The region of North Africa includes the countries Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia and makes up the Western part of the Arab world. The cuisine of this region is influenced by many factors including the geographic location on the ancient spice routes, predominance of Islam, and European influences from France and Italy. Staples from this cuisine have been making their way on to more menus in the past few years and we expect them to gain more attention in the coming years.
Here are some spicy North African trends to be aware of:
This flavorful dish has burst onto the scene in American restaurants and lends itself incredibly well to interpretation. Traditionally made by preparing a spicy tomato and pepper sauce and then poaching eggs in it, this dish can be tailored to many different fusion cuisines by switching up the spices and accompaniments. With additional vegetables or a hearty loaf of bread this dish can move eggs from the breakfast table to star protein of a dinner party.
Harissa is also having its moment as diners and home cooks are searching for the next sriracha or gochujang. This spicy sauce is made from roasted red peppers combined with spices like caraway, cumin, and coriander and can be used to flavor all kinds of dishes from couscous to soups to meat kebabs. It seems like our obsession with novel sauces knows no bounds – so we’ll see if harissa has staying power or if consumers will move on to the next trendy condiment – possible zhug or mu-hammara?
Foodies may be familiar with rose water from its place in the syrup used to make traditional baklava, but several North African cuisines call on floral essences to flavor a multitude of dishes. Rose and orange blossom waters are utilized in a wide variety of sweets and desserts, and can be used in savory dishes in place of wine where alcohol is non-halal. The key to working with these ingredients is moderation – no one wants to experience chomping down on a fresh floral bouquet!
Fruits & Nuts in Savory Dishes
Most American’s experience with adding fruits and nuts to savory dishes is limited to some golden raisins or pecans in their Thanksgiving stuffing, but this is only the tip of the iceberg! Many North African stews call for dried fruits that add warm brown notes and nuts that add pleasant crunch and texture even after long cooking. Dukkah, thought to originate in Egypt, is a ground nut and spice blend that adds flavor, fat, and crunch that can elevate many simple dishes. So next time you start your favorite recipe in your slow cooker, through in a handful of raisins or some diced prunes and see for yourself how this North African technique can take your cooking to the next level.