Algeria, a country covered 90% by the Sahara Desert boasts a rich Mediterranean cuisine. The root traces back to as far as 30,000 B.C., to the arrival of Berbers to Algeria. Berbers are an ethnic group indigenous to North Africa. They introduced semolina and dates which are both main ingredients to the Algerian dishes. Berbers also created Algeria’s national dish which is couscous. Muslim conquest of North Africa brought in exotic spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and saffron. Olives came in from Spain, while sweet pastries and tea came from European traders. The history of the cuisine is really interesting, and how it has sustained popular throughout history till now. A huge variety of vegetables is used such as potatoes, carrots, onions, zucchini, cabbages, squash, and garlic.
I chose to cook the national dish of Algeria, couscous with vegetables, a chicken and olive dish called Djedj Tadjine b’ zeitoun and Makrout which is a semolina and date sweet. It was only while I was reading up to write the blog I realized that I used a lot of ingredients that are local to Algeria and is very popular in their cuisine.
As for the food I cooked, the vegetable couscous was a huge hit, especially with my toddler who asked for a second helping for his lunch. The recipe called to slow cook the vegetables in spices for around 2 hours. I cooked it for an hour and a half which really brought out the flavors. It was practically bursting with the flavors of the exotic spices and different vegetables. The chicken dish was also tasty, although the spotlight was on the olives. The spices and herbs cooked the bitter out of the olives and replaced it with a great taste very distinct to the Mediterranean cuisine. I especially loved cooking with saffron which just distributed its bright color to the chicken, and I was a pretty fascinated with the process. Finally, the dessert which I enjoyed making so much turned out just as fun to eat. I have never cooked semolina, and making a dough out of it is something I have not even heard of. Once again the spices cinnamon and nutmeg mixed with rosewater created a really sharp and flowery taste.
I would call this week’s dish a complete success, just upon the fact that my toddler loved it.