Eating & Drinking

THINK GLOBAL, EAT LOCAL: A recipe from the Algerian ambassador’s kitchen

Mrs. Hafna Benamara, wife of the ambassador of Algeria shares this national dish of couscous and lamb.

Photography by Photoluxstudio.com - Christian Lalonde, styling by Noah Witenoff

This is the second Ottawa posting for Mrs. Hafna Benamara, wife of the ambassador of Algeria. When she first came in the late 1980s, she was a newlywed, the wife of the first secretary. “Ottawa was completely different then,” she says. Finding the ingredients for couscous, the national dish of Algeria, was impossible. “There was one tiny Lebanese store, but that was it,” she explains. Fortunately, by 2006, when Mrs. Benamara returned to the capital as the wife of the ambassador, the culinary landscape had been transformed: she’s now able to find everything she needs. Couscous may be the national dish of Algeria, but each region of the country has its variations. In the east of the country, where Mrs. Benamara is from, couscous is served with a buttery white sauce; in the mountains, it would be prepared with lots of oil from locally grown olives; in the west, cumin is the principal seasoning. She finds her ingredients at Nedroma Market (375 St. Laurent Blvd.) and Chez Jamel (89, boul. St. Raymond, Gatineau).

Algerian Couscous with Lamb and Vegetables

INGREDIENTS
100 g dried chickpeas
500 g lamb meat, cubed
½ tbsp salt
½ tsp ground black pepper
½ tbsp paprika
2 medium onions, chopped
½ cup olive oil, divided
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 kg couscous
3 small carrots, chopped
2–3 small turnips, chopped
3 small zucchini, chopped
Pinch salt

DIRECTIONS
1. Soak chickpeas in water overnight.
2. Place cubed lamb in bottom portion of a couscous stockpot (a traditional steaming and cooking pot used in the preparation of couscous). Season with salt, pepper, and paprika. Add chopped onions and 2 tablespoons olive oil.
3. Brown meat lightly. Add 2 cups of water, tomato paste, and chickpeas. Cook on medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes.
4. Add chopped vegetables and cover with 4 cups water. Bring to boil.
5. Moisten couscous with ½ cup cold water and let stand for five minutes. Add couscous to upper portion of couscous pot without packing it down, and place upper container on top of lower container (which contains the meat, vegetables, and sauce). Put lid on entire pot and cook for 30 to 40 minutes, until steam begins to escape. (If you do not have a couscous pot, you can make the couscous separate from the broth, but it will not absorb the flavours of the lamb and vegetables.)
6. Remove couscous and arrange on platter. Add pinch of salt, sprinkle with two tablespoons of cold water, and fluff with a wooden spoon to separate the grains. Return couscous to upper portion of couscous pot and cook until it steams again.
7. Remove couscous and arrange on large platter. Allow to cool for three or four minutes, then season with remaining olive oil.
8. Place the lamb and vegetable “stew” in a separate serving bowl. Allow guests to serve themselves couscous, then top with desired amount of stew.