I started with the flatbread for this one. Because it took the most time to do, I did it the night before. This flatbread was an adventure for me. I have to say it didn’t go 1-2-3, starting with the fact that I think I bought the wrong kind of flour. The recipe called for fine whole-wheat flour, and since all I could find at the international supermarket I was at was fine cracked wheat flour, I went with that. I ended up adding what seemed like a lot of regular white flour to it to make it dry enough to knead. And I had to invent some different ways to make it work, all the while I’m thinking, “I’m REALLY not sure this is right.”
After I let it rest for an hour (let me tell you, I was already ready to rest too), I rolled it out and rubbed it with a turmeric-paprika-cumin-olive oil concoction. I was excited to use turmeric for the first time, but I realized later that it’s the spice that gives mustard its yellow color. It also stains, so be careful using it.
Anyway, I then rolled it into a tube and formed the tube into a spiral.
After that, I took the spirals, patted them more or less into a ball and rolled them out again. I cooked them in a hot iron skillet, kind of like you would a pancake. This bread caused me open my eyes. Here’s what I learned: 1) making bread is NOT for people who want instant gratification and are impatient (like me), 2) my husband, the artist and mechanic, knew a little more about working with dough than I did, 3) sometimes you have to wait for things to set up and happen, and sometimes you have to do things over and over again in order for it to work, and 4) sometimes you just have to make it up as you go and pretend you knew what you were doing the whole time. Kind of like parenting.
It took forever to cut up all the vegetables for the chicken couscous. Seriously, I swear it took about 6-8 weeks. At least that’s how my feet felt at the end of it all. I could’ve applied and received my passport before I was finished. And even though I’m not a huge fan of cauliflower or turnips, I did cut up a little of each and throw it in the skillet. I realized it just added to the complexity of the entire dish. (I had to omit the zucchini because I apparently married a belligerent in the war against the squash family. Having zucchini in the house would have completely violated the terms of war.) One thing that I’ve found with the Algerian recipes I looked through, including this one—and this may be indicative throughout northern African cooking—is that they tend to mix fruits and meats together (like ground beef with peaches), or sweet spices with stronger or spicy ones together (like cinnamon with cumin and cayenne pepper, as in this recipe). I even found that the choice of vegetables also contains these extremes: combining red bell pepper with turnips and/or the cauliflower. It’s this dichotomy of flavors that creates such vim in everyday cuisine. If I stop and really think about what I was eating, I could almost pick out of the cinnamon, the cumin, the garlic, etc. It reminded me of that scene in the film Ratatouille where Remy was trying to explain to his brother what happens when you mix different flavors together to create new ones. Minus the psychedelic clouds of color and food above my head.
I had two other items on the menu that didn’t get made: shrimp charmoula (it required marinating it for at least 8 hours, and I just didn’t have the time or energy to get it done) and mint tea (etzai). The main reason I didn’t do the tea is because I really wanted to try to go buy a regular teapot (or better yet, perhaps a samovar) before I try to make tea again. This mint tea called to be poured from a height of at least 12 inches, and I really can’t do that from a pot on the stove (well, cleanly, that is).
I think overall, my husband and I liked it more than the kids. My son had been sick for the past couple of days, so I kind of understood if he didn’t eat much. My daughter said she liked it, but only ate about half. However, they liked the plain couscous. That’s good, since it was my first time eating couscous too, much less making it! I bet this would also be good with shrimp or both shrimp and chicken. We are having some unseasonably warm weather in Indiana, so in a way, it sort of acted as a wonderful background to eating Algerian food.
Next up: Andorra
Algerian flatbread: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Algerian-Flatbread-241505
Chicken couscous: http://recipes.wuzzle.org/index.php/31/146