Friday, October 22, 2010

Algerian Cuisine

photo source:


Algeria, located in Northern Africa, is strongly influenced by Islamic culture. 99% of Algerians are Muslim, with Jews and Christians making up only 1% of the population. Their meals are a combination of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines.

Interesting facts about Algerian Cuisine
* Meals are a sociable and eaten leisurely
* Guests are warmly welcomed and greeted with Etzai (mint tea) or coffee, and often invited to stay for a meal.
* It is customary for the women in the family to cook the meals. This is considered a woman's duty. (Don't even start guys!)
* Recipes and cooking customs are passed down by word of mouth as women get together to prepare meals.
* Food is consumed using the thumb, forefinger and middle finger of the right hand. Using all of your fingers is considered a sign of overeating.
* Dates, walnuts, figs, mint and yogurt appear in many Algerian recipes.
* Ginger, saffron, onion, garlic, coriander, cumin, cinnamon, parsley, and mint are essential to any Algerian pantry.

Photo Source:

Breakfast is usually a light meal, which may include sweet pastries served with tea or Turkish coffee. Coffee is often flavored with cardamom. Lunch is often purchased from street vendors, or stalls, and is commonly some for of Shawarma (Kebab). Dinner is often very large and eaten late at night. This is especially true during the month of Ramadan.

The Khabz (pita) is a traditional Arab flatbread. It is the base of Algerian cuisine and is eaten at every meal. Lamb is common, along with fish and occasionally chicken or beef. Couscous is also served routinely.

Fresh fruit is often in a bowl on the table and consumed after a meal. Fruit and fruit juices are plentiful. Young Algerian children enjoy drinking apricot nectar. Etzai is one of the most popular drinks, along with Turkish coffee, fruit juice and soft drinks.

photo source:

I could go on and on! There is so much to talk about. But let's take a peak into our pantry...
For this country, I chose a recipe based on the spices more than anything. I did choose a chicken dish, even though lamb is more common. This is simply because I have to drive 45 minutes to find lamb around here :) And it's pretty darn expensive. I did splurge and buy Saffron so my meal could be truly authentic (at least that was the excuse I made to myself ~ and my husband~ as I purchased that $17 bottle containing 0.06 oz. of Saffron!)

Anyway, I was going to go REALLY authentic and serve yogurt-mint soup as an appetizer and coucous with raisins and flatbread along with my dish. The children were particularly unruly this afternoon and I didn't have the time to make the soup. In all the commotion, I forgot to make the coucous. I simply would NOT make a good Algerian wife! And I'm sorry, but I will NOT be serving my husband dinner at midnight. If he's hungry, he will be walking his hiney to the refrigerator himself :)

Photo Source: MY KITCHEN :)

The meal I chose was Chicken with Chickpeas and Lemon. Here's the recipe!

Chicken with Chickpeas and Lemon



1) Combine garlic, salt, pepper, ginger and saffron. Add 1/2 butter and stir well. Rub it all over Chicken. Allow to marinate overnight.

2) Put Chicken in large pan. Add 1/2 Parsley and cilantro, green onions, cinnamon stick and just enough water to cover; bring to boil, simmer 1 hour.

3) Melt remaining butter and saute red Onion until well browned.

4) Remove Chicken from pan; add Onion, chick Peas and remaining herbs to the remaining liquid, simmer until liquid is reduced to a sauce.

5) Add lemon juice, remove from heat; discard the cinnamon

, pour sauce over Chicken and sprinkle with remaining Parsley and cilantro and serve.

SO... how did it turn out? It was actually delicious! VERY different flavorings than what I'm used to, but it was extremely tasty. While I imagine some of the dishes they serve are subtle, this one was vibrant and flavorful. The combination of herbs with the lemon and chickpeas really flavored that chicken. And Derek loved it! I did manage to throw a pita

on his plate with the chicken (and even some asparagus), and I saw him finishing up the sauce and chickpeas with his bread. So a definite thumbs up on this recipe!!!

I can't wait to jump into our next country's cuisine. Next stop...Andorra! I know... I know... I hadn't heard of it either! And it's not a fictional Ewok village. It really does exist and I promise we'll tell you all about it.

Recipe- Information-

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Albanian Cuisine

photo courtesy of

Albanian Cuisine

Reading about Albanian cuisine made me hungry! I guess we really are drawn to the familiar. I have a German heritage and I have found that my Grandmother and Great Grandmother's cooking was probably VERY influenced by Albanian, Hungarian, Romanian and old Yugoslavian cuisine. As I was cooking this meal, the smells from my kitchen made me miss my family.

But we'll talk about the meal I made shortly!

In Albania, the main meal of the day is lunch. It usually consists of gjellë, a main dish of slowly cooked meat, and a salad made from fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, olives and green peppers topped with olive oil, vinegar and salt. Sounds delicious to me!

photo courtesy of

As I was researching this country's cuisine, I saw the same ingredients coming up over and over. A few of those foods were lamb, yogurt, garlic, cabbage, beans, veal, leeks, peppers, various cheeses, oregano, olives and grapes. Their meals are extremely influenced by Greece. But then again...what isn't!

photo courtesy of

Alcohol is vastly consumed. The most common alcoholic drinks include cognac, beer, red and white wines and raki. Mineral water is one of the most commonly consumed non-alcoholic drinks, along with carbonated beverages.
I had to choose a recipe that included lamb. It seemed wrong not to, with as much as it came up in my research.

Albanian Lamb Stew with Okra

12 Ounce(s) Okra, fresh or frozen
2 medium Green peppers, diced
2 Cup(s) Celery, diced
4 Ounce(s) Onion, diced
4 Cloves garlic, pressed
1/2 Cup(s) Water
1 Pound(s) Roasted lamb
1/4 Teaspoon(s) Thyme


Cook okra until liquid evaporated in skillet or Microwave dish, stirring
occasionally for 5 minutes. Add green pepper, celery, onion, garlic, salt
and pepper to taste. Cook for 10 minutes. Stir to prevent vegetables from
sticking. Add water, lamb and thyme and simmer, covered, over Low heat for 20 minutes until heated through.

Sprinkle with paprika and garnish with
lemon rind.

As I said earlier, this dish reminded me of some of the old Hungarian goulashes that my grandmother used to make. And her mother before her. I'd smell it before we even walked through the front door of their home in Chicago. They were amazing and brought a warm comfort over me that I can't really explain. I look forward to cooking some more European recipes in the future! stop... Algeria!

p.s. The husband loved this one :)

Information for this blog was obtained from the following sites:

Sunday, September 26, 2010


Country #2 on our journey around the world....

I found Albania fascinating and very surprising. First off, it has beautiful beaches! Sharing a coastline with Greece and just across the Adriatic Sea from Italy, Albanian beaches are spectacular!

Image Courtesy of

Here's how you remember the bordering countries: GAMMS! Greece, Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia. I had a bit of a jump ahead on learning a bit about Serbia since some maps showed Serbia and some showed Kosovo. In a nutshell, it's the former Yugoslavia (shown on the above map) - Kosovo's population is made up of a Muslim majority whereas Serbia is more Orthodox, but they are one-in-the-same (thank you to Sasha Kolenda).

As I stated, Albania is on the Adriatic Sea, 45 miles from Italy - across the Strait of Otranto which links the Adriatic Sea and Ionian Sea.

Interesting Fact: Since about the sixteenth century, the Albanians themselves have referred to their country as Shqiperia - Land of Eagles.

Population: 3 million
Capitol City: Tirana
Land Area: 29,000 square miles

Interesting Fact: Albanians shake their heads to say 'yes' and usually nod to say 'no'. (I could see that getting us North Americans into a lot of trouble) :D

I found the history of Albania fascinating. Like Afghanistan, their history is one of great struggle and conflict. They hold the record for the shortest-lived dynasty in European history with Prince William of Wied who lasted only six months. If you ever get a chance to read about this period in Albanian history, you'll find an era that would make reality TV pale in comparison. How about "Albanian Shore" instead of "Jersey Shore"? MUCH more drama, with less make-up :)

Interesting Fact:
There are over 8 million Albanian speakers, barely a third of whom live in Albania. Many have emigrated to other parts of Europe, to Australia and, in particular, to the USA. Still more live in the countries bordering Albania (GAMMS). This makes it, uniquely, a country which is often described as completely surrounded by itself.

Best time to Visit: May to September

"Hello" = Tungjatjeta

Albanian Proverb: Mbroje atdhene si shqipja folene - Protect your fatherland like the eagle protects its nest.

Recommended Reading: "Land of Eagles: Riding through Europe's Forgotten Country" by Robin Hanbury-Tenison. Credit goes to the author for the previous "Interesting Fact".

I hope you know a little more today about Albania than you did yesterday! And I'm excited to start learning about our next stop: ALGERIA!

Saturday, September 18, 2010


The first of 195 countries - here we go!

Afghanistan is a landlocked country located in the heart of Asia. Bordered by Pakistan to the south and east, Iran to the west, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to the north, and China to the far north-east. Now if you're like me and like to memorize bordering countries, try this: PITUTCh (Pakistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and China). Silly exercise, but it works for me!

Interesting Fact: Afghanistan is very rich in natural resources that remain largely untapped, to the tune of approximately one trillion dollars. They remain untapped due to ongoing wars.

Population: approximately 29,000,000
Capitol City: Kabul
41st Largest Country (249,984 square miles)

I have to admit, I got lost in all the political and historical details of this country; it has been in turmoil for centuries. I will spare you the details, but just be advised that Afghanistan is not a safe place for the world traveler. How very unfortunate, because I found in my reading, that Afghanistan has some beautiful architecture and as my fellow blogger, Chris, discovered - some very wonderful cuisine.

Interesting Fact: Afghanistan has farming communities that are some of the oldest in the world.

The Blue Mosque in Mazar i Sharif

Afghanistan is comprised of 34 Provinces...I won't name them or give them kitschy little words to help you memorize them :)

Terrain: Mostly rugged mountains; plains in north and southwest. The Hindu Kush mountains run northeast to southwest, dividing the northern provinces from the rest of the country, with the highest peaks found in the northern Wakhan Corridor. South of Kandahar is desert.

Well, that's Afghanistan 101 - VERY condensed. To be honest, I really did not enjoy the read on Afghanistan, mainly because of the horrible living conditions (amongst the poorest countries in the world with 35% unemployment) and the ongoing wars. All we can do is to pray for this country to find peace.

Thanks for stop....ALBANIA!

Friday, September 17, 2010

How it all started....

We've all heard of a Bucket List. To be honest, I didn't even know a list like that existed until Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman made it a household phrase with their movie, "The Bucket List". Well, this is how this project made my "Bucket List".

A while back, I was taking an online quiz that asked me to name the countries of the world. Apparently there were 195 of them which, in itself, was unbeknownst to me! I am embarrassed to say that I barely squeezed out 60 before the timer ran out. And trust me, my knowledge of countries around the world ran out WAY before the timer.

So I realized that my knowledge of the world outside of North America was sadly lacking, and that was unacceptable! It popped into my head that maybe I should start learning about each and every country in the world, alphabetically. So, I added it to my "bucket list".

I was telling Chris (my fellow blogger and lover-of-travel) about my desire to learn about every country in the world and it didn't take any convincing at all for her to come on board! As things evolved, Chris came up with the idea of making a dish from each country and I would add little interesting "tidbits" that I learned about that country. And thus, the idea of a blog was born (thank you to Chris' husband, Derek).

So - I would like to inform you, bring you along, do a virtual trip around the world with you. Add this to YOUR "bucket list" and just enjoy!

Allentown, PA

Afghan Cuisine


Immediately upon hearing the country's name, I think of women peering out mysteriously from dark burqas. After reading "A Thousand Splendid Suns" by Khaled Hosseini, I was intrigued. There is so much to talk about, but I'm going to dive right into Afghan cuisine. Kathy will add some facts about the country in a separate post.

So let's take a peek into our pantry...
Although there may be some variations in Afghan cuisine between regions, similarities exist throughout the country. Fresh yogurt, coriander, garlic, onions, spring onion, tomatoes, potatoes, and fruit are all commonly used in preparing meals and are readily available.

Here are some ingredients most commonly used in Afghan cooking:

Herbs and spices

o Coriander

o Cardamom

o Paprika

o Cumin

o Cinnamon

o Turmeric

o Black pepper

o Sea Salt

o Ginger, fresh and dried

o Dill

o Dried garlic

o Fresh cilantro

o Mint, fresh and dried

o Chilies, fresh and dried

o Nigella seeds (tiny black, slightly bitter seeds; available in specialty markets/mail order businesses)

o Sesame seeds

o Fenugreek


Legumes are used as an extender for kebabs and other meat dishes since they are far less expensive than meat.

O Chick peas

o Kidney Beans

o Mung Beans

o Split Peas

o Lentils

The Onion Family

Most Afghan dishes are made with some form of onion. Most common is something called piaz e surkh kada, which is finely minced onion cooked in plenty of oil until deeply browned. Afghans also use the “juice” of the onion, squeezing it out over ground meat for extra flavor in kebabs.

O Yellow onions

o Red onions

o Leeks

o Scallions


Rice is the center of almost every meal in this culture. Knowing how to cook rice properly and use the right rice is considered essentials of being a good Afghan cook.

O Long grain rice

o Short grain rice


This recipe was my first in our project. We really didn't know what we were doing yet. Looking back I wish I could change things up a bit. For instance, I chose a pasta dish. If I am staying true to the country and trying to fairly represent their cuisine, I should have chosen rice. I have also since learned that many Afghan dishes are made with beans. I chose beef. All this to say we live, we learn. I think as time goes on our project will become a little tighter at the seams, as well.

The recipe I chose was fairly simple.

1 Pound Ground Lamb Or Beef

  • 1 Medium Onion -- Grated

  • 1 Teaspoon Cilantro -- Chopped

  • 1 Teaspoon Cumin

  • 1/2 Teaspoon Pepper

  • 1 Medium Egg

  • Salt

  • 3 Tablespoons Olive Oil

  • 2 Medium Onion -- Sliced

  • 1 Can Tomatoes -- Chopped

  • Salt And Pepper -- To Taste

  • 8 Ounces Spaghetti -- Cooked

  • 16 Ounces Yogurt

  • 1/2 Teaspoon Cayenne

  • 1 Tablespoon Mint

  • 3 Cloves Garlic -- Chopped


Combine meat, onion, cilantro, cumin, pepper, egg and salt. Mix well and roll into small balls. Saute onions in oil for 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, salt and pepper. Simmer for 5 minutes. Add meatballs and cover, simmer for 30 minutes. Add yogurt, cayenne, mint and garlic. Simmer but do not boil for 10 minutes. Add spaghetti and serve. Serves 4

The ingredients for this recipe were not difficult to find. As I said earlier, I chose the beef instead of lamb. I really wish I would have used rice instead of pasta. I think that would have been a truer representation of the culture.

The combination of spices in the food reminded me of hummus, which has been the extent of my trying middle eastern food up to this point. It was good. Different, but good. The heartburn, however, was outrageous! My husband and I were both up during the night looking for the Zantac. I would definitely be interested in exploring these spices a little bit more. But my stomach would need some time to adjust :)

For this blog, I used the following references: (topic: Afghan cuisine and Afghanistan) (for the recipe) (information Afghan cooking and first picture)

The 2nd picture was taken in my kitchen :)