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

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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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Tanzania: Zanzibar pizza ๐Ÿ‡น๐Ÿ‡ฟย 

Tanzania flag

Pizza is not the national dish of Tanzania.

Let’s get that out of the way right now. The national dish of Tanzania, by all accounts, is ugali, which should not surprise anyone reading this blog, since ugali or some variant of it is so popular in so much of sub-Saharan Africa.

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Rolling the dough for Zanzibar pizza.

But when I watched the episode of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown on Tanzania, I was mesmerized by the street food scene there, and nothing seemed more interesting than the pizza.

Fried, open face, ingredients slathered on, then folded together like a publicly acceptable version of a Taco Bell crunch wrap.

I had to have it, and it was delicious.

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Some Zanzibar pizza ingredients: cream cheese, onions, tomato, eggs, ground meat.

Tanzania: Zanzibar pizza, via the Internet writ large

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 ts salt
  • 1/2 cup water
  • ghee
  • 1 lb ground meat
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • eggs
  • tomato sauce
  • cream cheese
  1. Knead together the flour, salt and water to make dough balls, roughly the size of a golf ball. Coat in oil and let stand for an hour.
  2. Cook the meat, and assemble the other ingredients.
  3. Roll the dough into circles about the size of a dinner plate, thick enough to have some structural integrity but thin enough that it isn’t oppressive.
  4. Toss one of those dough balls on a hot skillet, coated with ghee. Put a little more ghee inside the dough ball, then add your ingredients: first meat, then onion, cream cheese, tomato, and finally, an egg. Mayonnaise can also be added.
  5. Step 4 takes some practice. That’s a lot of stuff to put on any piece of dough. Plan on having some failed pizzas.
  6. This step is tricky, too โ€“ fold up the edges of the pizza to cover the ingredients โ€“ and then flip it, all without losing the ingredients inside the pizza. You’ll get the hang of it.
  7. Once fried on both sides, eat that bad boy. You will love it.
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Delicious pizza.

Kenya: Ugali and sukuma wiki ๐Ÿ‡ฐ๐Ÿ‡ช

Kenya flag.

Ginger, onion and pepper in a food processor.

Ahh, food processors, how do I love thee.

This has been a challenging time for Nation Plates.

There is, of course, the obvious challenge: Eleanor. She keeps us very busy! Experimenting in the kitchen is often interrupted by a hungry/dirty/bored/lonely/tired baby. She’s the most fun to hang out with, but the “frills” of life, like food blogs, go on the metaphorical back burner for the time being.

But now, with a nearly-five-month-old daughter, I am on parental leave, and I have a little more time for my own projects. Which leads to the second challenge:

Kale.

The last Nation Plate was a tough one because of scale โ€“ pig bones, making my own stock, hours of time and energy invested.

My old nemesis, kale, mixed with tomatoes and onions.

My old nemesis, kale, mixed with tomatoes and onions.

This one was a challenge because of kale, my nemesis in the food world.

But the Kenyan national dish, ugali, is often eaten with a kale-like leaf called colewort, and kale or collared greens are the go-to subs for colewort in ugali’s normal accompaniment, sukuma wiki.

Compromises had to be made. I would make sukuma wiki and try some, but I also would make a Kenyan curry, kuku paka, to accompany both.

The ugali, well, it’s African corn mush. It appears in a good chunk of the continent. The sukuma wiki wasn’t awful, for kale, but I’d never eat it again. The curry was a nice touch, but rice would have been a better accompaniment than corn mush.

Mashing the ugali.

Mashing the ugali.

Ugali –ย via the Congo Cookbook

2:1 water:white cornmeal ratio

Boil water. Slowly mix in cornmeal, stirring continuously and mashing out lumps. Add cornmeal to start – even if you go above the 2:1 ratio – until you get a mush that is thicker than mashed potatoes.

Turn upside-down on a plate and serve, breaking off chunks for eating.

Sukuma Wiki – via the Congo Cookbook

  • 1ย lb of kale, chopped into large pieces
  • 2ย Tb flour
  • 1ย lemon, juiced
  • 1ย onion, chopped
  • 16 oz chopped tomatoes (’tis the season for canned tomatoes)
  • 1ย jalapeno, chopped
  • salt
  1. Add about two inches of water to a large pot. Place a steaming vessel above the water, and bring to a boil. Add the kale and steam.
  2. Combineย flour and lemon juice, and stir until smooth.
  3. Once kale is steamed, drain. Set aside.
  4. In a separate pan, add some oil. Saute the onion, tomatoes and jalapeno. Add salt to taste, then the flour/lemon mixture. Stir until smooth.
  5. Reduce heat. Add drained kale. Cover and simmer over low heat until greens are fully tender and sauce is thickened.
Clockwise from top: Sukuma wiki, kuku paka and ugali.

Clockwise from top: Sukuma wiki, kuku paka and ugali.

Gambia: Domoda ๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ฒ

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A few weeks ago, I had a particularly busy weekend.

The East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District had its annual native plant sale on Saturday, and I picked up some new low-maintenance plants for the garden. But since I was already going to be working outside โ€“ and because the weather was so freakin’ great for February โ€“ Emily and I went up to our favorite garden center, Cistus Nursery up on Sauvie Island.

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