Algeria: Couscous ๐Ÿ‡ฉ๐Ÿ‡ฟ

Remember when couscous became a thing?

I think it was the mid-1990s, when Near East started putting boxes of the stuff on your store shelves and you could make it in 5 minutes. It was an easy way to get some weeknight carbs, a parents’ dream in a one-pot meal, and it was even, dare I say, exotic.

I loved that stuff. My family would eat it a couple of times a month. I’d keep boxes in the pantry for meals when I was cooking for myself. Pine nuts, seasoning packet, tiny semolina grains, 5 minutes, good to go.

In 1998, I was fortunate to go on a school trip to Spain, a trip that included an optional one-day excursion to Morocco for $80, and heck yeah I was doing that. We had lunch in the city of Tetouan, in a UNESCO World Heritage Site, sitting on the floor and having couscous.

It was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. It was light, flavorful, even decadent.

I don’t think I ever ate another box of instant couscous again. I knew what I had available to me in the states was not even comparable to what I had in Morocco.

For some reason, it never occurred to me to try to learn how to make a better couscous, until I got up to Algeria in the Nation Plates project. That’s when I started to learn about this fascinating dish: It’s gently steamed to cook, water and oil mixed in with the couscous before put over a hot pot. And then it’s steamed again. And again.

It seemed challenging, and it took some improvisation โ€“ particularly in finding a receptacle to steam fine-grain couscous. I used a strainer, which was imperfect but sufficient.

Recipe sourced from Halal Home Cooking, with some edits.

Lamb Merguez Couscous

  • 2 Tb olive oil
  • 1 # merguez sausage
  • 1 1/2 medium onions, finely chopped or grated
  • 1 ts Ras El Hanout
  • 1 ts ground cumin
  • 1 ts ground coriander
  • 3/4 ts fine salt
  • 1/2 ts ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 ts ground black pepper
  • dash of harissa paste, or to taste
  • 4 1/4 cups water
  • 2 carrots, washed, peeled and sliced
  • 2 celery stalks, washed, trimmed and sliced
  • 1/2 # fine couscous
  • 1 Tb extra virgin olive oil, divided plus more for greasing steaming basket
  • 1 2/3 cups water, divided
  • 1 Tb unsalted butter
  • Stew

    1. Over medium heat, warm oil in your cookware. Add merguez and brown on all sides. Remove and set aside, leaving fat in the pan.
    2. Reduce heat to medium low, adding the onion and caramelizing, stirring often.
    3. Return the meat to the pot, along with the spices, stirring to incorporate. Add water, and increase heat to medium-high, bringing to a boil.
    4. Simmer for 40 minutes.
    5. Add vegetables, and simmer for another 20 minutes.
  • Couscous

    1. In a large bowl, add the couscous and stir in 1/2 Tb of olive oil, mixing to coat the grain evenly. Add in 1/4 cup of water, and mix to coat.
    2. Grease the inside of a fine-mesh strainer and pour in the couscous. Place in the pot, suspended above the cooking liquid, and cover, steaming for 10 minutes.
    3. Remove the strainer, and pour the couscous back in the bowl. Separate the grains, add a pinch of salt, a 1/2 cup of water, and return to the strainer, putting it back in the pot for another 10 minutes.
    4. Remove the strainer, pour back into the bowl, separate the grains and add 3/4 cup of water. Stir in the remaining oil and butter. Steam for another 10 minutes.
    5. Serve the couscous on a large platter, then add the meat mixture on top.

 

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Round Two wrap-up

round_2_recap

 

I started Round Two more than 1,000 days ago.

On January 7, 2015, I made Albanian Tavรซ Kosi, the first of the 21 dishes scheduled for Round Two. Nearly three years later, I got through 19 of them.img_0251

As has been mentioned before, a big part of that is pictured at right, because as nice as it is to have little Eleanor hanging out, it is not conducive to having an adventurous cooking blog.

Part of that is also just the nature of this round. There were a lot of foods I wasn’t looking forward to โ€“ specifically, Kenya, Russia, Zimbabwe, Saint Lucia. Many of those turned out way better than I expected.

Some presented ingredient-acquisition problems: See Finland, where I scoured the web and local vendors to find reindeer meat before giving up and just making mammi. Making ramen broth from scratch was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my kitchen, even harder than cassoulet.

But for the passing of my boss’ father, I’d be stuck without food or ingredients for Palau. I skipped Madagascar because I am hesitant to eat “toothache plant” without knowing for sure I have the right leaf; I skipped Nauru because, well, you tell me what Nauruans eat โ€“ nobody else has been able to.

And so itโ€™s on to Round Three. I am quite looking forward to this round, even more than I dreaded Round Two. I’ve already made two of the dishes โ€“ Algerian couscous and Bangladeshi korma. I found the ndolรฉ leaves I need for Cameroon. I’m excited about eating frogs in honor of Dominica, making pupusas for El Salvador, diving into a new cookbook to make Georgian kachapuri.

This round has three โ€“ three! โ€“ countries from the Levant: Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine. I’ll make French crepes and Venezuelan rice and beans. And, it wouldn’t be a round of Nation Plates if it didn’t have machboos (UAE); corn-meal with something (Rwanda) and fish-and-fruit (St. Vincent and the Grenadines).

I only have one question mark on my list for Round 4: Kiribati. Yet another Micronesian nation, where I seem to run into the most trouble on this blog. If you have ideas, let me know.

In the meantime โ€“ here we go. Algeria coming soon. Prepare for the noms.

Zimbabwe: Sadza with peanut chicken ๐Ÿ‡ฟ๐Ÿ‡ผ

zw1

I love porridge.

They’re great vehicles for flavor, they’re filling, they’re relatively easy to make. Pop some ingredients in an Instant Pot, push a button and you’ve got congee. Rinse some nixtamalized corn, boil it, cook it slowly and out come delicious grits. Take some stone ground oats, mix with hot water and a hot bowl of oatmeal is waiting for some maple syrup.

Porridge, clearly, is more of a breakfast food. It’s filling, and, as mentioned, is a great vehicle for bacon, eggs, sweet syrup, fruit, whatever.

That is a very Oregonian way of viewing porridge. But for much of the world, a thicker version of porridge โ€“ corn, cassava, sorghum โ€“ is a crucial staple food.

And so we have Zimbabwe, which, like much of Africa, has a national love for a corn mush called sadza. It’s similar to Zambia’s nshima and other corn-based porridge-mushes, in that it’s thicker than your average porridge, and serves as a vehicle for eating something else.

In this case, rather than suffer through more leafy greens, I found a recipe for a chicken-and-peanut dish from the Cape to Cairo cookbook, which I can’t find online but recommend picking up.

I prefer not to re-post recipes from cookbooks, but here’s a gallery of the meal:

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