Citizens, as you may have perchance noticed, there have been several recipes that the Imam of Impresarios – YOUR TFD! – has recently posted hailing from the Maghreb region of northern Africa that includes Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya. I remain so fascinated by the intricate flavorings and palatal perfection embodied by so many recipes of this part of the world that I am compelled to share more with TFD Nation over the weeks ahead! This recipe from Algeria – known as m’thouem in transliterated Arabic, actually means ‘with garlic’ and TFD does love the ‘stinking rose’ with a committed passion! This recipe delivers the goods, let me tell you!
M’thouem is composed of meatballs (lamb or beef) and a LOT of garlic (Arabic: ثوم ) and the dish is fragrant with cumin as well. To say there is a lot of garlic in this dish is a tremendous understatement – there is one whole HEAD of garlic used, in fact! Fear not, my Citizens – not only will this be supremely delicious, garlic is a known antiviral and with coronavirus spreading all around the world, you should be eating as much as possible!
Algerian cuisine reflects influences and ingredients from all over the world, as sagely (#badpun) noted on foodbycountry.com:
Algeria is located in North Africa on the Mediterranean Sea. The fertile and mountainous northern region is home to the olive tree, cork oak, and vast evergreen forests where boars and jackals roam. Fig, agave, and various palm trees grow in the warmer areas. The grape vine is native to the coastal plain. Central Algeria consists of the High Plateaus that contain salt marshes and dry or shallow salt lakes.
The land becomes more arid (dry) the farther south one travels, eventually becoming the Sahara Desert. Roughly 80 percent of the country is desert, where vegetation is sparse. Camels are widely used in this arid region, although jackals, rabbits, scorpions, and snakes also occupy the deserts.
The coastal region has a typical Mediterranean climate—pleasant nearly year round, with winter temperatures rarely falling below freezing (32°F). Rainfall is also abundant along the coast. Farther inland, higher altitudes receive considerable frost and occasional snow. Little or no rainfall occurs throughout the summer months in this region. In the Sahara Desert, rainfall is unpredictable and unevenly distributed.
Algerian cuisine traces its roots to various countries and ancient cultures that once ruled, visited, or traded with the country. Berber tribesmen were one of the country’s earliest inhabitants. Their arrival, which may extend as far back as 30,000 B.C., marked the beginning of wheat cultivation, smen (aged, cooked butter), and fruit consumption, such as dates. The introduction of semolina wheat by the Carthaginians (who occupied much of northern Africa) led the
Algeria’s Berbers were the first to create couscous, Algeria’s national dish. The Romans, who eventually took over Algeria, also grew various grains. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, Algeria ranked among the top ten importers of grain (such as wheat and barley) in the world, according to ArabicNews.com.
Muslim Arabs invaded Algeria in the 600s, bringing exotic spices such as saffron, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and cinnamon from the Spice Islands of eastern Indonesia. They also introduced the Islamic religion to the Berbers. Islam continues to influence almost every aspect of an Algerian’s life, including the diet.
Olives (and olive oil) and fruits such as oranges, plums, and peaches were brought across the Mediterranean from Spain during an invasion in the 1500s. Sweet pastries from the Turkish Ottomans and tea from European traders also made their way into Algerian cuisine around this time.
In the early 1800s, Algerians were driven off their own lands and forced to surrender their crops and farmland to the French. The French introduced their diet and culture to the Algerians, including their well-known loaves of bread and the establishment of sidewalk cafés. This French legacy remains evident in Algerian culture. In fact, Algeria’s second language is French. (Arabic is the official language.)
Tomatoes, potatoes, zucchini, and chilies, significant to Algerian local cuisine, were brought over from the New World.
Now – as to the garlic extravaganza of m’thouem – it is traditionally made with either a white or a red sauce – TFD prefers the red version and I have adapted it slightly to use some Algerian harissa paste for more spice. You can easily leave it out for the traditional version, which uses paprika in the same quantity – I am partial to this particular brand of harissa.
The ground beef is obviously central to the dish as well – I am very fond of Painted Hills grass-fed natural beef, which can be found here. I have tweaked the recipe as well by calling for Moroccan argan oil, which adds a delightfully subtle nutty flavor to the final dish, reinforced by the ground almonds in the sauce – you can buy culinary-grade argan oil here. It is worth noting that the recipe I based my version on is from the excellent blog thetealtadjine.blogspot.com.
Citizens, few things delight the palate of your chosen Suzerain more than garlic – and if you follow in my divine footsteps, you too shall make TFD’s m’thouem recipe a favorite in your repertoire! Consider serving this with another delicious Algerian recipe – I recommend this delicious soup as a starter!
Battle on – the Generalissimo
The Hirshon Algerian Garlic Meatballs in Spicy Red Garlic Sauce - مثوم مع صلصة الثوم الأحمر
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