Sunday, February 1, 2015

Date-Night Cooking Around The World: Algeria

Welcome back to Date-Night Cooking!

After last week's minor fiasco with bland food out of Albania, I decided against sticking exclusively to recipes offered up on Global Table Adventures. You'll be happy to know that this week's country offered up a healthy, flavorful, balanced meal!
 
You see, for this week, I did a little Pinterest hunting and found out that one of the prominent regional recipes in Northern Africa (where Algeria can be found, in case you were wondering) is chermoula.

Chermoula is a creamy, rich, pesto-like marinade for meats, but particularly for fatty fish, like salmon. I found this recipe over on 64 sq ft kitchen (follow link for recipe).

Salmon with chermoulla and Algerian Green Beans. A simply divine plate.

So, let me begin by saying how much I miss eating fresh salmon. The Huz and I used to eat it weekly as our Shabbos dinner main course, usually served with green beans and couscous (the other components of this meal, but we'll get to that in a bit). Usually, I would pick a sauce at random, smother the salmon in it, and bake it in the oven. It was always perfect, smooth, and delicious, because salmon just is. The green beans were usually steamed and tossed with either lemon juice or soy sauce. The couscous didn't need much, it just sat under the rest of the food and soaked up what it could.

This was our favorite meal, but we stopped buying fresh salmon a long time ago because of the cost. Last night's date-night reminded me how tender, flavorful, and well-balanced that meal is, and I want those dinners back!

As for the chermoula, I think I made a couple mistakes. The first one is that I used frozen parsley and cilantro. I think the notes would have come through more strongly if I'd used fresh herbs. The other mistake was that I didn't use enough tomato, which would have upped the acidity. That being said, while it didn't burst with the strong flavors I'd been anticipating, this was delicious. The sauce and salmon worked perfectly together. Pan-searing the fish resulted in a soft, succulent texture and really brought out the best from the marinade ingredients.

The textures and flavors of the chermoula and salmon harmonized well with Algerian Green Beans. This recipe came from Global Table Adventure (GTA) and brought a real flavor punch. This dish comes together pretty quickly, 15 minutes to steam the green beans, and about 2 minutes to saute the seasonings, garlic, & slivered almonds in a little oil, then 30 seconds to toss it all together. This might be the best green bean recipe I've ever had. Cumin, paprika, and cloves, though a combination I wouldn't have come up with on my own, provide a good kick. I worried that the veggies would end up too greasy, but the steamed, fresh green beans balanced the oil well. The almonds added that chewy-crunchy texture and a subtle flavoring which really made the dish pop.

We finished this meal off with the dessert from GTA: Bil Zbib*. This cake-like couscous comes together in a few minutes with chopped dried fruit, sugar, butter, and cinnamon. When served warm, there's an undeniable creaminess, a balanced sweetness, and a great mix of textures from the grainy couscous and the plumped up fruits. This gets some bonus points from The Huz, who usually hates anything with cooked fruits, but who ate two servings of this confection.

This is a good place for me to note what I didn't make, and why. GTA's menu included a meat lasagna, spicy chickpea soup, a fennel and blood orange salad, french baguettes, and homemade turkish delight.

Well, for starters, that is just way too much food for us, and far too heavy for our palettes. Second, meat and cheese don't mix in the kosher world, and while I could have subbed some soy ground meat food product, it just didn't really appeal to me. The fennel salad didn't sound at all like my thing, and I wasn't quite sure where I would find blood oranges anyway. The baguettes and turkish delight were far too time-consuming for our Saturday night mini-adventure, but I did buy a box of turkish delight from the store.

I actually would have liked to make the chickpea soup, it sounded pretty good to me. But The Huz nixed it, saying it didn't really appeal to him. I may yet revisit that and give it a try once I've gotten my hands on some harissa.

So, week three of Cooking Around The World was a definite success! And these recipes were so simple and quick to make that I could easily see myself eating this meal again.

Next week, I do hope you'll be back to explore Andorra with us, and revisit Albania for a little do-over.

*(My apologies for not having a picture of the bil zbib, but I was having some lighting difficulties.)