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Algerian Food: A World of Exotic Flavors

posted on: Dec 23, 2020

By: Habeeb Salloum/Arab America Contributing Writer

I first became acquainted with the Algerian cuisine some four decades ago far away from its native land.  An Algerian lady in Toronto introduced me to the dishes of that country.  She was an excellent cook and even the dishes I ate in Algeria could not compare to her tasty meals.  Her food was a culinary experience that I have never forgotten.

I still remember her salad and couscous dishes but above all, I remember a garlic and meatball dish, which thereafter I often cooked called muthawwim. For me, it still is the epitome of Algerian food.

Of course, Algerian cuisine with its Berber, Phoenician, Roman, Arab, Andalusian Muslim, Turkish, and French culinary influences, includes dozens of other dishes.  To mention only a few: from Andalusia came stews or tagines and the use of fruit and nuts in cooking; from the French, the use of tomato puree, appetizers and numerous sweets such as croissants; and from the Turks stuffed vegetables.

At the top of this historically combined kitchen is Couscous, a semolina-based pasta, usually cooked in all the countries of North Africa with a stew of chicken, meat or fish and vegetables. However, at times, the couscous is prepared as a sweet – cooked in milk with dried fruits and nuts.  On the other hand, mechoui (roast lamb) and shorbas (soups) often vie with couscous as the preferred foods. Along with these and other dishes, tomato and harissa (a hot condiment) based sauces are commonly served with the meals

Like the sister North African kitchens, the Algerian cuisine includes a world of exotic flavors that usually ensnares visitors seeking something new in the culinary world.

Algerian Salad – Chlada Felfel

Algerian Food: A World of Exotic Flavours

Serves 4 to 6

Salt-cured olives and anchovies used in Algerian and other North African cooking give any dish, like this salad a special touch.

2 sweet peppers, seeded and finely chopped

4 medium tomatoes, diced into 1/2 inch cubes

1 small cucumber (about 5 inches), thinly sliced

2 small onions, very thinly sliced

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander leaves

6 anchovy fillets, chopped

1/2 cup cured black olives, pitted and halved

3 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoon vinegar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped

Place all ingredients in a salad bowl, except eggs then toss gently.  Spread eggs over top and serve.

Garlic Meatballs – Muthawwim

Algerian Food: A World of Exotic Flavours

Serves about 10

Once a housewife tries this Algerian dish she will know the culinary delight of garlic.

4 tablespoons butter

1 large onion, finely chopped

1 pound beef, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

1 head garlic, peeled and crushed

2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon cinnamon

l/4 teaspoon cayenne

5 cups of water

1 pound ground beef

1/4 cup rice, rinsed

1 bunch parsley, finely chopped

1 egg beaten

4 tablespoons tomato paste

l can chickpeas (19 oz. 540 ml. ) with its water

Melt butter in a saucepan then sauté onions until they begin to brown.  Add cubed meat, half the garlic, 1 teaspoon of the salt, 1/2 teaspoon of the pepper, 1/2 teaspoon of the cinnamon, and the cayenne, then sauté for a few minutes.  Add water then bring to boil.  Cover, then simmer over medium heat for 45 minutes, adding more water if necessary.

In the meantime, thoroughly combine the ground beef, rice, parsley, egg, and the remaining garlic, salt, pepper, and cinnamon.  Form into small meatballs then gently place the meatballs in the simmering saucepan.  Bring to a boil then simmer for about 15 minutes.  Add tomato paste and chickpeas then simmer over medium heat until the meatballs are well cooked, adding more water if necessary.

Potato Croquettes – ‘Ajijat

Algerian Food: A World of Exotic Flavours

Serves 8

Potato croquettes are an example of a dish borrowed from France but flavored with an Algerian touch.

6 eggs

4 cups mashed potatoes

1 large onion, finely chopped

1 bunch parsley, stemmed and very finely chopped

6 green onions, finely chopped

1 tablespoon finely chopped mint leaves

2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon pepper

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

pinch of dried sage

1 cup flour

oil for frying

Place two of the eggs and remaining ingredients, except flour and oil, in a mixing bowl then thoroughly combine.

In a shallow bowl, beat remaining eggs then set aside.

Place flour on a flat plate then set aside.

Form potato mixture into golf-ball sized spheres then dip in beaten eggs and roll in the flour.  Flatten into patties then place on a floured tray.

Place oil in a saucepan about 2 inches deep then heat.  Fry patties until they turn golden brown, turning them over once. Remove with a slotted spoon then allow to drain on paper towels.  Place on a large platter then serve hot.

M’hadjeb – Algerian Meat Pies

Algerian Food: A World of Exotic Flavours

Makes 12 to 16 pie

These pies are excellent.  In Algeria, they are often sold as fast food.  Made with different types of dough and fillings they are tasty and addictive according to those who love fine food.  This is my version using crepes for the wraps

1 cup white flour

Pinch of salt

2 eggs, beaten

1 3/4 cups whole milk

1 tablespoon melted butter

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 pound ground beef or lamb

4 cloves garlic, crushed

1/2 cup finely chopped fresh coriander leaves (cilantro)

1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper (cayenne)

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ras el hanout (see p. X)

2 tablespoons tomato paste, dissolved in 1/2 cup warm water

In a mixing bowl, stir together the flour and salt.  Add the eggs and half the milk.  Whisk together until smooth.  Add the remaining milk and the butter and whisk until well blended.  Set aside for 1 hour.

While the batter is sitting, heat oil in a frying pan then fry onions over medium heat until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes, then stir in meat.  Sauté over medium heat for a further 5 minutes then stir in remaining ingredients.   Cook over medium heat for a further 10 minutes, stirring often.  Allow cooling then divide into needed portions and set aside.

While the meat mixture is cooling, prepare the crepes.  Using a crepe pan with a 6” base, put a spoonful of the crepe batter in the pan and quickly roll the batter around until the base of the pan is completely covered.  Cook over medium-high heat until the sides of the crepe begin to brown.  Flip it over and cook the second side until it just begins to brown.  Remove from the pan and place it on wax paper or a tea towel.  Continue the same procedure to make 12 to 16 crepes, stacking them over each other.

Preheat oven to 350° F.

To make the m’hadjeb, place 1 crepe on a flat surface and place 1 heaping tablespoon of the filling in the middle.  Fold the 4 sides over the filling to make a square-shaped m’hadjeb.  Repeat the process until all the crepes are finished.

Place on greased baking sheets then brush the top with a little extra olive oil or butter.  Bake for 15 minutes.

Serve hot.