Arto der Haroutunian’s name may not be familiar to many but for those with a penchant for North African food, it’s a name worth noting. Arto was born in Aleppo, Syria in 1940 and grew up in the Levant but came to the UK with his parents as a child and remained there for most of his life.
He studied architecture, painted, composed music and established a career designing restaurants, clubs and hotels. He opened the first Armenian restaurant in Manchester in 1970. He combined his love of food with his interest in culture and food history. He died in 1987 at the untimely age of 47.
Given his passion for food it was a natural progression that he should begin to write cookbooks that combined his love of food with his great interest in the history and culture of the Middle East.
It was his belief that the rich culinary tradition of that area is the main source of many of our Western Cuisines and his books were intended as an introduction to that tradition. Second hand copies of those early cooks now fetch hundreds of pounds and are hard to come by. So I was doubly delighted when Grub Street Press in the UK decided to re-publish North African Cookery – a gorgeous collection from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya, over 300 recipes from traditional dishes, such as tagines, stews, soups and salads using classic ingredients, fiery spices, jewel like dried fruits, pickled lemons and armfuls of fresh herbs. Simplicity if at the heart of the Medina kitchen.
Indonesian cuisine is perhaps the hottest of the region – they love that fiery harissa which I also relish. Tunisian food has strong French influences and pasta is also a passion.
Morocco’s great forte is its exotic tajines of fish, meat and vegetables. Libya, although less gastronomically subtle, excels in soups and patisserie. Here are a few gems to whet your appetite for the book.
Arto der Haroutunian’s Tajine Lham Bil Djelbana
Meat and Pea Tajine
‘Don’t say I have beans until they are in the measure’
You can prepare this classic tajine in two ways – Moroccan or, as with the recipe below, Algerian. Moroccans would use saffron (of course!) – 1 whole teaspoonful at that – and also 1 teaspoon ginger, zest of a pickled lemon and a few preserved olives. Algerians on the other hand use tomato purée – a French-Italian habit, but nice!
900g (2lb) shoulder or leg of lamb cut into 5cm (2in) pieces
4–5 tablespoons oil
1 tablespoon smen or 15g (1/2oz) butter
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 large tomato, blanched, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon tomato purée diluted in 4–5 tablespoons water
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
11/2 teaspoons salt
1 level tablespoon sugar
900g (2lb) peas
Place all the ingredients except the sugar and peas in a large saucepan and fry over a gentle heat, stirring frequently. Add enough water to cover by about 2.5cm (1in) and bring to the boil. Lower the heat, cover the pan and simmer for about 45 minutes.
Add the sugar and peas, stir well, recover and simmer for a further 15–20 minutes or until the meat and peas are cooked. If necessary uncover the pan and simmer for a few minutes or until the sauce thickens.
The traditional way of serving this tajine is to serve it in a large dish accompanied by flat bread such as pita or chappati. You break the bread into pieces, shape it like a spoon and scoop the meat and peas into it.
You could also reduce the pea content to 450g (1lb) and add 450g (1lb) peeled and thinly sliced carrots.
Another attractive variation, Lham bil Djelbana wel Bayd – from Tizi Ouzou in Algeria, or so I was given to believe by a native of that town, now happily married with 4 children and a buxom wife and living in Oldham – is to transfer the cooked dish to a large tajine or casserole, to break 6 eggs separately over the top and to place in an oven pre-heated to 400f, 200c, Gas Mark 6 for 5–7 minutes or until set. Serve in the tajine or casserole garnished with a little chopped parsley or mint.
Arto der Haroutunian’s Tbikha Selg Bi Roz
Spinach with Rice and Almonds
Rice is not widely used in North Africa – the exceptions being Libya and Egypt where the Arab grain, rice, predominates over couscous. This simple and filling dish from Algeria can be eaten on its own or as an accompaniment to meat or fish-based dishes.
900g (2lb) fresh spinach
1 clove garlic
1 dried chilli pepper, soaked in 5 tablespoons cold water
1 teaspoon salt
150ml (1/4 pint) oil
1 teaspoon paprika
/2 teaspoon black pepper
4 tablespoons long-grain rice, rinsed thoroughly under cold water
300ml (1/2 pint) water
2 tablespoons blanched almonds, toasted until golden under a hot grill
Discard thick stems and discoloured leaves of spinach and rinse remainder thoroughly under cold running water. Drain and chop coarsely. Bring a large saucepan half filled with lightly salted water to the boil. Add the spinach and cook for 5 minutes. Drain into a colander.
Meanwhile in a mortar or blender crush the garlic, chilli pepper with its water, and the salt. Transfer this mixture to a large saucepan, add the oil, paprika and black pepper and fry gently for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
When cool enough to handle squeeze as much water as possible from the spinach and add to the pan. Stir in the rice and water and simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the rice is tender and the water absorbed. Transfer the spinach mixture to a large serving dish and sprinkle with the toasted almonds.
Arto der Haroutunian’s Batata Maglia Bil Dersa
Spicy Fried Potatoes
Fried potatoes North African-style with a hot sauce. They are an excellent accompaniment to grilled meats and Mergues.
1.5 kg (about 3lb) potatoes, peeled and washed
Oil for frying
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon harissa (see Darina Allen’s Food File Irish Examiner Saturday 8th August)
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground caraway
2 tablespoons vinegar
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Cut the potatoes into 1/2–1cm (1/4–1/2in) thick rounds and then into 1/2–1cm (1/4–1/2in) sticks. Soak in cold water for 20 minutes and then pat dry.
Meanwhile add sufficient oil to cover the base of a large saucepan by 1cm (1/2in) and heat. When hot add some of the potato sticks and fry until cooked and golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. Cook the remaining potato sticks in the same way. (You can deep fry them in a chip pan if you wish.)
When all the potatoes are cooked pour off most of the oil leaving only about 3–4 tablespoons in the pan. Add the garlic, harissa, salt and caraway and fry for 1 minute. Stir in 60ml (2fl oz) water and bring to the boil. Simmer for 3–4 minutes. Add the fried potatoes and stir well to coat with the sauce. Simmer for a few minutes to evaporate excess liquid. Pile the potatoes into a dish, sprinkle with the vinegar and black pepper and serve.
Arto der Haroutunian’s Mergues
These are hot, spicy sausages popular throughout North Africa, but are best in Tunisia. They are very versatile, and can be grilled, baked, cooked in omelettes etc. In recent years they have appeared in France, brought when the pieds-noirs (French North Africans) returned from Algeria en masse. Although they are now sold by French butchers, the best are still to be found in the small Tunisian café-restaurants that have sprung up all over French cities.
Another sausage, saucisse de foie, is made with liver – usually calf but sometimes chicken. It is grey in colour and is less spicy than the classic Mergues.
900g (2lb) lean lamb or beef
175g (6oz) beef fat
4 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon chilli pepper
2 teaspoons harissa (see Darina Allen’s Food File Irish Examiner Saturday 8th August)
1 tablespoon powdered fennel seeds
150ml (1/4 pint) oil
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
About 1m (40in) sheep or beef intestines, cleaned
Mince the meat, fat and garlic together and transfer to a large bowl. Add the remaining ingredients (except the intestines) and knead for several minutes until smooth and well blended.
Meanwhile soak the intestines in cold water for 3 hours, which makes them easier to handle. To put the mixture into the intestines you need a plastic funnel with a nozzle width of about 2.5cm (1in).
Fit one end of the intestine over the nozzle and gently work the whole of the intestine onto the nozzle. Force the meat down through the funnel into the intestine. As the intestine fills up it will slip off the nozzle. When the whole intestine is full run it lightly through one hand to distribute the meat evenly. Set aside. Continue until you have used up all the meat.
To make into sausages, fold one intestine in half and then tie or knot at 15cm (6in) intervals. Leave to hang over the sink for 4–5 hours before using. Store in the refrigerator for a few days or freeze until required.
Arto der Haroutunian’s Kab-El-Ghazel
Continuing on the theme of almonds this recipe, another classic of Berber origin popular in Morocco an Algeria, is dedicated to the horns of the favourite Arab animal – the gazelle, a symbol of grace, beauty and gentleness. It is also one of the few pastries that can be found in most pâtisseries.
225g (8oz) plain flour
2 tablespoons melted butter
3 tablespoons orange blossom water
225g (8oz) ground almonds
175g (6oz) icing sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2-4 tablespoons orange blossom water
First prepare the filling by mixing the almonds, icing sugar and cinnamon together in a bowl. Add enough of the orange blossom water to bind the mixture together. Knead until smooth. Divide into 16 balls. Roll each ball into a sausage about 5cm (2in) long which is thicker in the middle and tapers at both ends. Set aside.
Sift the flour for the pastry into a mixing bowl, make a well in the centre and add the melted butter and orange blossom water. Gradually fold the flour in and then, little by little, add just enough cold water to form a dough. Place on a work surface and knead for at least 20 minutes until the dough is very smooth and elastic. Divide into 2 balls. Take one ball of dough and roll it out into a strip about 10cm (4in) wide and at least 75cm (30in) long. You will find that you will be able to stretch the pastry by wrapping first one end of the pastry and then the other over the rolling pin and pulling gently.
Arrange 8 of the almond sausages on the pastry in a line about 3.5cm (11/2in) in from the long edge nearest you, leaving about 5cm (2in) between each sausage. Fold the pastry over the sausages to enclose them completely. Cut down between each sausage. Taking 1 pastry at a time press the edges together to seal in the filling. Trim the pastry edge to a semi-circle, but do not cut too close to the filling or the edges will be forced open during cooking and the filling will ooze out. Crimp the edges with the prongs of a fork. Now pinch the pastry up to form a steep ridge and gently curve the ends around to form a crescent-shape. Repeat with the remaining pastries. Repeat with remaining ball of dough and almond filling.
Place on greased baking sheets and cook in an oven preheated to 350f, 180c, Gas Mark 4 for 20-30 minutes or until a pale golden colour. Cool on wire racks and store in an airtight tin when cold.
Prepare the pastries as above and when they are cooked soak them in orange blossom water and then roll in icing sugar until they are completely coated and are snow-white in colour.
Catherine and Vincent O’Donovan’s bright yellow roadside stall on the main Cork to Innishannon Road sells juicy sweet corn. They are open every day and hope to have sweet corn for the next two months. Order sweet corn to freeze…telephone Vincent 087-2486031.The Slow Food West Cork
Annual Summer Picnic is on Sunday August 30th. A revival of the Somerville and Ross tradition of climbing up the hill overlooking Lough Hyne and enjoying a scrumptious picnic while gazing at the spectacular view! The packed picnics this year are being prepared by Susan Fehily of the River Lane Cafe in Ballineen (023) 47173. Full details and order form can be found at thttp://www.slowfoodireland.com/local-events%7Cnews-page8206.html of the SlowFoodIreland website. Orders MUST be in by Wednesday August 26th.
Our Ladies Hospital in Crumlin and St Brigid’s Hospice on the Curragh will benefit from the bountiful harvest of the Castlefarm organic allotments on 28th-30th of August. Allotment holders at Kildare’s Castlefarm will run a festival to celebrate the first year of the Castlefarm allotments, to give over 30 green fingered allotment holders a chance to show off their achievements. Information and tickets available from Jenny at Castlefarm Shop on 059-8636948 or