger Jam
If you prefer a sweeter jam you can increase the sugar to 500 grams. I was low in sugar when I made this and ended up using about 1/3 brown sugar and 2/3 regular sugar, I think it's probably delicious either way so it's up to you if you want to use all white sugar or a mix.

700 grams red plums
425 grams sugar
small knob of fresh ginger (about 3 cm square), peeled and minced

1. Halve and pit plums, placing them into a large heavy-bottomed pot. Add the sugar, ginger, and stir to mix. Let macerate for 1-2 hours on the counter. While it's macerating, cut a round of parchment large enough to cover the pan, and cut a small hole in the middle of your parchment circle.
2. Place jam on the stovetop and bring to a low simmer. Place the parchment circle over the pot. Place a small plate in the freezer. Let the jam simmer over low heat for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, stirring occasionally. When the jam is deep red and thick, place a few drops of the jam onto the plate you have in the freezer. If the jam gels, you know that it's ready. If it doesn't gel, then keep cooking slowly until it does (as a side note, it's not the end of the world if your jam doesn't gel, use your judgement, and as long as it tastes delicious you'll probably be okay).
3. Transfer jam to glass jars, you can process the jars for canning, or simply keep the jam as is. This makes about 2 8-oz jars, so we kept one for eating and stuck the other in the freezer for later.

20 June 2013

June's Pleasures

loving my new bento box lunches:


Limes! They're only in season here for a few weeks in the whole year. A friend gave me a tip that she buys tons and freezes them and then uses them all year long.

Pasta with Fresh-Shelled Peas, Favas, Bacon, and Mint

The first good tomatoes and figs (figs!) of the season. Pictured here with some baba ghanoush, salad, and cabbage. A pretty entrance in our neighborhood.

It's still not too hot here and the bougainvillea's gone wild.

10 June 2013

Spiced Seeded Cabbage


Thank you all for your lovely well wishes! We had an amazing trip to California, but I'm going to wait to tell you about that because I think it's time we got back to some cooking! I have to say, I didn't miss my kitchen one bit while we were on our 3 week vacation, but it's nice to be back. It's a good thing I had a break too, since our workplace cafeteria is closed for five (five!!) weeks, so I'm making all our breakfasts, lunches, and dinners at home now. Oy.

I love a good vegetable dish. Vegetables to me are so much fun to cook - they're challenging, you have to add in texture and dimension and the oomph that meat gives to a dish. I like the seasonality, the care taken in preparation, that vegetable cooking brings. Just when I think that X is my go-to favorite way to cook eggplant, I come across Y, and my whole world is changed.

I was nodding in agreement when I read Luisa's post about a head of cabbage being a meal in itself. It's a philosophy I've long stood-by. Whether braised with apples and cider vinegar, flash-cooked with hot pepper and black bean sauce in a wok, shredded and added to a slaw, cabbage is my jam. So, when I cam across this new technique for a spicy cabbage that takes just minutes to prep, well obviously I was on board.

This recipe is great - I love the crunch and mix of flavors of all those whole spices, the easy and fast preparation. This is a great side dish to a pork chop or some grilled chicken, but it's also great on its own or with a fried egg on top.


Spiced Seeded Cabbage
Adapted from Madhur Jaffrey.

half a large head of green cabbage 
1/4 cup vegetable oil 
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds 
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds 
1 teaspoon sesame seeds 
1 medium onion, peeled and cut lengthwise into fine half rings 
1 teaspoon salt 
smidge cayenne pepper or hot sauce 
squeeze of lemon juice 
1 teaspoon garam masala

1. Cut the cabbage lengthwise into very fine, long shreds. Discard any thick inner core. A bread knife or chef's knife is ideal for this.
2. Place oil in a wok over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, put in the cumin, fennel, and sesame seeds. As soon as the sesame seeds begin to pop, put in the onion. Stir and fry for 3 to 4 minutes or until the onion has browned a bit.
3. Put in the cabbage. Stir and fry for about 6 minutes or until the cabbage has browned somewhat. Put in the salt, garam masala, and cayenne. Turn down the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring now and then, for another 7 to 8 minutes or until the onions appear caramelized and soft. Note: you may need to do this in a couple batches.
4. Add the lemon juice, stir, and taste for seasoning. Serve warm. 

02 June 2013

And then we had a wedding.


We did! We flew all the way from Algeria to New York and had a wedding. I still can't believe we pulled it off, that it wasn't just one long dream, that all those people showed up and ate cheese and danced their socks off. I would very much like to go back and repeat the whole thing all over again, only in very slow motion, so that I could nestle myself into every little corner of the whole weekend.

I was never one of those girls who had a dream image of what their wedding would look like, perhaps a fleeting image here or there, but as I've grown up places and their meaning to me have changed. If circumstances could have been different, perhaps it would have been in a big backyard somewhere, with flowers picked by our friends and homemade pie for dessert. A little bit crafty, but not over-the-top burlap cliche. But the reality was we live in Algeria, and our friends live all over the world. I thought, briefly, that a kind of home-grown wedding wouldn't have been right without my mother, but the truth is no wedding would be, or was, complete without her.

So New York, my home for so long, Paul's grad school years, was right in so many ways. On the Thursday before the wedding we went out to the site to look things over, and there, in the bright sunlight between the bridges, I was shocked at how beautiful it was.


Paul and I debated having a wedding at all, after all it's quite expensive and neither of us are terribly traditional. But the thing that swayed me was the memory of my mother telling me about her wedding to my father, that despite the fact that the marriage did not last very long, she was so glad to have had the party. She always reminded me that it was the last time her whole family was together, that in the subsequent Christmases since one family member always missed one holiday or another, and five years later my grandfather died, and that was it. The last time they had been together. Clearly my mother told me that story enough times that it stuck, because how could I not have a wedding after that?

So we told everyone we worked with that the reason we were having a wedding was to see all the people we loved together in one place. And it was true. The wedding, to me, wasn't really about us, after all if you're willing to move to Algeria with someone I don't think there's too much question of marriage cold-feet. It was about getting to spend time with people we don't get to see very often, and my only regret is that we didn't get to see more of everyone. 

Logistically, of course, a wedding is a bit like putting on a show, and I have to say I'm not bad at that myself. I also believe that my time is valuable to me, and that there are some things worth hiring professionals for. We were lucky to work with the awesomest wedding planner (florist/stationer/coordinator/extraordinaire) around, the nicest caterers, the raddest photographer, and of course some great family and friends who helped usher, errand, escort, and fulfill necessary odd tasks, such as sharpening seventy #2 pencils.

Having planned everything from abroad, while I certainly had a picture in my head of what it would look like, we didn't know how things would turn out. Would the room be pretty? Would the food be good? Would it rain? Would people dance? And I have to say, every single element turned out better than we even imagined it could. From the absolutely gorgeous space (again: see awesome wedding planner), to the perfect weather, the joy at seeing so many people coming to the ceremony site. The food shocked us at how delicious it was (food was actually one of the things that we didn't pay much attention to during the wedding planning), including the most tender brisket I have ever had, and pecan pie so good that when we did our "pie cutting" I actually exclaimed, "this is amazing." There were so many other fun elements that we didn't even know would happen, like all the random Brooklynites in the park that day that got to "attend" our ceremony, the spontaneous and perfectly executed electric slide on the dance floor, Paul's dad dancing, conducting our wedding rehearsal on the street in front of the Bowery Hotel, the ice cream sandwich truck we hired for the end of the night, etc.

At the end of it all, I could not be more lucky. Lucky to share such an amazing weekend with so many special people, lucky to have a job where I get to travel all over the world so that I can come back to America and appreciate all that it is, lucky to be able to go on 3 weeks of vacation. But mostly lucky to have a husband who is sitting in the other room playing Bach on his cello while I write. 

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Snapshots courtesy of awesome friends and family.