Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Algerian Kefta with Harissa Chickpeas

No shortage of great flavor here!
     Algerian and North African cuisine shares many Arabic cuisine influences.  Algerian Kefta is nearly the same as Arabic Kafta or Armenian Kufta.  India and several nearby places call these meatballs kofta or kofte.  There are many different spellings and variations of kefta in Persian, Farci and Hebrew languages.
     Many kafta recipes are made with the meatball mixture pressed onto a wooden skewer.  Some kafta recipes are formed into some very exotic looking shapes.  Lamb or beef is usually the choice for making kefta.  The meat mixture can be very plain or very spicy.  Rice or bulgar wheat is sometimes added to the meat mixture.
     The kaftah spice mixture can be bought pre-made at a Persian or Arabic market.  I like the pre-made kaftah spice mix because it has the correct proportions of spices.  By purchasing the individual spices to make kefta spice mix, a person can end up paying ten times as much for an equal volume of kefta spice mix.  The same can be said about za'atar spice mix.  Spices that are bought at an Arabic market are always very fresh and that include pre-mixed blends.
     Harissa is a very popular North African mild paprika pepper paste that is not difficult to make.  The mixture can be dark brick red in color or bright orangish red.  Harissa can be made from fresh paprika peppers, roasted peppers and or dried ground peppers.  Harissa can be made with a combination of these peppers.  Many older Bedouin recipes do not use caned or pre-made harissa.  Cans of harissa are added weight for the back of a camel.  To avoid the straw that broke the camel's back, dried ground paprika peppers were carried instead.  Many North African chefs still prefer harissa that is made with dried ground peppers, like the one in this recipe.
     Hummus is the word for chickpeas or garbanzo beans as well as a casual reference to many different kinds of beans and lentils.  I originally used the word hummus instead of chickpeas in this recipe title, but everybody in the western world thinks of hummus being a smooth bean dip.  I ended up changing the name of this recipe to avoid confusion.
     Dried Pepper Harissa Recipe:
     This recipe makes enough harissa for 3 or 4 servings!
     Place these spices in a mixing bowl:
     - 2 tablespoons of Spanish paprika
     - 1 tablespoon of smoked paprika
     - 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
     - 1/4 teaspoon of cumin
     - 1/2 teaspoon of coriander
     - 1/2 teaspoon of ground caraway seed.
     Mix the spices together.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt.
     Add just a little bit of olive at a time, while stirring, till a medium thick paste is formed.  About 2 to 3 tablespoons is plenty.
     This olive oil harissa paste can be kept in a refrigerator for several months.
     Kaftah Spice Mixture Recipe: 
      It is much cheaper to buy kaftah spice mix pre-made and it is a very accurate spice mixture.  My kaftah spice mix recipe is very basic.  Kafta spice mix can have many more spices in the recipe.
     Here is the basic proportions for a kaftah spice mix:
     - 2 parts cinnamon
     - 1 part allspice
     - 1 part cumin
     - 1 part coriander
     - 1 part mild red chile powder
     - 1/2 part black pepper.
     A small portion of finely ground toasted sesame seed is optional.
     Sea salt is sometimes added, but the salt is traditionally used as a separate seasoning and it is not part of a kaftah spice mix.
     Simply mix the dry kaftah spice mix ingredients together.
     Harissa Chickpeas:  
     Place 1/2 cup of cooked chickpeas or rinsed canned chickpeas in a sauce pot.
     Add just enough water to cover the chickpeas.
     Add 1 tablespoon of dried pepper harissa paste.
     Simmer the chickpea mixture over medium heat till the liquid is reduced to a thin red sauce.
     Keep the harissa chickpeas warm over very low heat.
     Algerian Kefta Recipe:
     Place 6 ounces of ground lamb or ground beef in a mixing bowl.
     Add 1 finely minced garlic clove.
     Add some very finely minced onion.
     Add 3 tablespoons of finely minced onion.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of very finely chopped mint leaves.
     Add 1 tablespoon of the keftah spice mixture.
     Add sea salt.
     Mix the ingredients thoroughly together.
     Divide the meat mixture into 3 equal sized meatball portions.
     Wet your hands with water before rolling the meatballs.
     Roll each meat portion, by hand, into a smooth round meatball shape.
     Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a saute pan over medium/medium low heat.
     Place the meatballs in the hot pan.
     Pan fry the meatballs, till they become fully cooked and till they become browned.
     Algerian Kefta with Harissa Chickpeas:
     Spoon the harissa chickpeas into a shallow serving bowl or casserole dish.
     Set the meatballs on the harissa hummus.
     Garnish with a parsley sprig.
     Serve with some Arabic breads of your choice on the side.
     Delicious, aromatic and so very nicely seasoned!  The contrasting flavors in this entree are very exotic and very complex.  The flavor of the chickpeas and harissa is so nice with the interesting flavor of the kefta.  Algerian kefta are some of the best tasting meatballs that there is!  Yummy!  ...  Shawna  

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