Sunday, September 6, 2009

Algeria - Root Vegetables

You can eat Algerian food, but don’t travel there! A travel warning was issued by the U.S. State Department urging U.S. citizens to carefully evaluate all the risks before embarking on a trip to the North African country. It said, “Terrorist attacks including bombings, false roadblocks, kidnappings, ambushes, and assassinations occur regularly.” Okay then.
You might be surprised, however, to know that Algerians like French pastries. (Terrorism and puff pastries. Hmmm.)

Algeria is the largest country on the Mediterranean or the second largest on the African continent. The North African region served as a transit for people migrating towards Europe or the Middle East eons ago. Out of this mix developed the Berber people. Their language and culture dominated most of the land until the spread of Islam and the coming of the Arabs. A large portion of the population still speaks Berber, although Algerians today speak mostly Arabic. The country was occupied by France, but it won its independence in 1962. However, since 1992, thousands have died due to civil unrest and assassinations. I hate to say it, but my Algerian roast chicken and vegetables looked like a bloody coup due to the red turnips and tomato sauce mixed in it, and my kitchen looked like a bomb had blown up in it after I was done cooking (the picture does not do it justice).

Since it’s a long weekend I decided that I would cook the cuisines of two countries - tomorrow I’m cooking the cuisine of Andorra. Today Julia and I went to the grocery store with my list in hand for all the dishes I’ll be attempting for both countries (five in all) and I had to get it today because everything is going to be closed tomorrow due to Labor Day. Yes, they celebrate Labor Day in Canada. At the grocery store I was throwing into my cart root vegetables that I may have heard of but rarely eaten – and certainly not cooked. In the check-out line the cashier kept asking me the names of the vegetables. “Red Turnips,” I answered, “And that’s white turnips... Savory cabbage...Parsnip?” In my Algerian couscous the recipe called for one rutabaga. I had no idea what a rutabaga was. I looked it up in the dictionary. It’s a large, round, yellow-fleshed root. They didn’t have any rutabaga at my local grocery store so I substituted parsnip. And even though the recipe only called for 2 turnips, I bought 2 red turnips and 2 white. I think I got a little carried away with the root vegetables.

While making dinner Kevin and John were at football practice. Julia “helped” but she was more interested in her “Hanna Montana” show. I went to town in the kitchen and left quite a mess. Yes, I am what you would call a “messy cook.” When Kevin and John came home from practice Kevin walked in the kitchen and then walked right back out. "It looks complicated in there," he said. It looked more complicated than it actually was. But good strategy ladies - the messier your kitchen the more your family will appreciate your meal figuring you've slaved for them (throw some flour in you face too to give it the full affect).

The main course for our family dinner was Algerian couscous. It involved roasting a chicken and lots of vegetables and then serving the chicken/vegetable mixture on a bed of couscous (I bought organic whole wheat couscous. I got a rolling of the eyes from John for that one). Despite all the root vegetables (which are very good for you, by the way) it tasted good. John and I even went back for seconds.

For dessert I made an Algerian Charlotte. It comprised of dates and almonds and heavy cream. It was okay. It tasted like eating almond whipped cream (because that's essentially what it was). Dates are a traditional food of Algeria, along with couscous. So all in all, we tasted a good (yet small) sampling of Algerian cuisine.


1 box couscous

1 can tomato sauce

3 large carrots

1 rutabaga

1 large onion

2 zucchini

2 turnips

Cook chicken until tender and then debone. Cut vegetables in chunks and cook in chicken broth ( I didn’t think there was enough broth to cook the vegetables so I added a can of chicken broth. I cooked the vegetables in the roasting pan in the oven). Add chicken and tomato sauce and let it simmer. Cook couscous (according to the box – it’s very easy). Once couscous is fluffy, serve on plates and cover it with chicken and vegetables.


1 cup dates

juice of 1 orange

1 1/2 cup water

3 TBSP honey

1 TBSP gelatin

2 cups heavy cream

1/2 cup chopped almonds

2 TBSP sliced almonds

2 chopped dates

grated peel of 1/2 orange

Remove the pits from the dates (I bought the dried dates in a bag). Cut them into quarters and set them aside. Squeeze the orange juice into a sauce pan. Add water and honey. Sprinkle the gelatin onto the mixture. When it dissolves, stir briefly and add the quartered dates. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer., covered for 30 minutes. Cool. Strain the mixture and reserve the liquid. Whip the cream until it stands in peaks. Add almonds to the date liquid and fold into the cream. Spoon into serving dish. Decorate with sliced almonds, chopped dates and grated orange peel. Chill for 2 hours.


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