This year, Ramadan has arrived in the peak of summer, meaning the days are going to be longer and much hotter than many of us are accustomed to. But regardless, Muslims all around the world have looked forward to this blessed month all year long in anticipation of the spiritual benefits...as well as the delicious, and plentiful meals that bring family and friends together.
And when I say plentiful, I really do mean plentiful.
Like, five hours worth of plentiful.
Yes, that's how long I spent in the kitchen today, cooking the first iftar of the month.
I really don't know how my mother has done it all these years but I definitely appreciate her more. At the end of day though, I have to say that it was well worth it. After taking my first bite into a freshly fried bourek, I forgot all about the long, and hot hours void of food or drink that I had just spent chopping away at onions, checking the soup every five minutes, rubbing spices into the chicken, etc. My mouth was instantly filled with the amazing flavor of delicious minced meat surrounded by layers and layers of delicious, crispy phyllo, and pure euphoria was all that followed.
1 pound of ground beef
3 medium sized onions (chopped)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons oil
1 pack of Phyllo dough sheets
Put the ground beef in a pot, and add the chopped onions, pepper, salt, and cinnamon. Using your hands, thoroughly incorporate the onion, and spices into the beef. This is actually a trick I learned from my mother. Not only does it get all the spices into the beef, but mixing in the onions keeps the beef from clumping together as much. When you're done mixing everything in, add the oil. Stir it around for a bit, then just cover the pot and let the beef cook on medium low heat. Make sure you stir it every now and then so the beef doesn't clump together.
The onions are going to release a lot of water as they are cooking; once this water dries out, that's your cue to crack two eggs on top, and stir them around for a minute or two until they're cooked with the beef. Once you're done doing that, turn the stove off, and set the beef aside to cool.
Assembling the bourek is very easy. There are many ways to do it, but this is just my way. Take a phyllo sheet and place it on the table in front of you so that it is wide, and not long. Fold one side over to the other side as if you were closing a book. Now take the bottom end of the sheet that is closest to you, and make a small fold. Put the beef mixture on that folded part. Next, fold in the right and left sides of the sheet over the mixture to cover it, and then roll it forward tightly.
Fry on top of the stove for about 5 minutes on each side, or until golden brown. When the oil gets really hot, they might get brown really fast so just lower the heat and you'll be fine.
Ramadan in an Algerian household is just not complete without the traditional Algerian shourba (soup). This soup, in particular, has has taken me forever to learn how to make. I think my biggest flaw when it comes to making it is that I just get very impatient. I'm so used to mixing everything together and leaving it in the oven, or on top of the stove to cook until it's done. But with this soup, you have to constantly keep stirring, checking consistency, adding water, etc...it's frustrating!
However, when I finally tasted the finished product earlier tonight, I was so proud of myself; all that effort definitely paid off. Plus, the fact that my father didn't have any complaints was a miracle in it's own! I mean, at that point, I knew that I had finally mastered this hearty and satisfying soup. The recipe is as follows, but keep in mind that when you're making soup, your eyes are your best judge. So, if you need to add more water, do so; or if you don't need to add as much water(depending on how thick you like your soup), then make that adjustment as well.
1/4 pound of lamb meat, cut into chunks
1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped
Half of a zucchini squash, chopped
1 small potato, peeled and chopped
2 small onions, peeled and chopped
1/2 of a small green bell pepper (chop 1/2 of it very finely and leave the other half as a whole)
A handful of chickpeas
One small celery branch (it's best to get it from the inside of the celery) (CHOPPED)
One small bunch of cilantro, chopped
3 tablespoons of vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
1 and 1/4 teaspoon salt
One 6oz. can of tomato paste
1/4 cup of tomato sauce
1/4 cup of thin vermicelli
One or two sprigs of mint
Wash the meat and add it to the saucepan. Add the carrot, squash, potato, onions, pepper, and celery. Throw in the chickpeas. Chop in 1/2 of the brunch of cilantro, the other half will be added later. Add spices, oil, and saute everything together on low heat for about 5 minutes. Then, add the tomato paste and cover everything with water (The water level should be up to at least half of the saucepan). Turn the stove up to medium heat and let the soup come to a boil. When it boils, turn the heat down to low and let it cook.
You have to constantly stir the soup, like about every 10 minutes or so, so that the vegetables don't stick to the bottom of the pan. After an hour, add the tomato sauce. Throw in the other half of the green pepper (which should be a whole, not chopped). Chop in the rest of the cilantro and the twigs of mint (leaves only). Add 4 and a half cups of water, and turn up the heat again so the soup can come to a boil. When it comes to a boil, turn the heat down and let it cook for another half an hour. After that half an hour, add a cup of water(or as needed) and this time when it boils, throw in the angel hair. Don't cover the pan when you throw in the angel hair because it will stick. Stir it around occasionally; when the angel hair cooks, which is about 10 minutes or so, the soup will be done!
Khobz Eddar: Algerian Leavened Bread (Semolina Version)
Khobz eddar literally translates into "house bread", and as the name suggests, it's bread that is always made at home. There are many versions of this bread; the variation is in the type of flour that is used. For our first iftar, I chose to make this bread using semolina. Of course, back in the day, Algerian women would a3jen(knead) the dough by hand...but the invention of the Kitchen Aid has made life so much easier for us. It didn't take long to get this bread in the oven, and when it came out, it looked amazing. Light, and fluffy, with a beautiful yellow tinge to it. WIN.
4 heaping cups of fine semolina
1 cup of all purpose flour
2 tablespoons yeast
1 and 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 tablespoon black seeds
1/2 teaspoon anise seeds
Pour the semolina and flour into the KitchenAid mixer bowl. Add salt, black seeds, and anise seeds. Pour the yeast into 1/2 a cup of warm water, add a teaspoon of sugar, and allow it to dissolve. When it dissolves, add it to the mixer bowl. Then basically, you just have to keep adding warm water to the bowl until a soft dough forms. The KitchenAid does all the work :D
I usually start off at low speed to incorporate everything together, then when it comes to the kneading I put it on medium speed. When your dough is formed, cover it with some cloth and let it rise for an hour.
After an hour, pour a small amount of oil on the table. Knead the dough on the table for 3-4 minutes, to make it tighter and push out all the air bubbles (and here I was thinking I didn't have to do any work! lol). Then, pinch the dough into four small balls. Use your hand to evenly flatten the dough balls out into circles. Place them on a greased baking pan, cover them with a cloth, and let them rise on the pan for about half an hour to forty minutes. Bake in the oven at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes. (During the last 5 minutes of baking, bring the loaves up to the top rack of the oven so they can brown on top).
Djaj M7ammar (Roast Chicken)
I wouldn't say that this recipe is necessarily Algerian, but it's my mom's recipe, and she's Algerian...so ..I guess it could pass for one? Well anyways, after stuffing myself with bourek, shourba, and khobz eddar, I had barely enough room left in my stomach for this chicken. But it's all good because it only took me a few bites to determine that this was the most succulent oven roasted chicken I have ever tasted. Perfectly crisp outside, and juicy inside. I don't know if everything just tasted better since I had nothing to eat all day, but like I always say, you don't have to take my word for it. Try it out for yourself, it's really simple :)
A 2 and 1/2 pound chicken
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 stick of butter
Wash the chicken(duh, right?). Sprinkle the pepper, salt, and cumin on top of the chicken, and inside the cavity. Then using your hands, rub everything thoroughly all over, under the skin, in the cavity, everywhere. Let it marinate for about an hour. Then place the chicken in a 13 by 9 inch glass baking pan. Sprinkle the rosemary and slice the butter into tiny pieces over the chicken. Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees for an hour. Then take off the aluminum foil and let it cook for another hour.
Oven Roasted Potatoes and Carrots
Although the potatoes and carrots are in the same dish as the chicken, I didn't cook them together. The potatoes and carrots were cooked in a separate pan and then at the end, I just arranged them around the chicken. This recipe, like the one before, is not really Algerian. My mother just made it up one day and it immediately became a hit with my family. Ingredients:
4 and 1/2 potatoes
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon oregano
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons oil
Peel and chop the carrots and potatoes into small cubes . Sprinkle the pepper, cumin, and oregano and salt on top of them, add the oil, and then thoroughly rub in the spices and oil. Spread the carrots and potatoes out onto a greased baking pan and cover with aluminum foil. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, take off the aluminum foil and turn the broiler on so the potatoes and carrots can become nice and crispy :)
Now this blog post just wouldn't be complete without me taking the time to thank Allah for all the blessings he has bestowed upon me and my family. Alhamdulilah. I am so thankful for the luxury of a warm meal on my plate, not just today, but for the past 20 years of my life. And I'm thankful for Him allowing me to share it with my annoying, but loving family :)