24 March 2014

Local Ingredient Spotlight

It's time for another edition of local ingredient spotlight! Today, our survey of North African ingredients includes two of my favorites: barley couscous and hmis, a green chile sauce.

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Barley couscous comes in several different varieties, they differ slightly in color (darker or lighter) and size. Barley cuscous is slightly trickier than regular couscous to prepare, as it can quickly turn to mush if you add too much water during the moistening and steaming process, and alternately it can be too crunchy if you don't add enough water.

I actually prefer this couscous to regular couscous, it has an earthier nutty flavor, and is great as a base for a salad with roast vegetables and some herbs and cheese. Lots of the barley couscous packages in Algeria have funny advertisements that say "good for colon health" which is basically a way of saying this stuff has your daily dose of fiber.

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Hmis is basically the green version of harissa, made from green chile peppers. I prefer to buy hmis from one of the olive and harissa vendors, but most Algerians rely on the canned stuff. It is extremely spicy! The classic way to serve hmis is to mix it with a lot (a lot!) of good olive oil, and lots of green olives, and then serve it as a dip. We like to put it on our morning omelets also.

Every time I see some avant-garde recipe for "green harissa," usually filled with anomalies like cilantro, mint and dill (ugh), I sigh and think about how the recipe author would be much better off if they just knew about hmis!

Past Ingredient Spotlights: Rechta noodles, shirsh el-halweh, breads of Algeria, garantita, desert truffles and meshwiyya.

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