Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Couscous for Everyone!

It's Wednesday night again and that means that it's time to cook another country! I was excited to cook tonight's feast from Algeria. This African country located in the Maghreb region between Morocco and Libya. 90% of Algeria is covered with desert. Most Algerians are of Berber decent and are devout followers of Islam. It's a pretty lost country that desperately needs Christ. I will be sure to pray for Algeria as I reflect on my yummy meal and someday hope that these wonderful cooks can learn the wonders of eternal salvation.


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The cuisine of Algeria is and African- Mediterranean- Middle Eastern mix that is simply divine. There are also some hints of French and Jewish influence as you will see with my side dish for tonight. The Algerians like to use lots of carbs be it the small balls of pasta called couscous or a delicious hunk of fresh semolina bread. There is hardly any pork, though, since over 98% of the country follows Islam. Chicken and lamb are the meats of choice instead, either served over couscous, with bread, or with both!

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Couscous, or kesksou, is Algeria's national dish. There are countless variations topped with vegetables, lamb, beef, chicken, or raisins and mint for a sweet dessert. Traditionally the meal is made in a large tagine. The vegetables or meat are cooked in a broth in the bottom section and the couscous is steam cooked from the moisture rising to the top. I wish I had a tagine to make it traditionally, but my veggie couscous dish turned out great with my westernized improvisations.

Kesksou
serves 4
2 zucchini, cut into 1” strips
2 squash, cut into 1” strips
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1” strips
3 large cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
1 tbsp oil
1 ½ cups cooked chickpeas
½ cup chicken broth
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp dehydrated cilantro
¼ tsp cayenne pepper powder
salt and pepper, to taste
1 ½ cups dry couscous
1 ½ cups boiling water
pat of butter (optional)

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until the onion is golden brown. Add the zucchini, squash, and carrots. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Pour in the chicken broth, spices, and chickpeas. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes and then cook uncovered for an additional five minutes. Meanwhile, combine the couscous and boiling water together. Cover, and allow the couscous to sit for 5 minutes until the water has been absorbed. Stir in a pat of butter if desired. Serve the couscous topped with the veggie mixture.

 

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When I think of Algerian food, I generally don't picture spinach or gruyere cheese, but this recipe for slk fel kousha was on several Algerian food blogs. I guess it makes since with Algeria's previous status as a French colony. They must have brought some fancy cheese over with them to share with this couscous loving culture.

Slk Fel Kousha
serves 4
1 onion, chopped
2- 12 ounce packages frozen spinach, thawed
1 tbsp oil
½ cup ground chicken or beef
salt and pepper, to taste
1 ounce shredded gruyere cheese

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and heat a skillet with the oil over medium heat. Cook the onion until translucent. Add the ground meat and cook until browned. Meanwhile, squeeze out any excess moisture from the spinach and add it to the pan. Cook for 5 minutes and season to taste. Divide the mixture between four baking ramekins and top with the shredded cheese. Bake for 10 minutes and then broil for 1-2 minutes until the cheese is golden brown.

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Bread is an Algerian staple served at every meal. Kesra is a very popular semolina flatbread cooked in a tagine over a flame. Bread has a very significant value to the Algerian culture, and is seen as life's sustenance. I made my kesra into miniature loaves in a small skillet, but feel free to make one large bread in a bigger tagine. It would be more traditional.

Kesra Matlou
serves 4
2 cups semolina flour
¼ tsp sugar
1 tsp active dry yeast
½ tsp salt
3 tbsp oil
¾ to 1 cup warm water (100 degrees), as needed

Mix together the flour, sugar, yeast and salt. Drizzle in the oil and then slowly add the water until a nice soft dough has formed. Knead for about 10 minutes. Cover your dough ball with plastic wrap and set it in a warm place to rise for about 90 minutes. Divide the dough into 4 even balls, cover with plastic wrap, and allow them to rest for another hour. Heat a buttered pan over medium heat. Flatten each dough ball into a sphere about ½” thick and prick with a fork. Cook them individually on the pan, flipping to cook each side until golden brown.
 
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All week I have been dreaming of cooking this meal. I love the North African and Mediterranean flavors, and I was excited about the Algerian recipes I had found. My verdict? I love Algeria! The kesra was a delicious experience as I had never tried a semolina based bread before. Wow. The flavor is amazing- so much better than wheat bread! The couscous and vegetables were perfectly spiced with a bit of heat coming from the cayenne pepper. Yum! And my seemingly out of place spinach dish was heavenly. Pack me up for the next plane to Algeria. I could eat this stuff for the rest of my life. (If only I had a tagine....)

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